Confederate morale was never higher than it was in the summer of 1863. The victory at Chancellorsville in May had come against overwhelming odds, and the Southerners savored the sight of the Union Army in retreat. In less than a year's time, the Federals had been pushed back from the outskirts of Richmond and now virtually out of Virginia.
For the Brannon family, this achievemant has come at a cost. A son, Titus, was lost to them during the December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg. Although the family believes he was killed, in actuality he was captured. As the narrative opens in this book, Titus is marched into a prison camp near Chicago. With him is Nathan Hatcher, a onetime beau to Titus's sister, Cordelia. The seasons of their discontent range from winter to summer for the Confederate prisoners, but the harsh treatment of their captors remains constant and fuels urges to ponder the unthinkable.
Will and Mac, the two eldest sons, are in the ranks of the Stonewall Brigade and Jeb Stuart's cavalry. A short bivouac allow them to visit the family farm for some rest and recuperation from the fighting. There they note that the romance between their mother and a pacifist preacher has cooled, but things have taken an interesting turn with their youngest brother, Henry, and Titus's "widow."
Orders to move out await Will as soon as he returns to his regiment. Jackson's former corps returns to the Shenandoah Valley and sweeps the Union troops out of Winchester. Thus a natural route to the North opens up, and Lee's army begins to tramp in that direction.
In the meantime, Mac witnesses some drastic developments between the horse soldiers of the South and the North. The latter are no longer a pushover for the Confederate horsemen. Pride is at stake, and heady decisions are made with drastic repercussions.
All comes together in the eventual clash known as the battle of Gettysburg. Will is in the area shortly after the first shots are fired, and his men are cast into the combat around Culp's Hill and the right side of the Union line. Mac does not arrive until the evening of the second day and sees action with the Southern cavalry at Hanover. Both are swallowed up in the melee of the fighting.
Bruised and bleeding, the Confederate army stumbles back into Virginia, leaving a fourth of its number behind on the Pennsylvania ground. News of the defeat and the huge number of casualties spreads quickly. Like thousands of families across the South, the Brannon clan in Culpeper County anxiously awaits word of the fates of two sons.