The last six months of 1863 have taken a toll on the Brannon family of Culpeper County, but the winter finally has forced the armies to suspend campaigning. What little calm Christmas brings, however, is shattered with the sudden appearance, as if from the grave, of Titus, the one son believed to have been lost to the war more than a year earlier.
Though his return is joyous news, Titus is devastated when he observes the unmistakable fact that his wife, Polly, is pregnant. Tensions escalate when he learns that his brother Henry is the father of her child and that they are married. In his bitterness and pain, Titus unleashes a personal war upon the new family.
The lull in the fighting at the front allows Mac to take leave from Jeb Stuart's cavalry, and Will comes home from a Richmond hospital to convalesce. Their combined presence, however, cannot temper Titus's headstrong conviction that Polly must abandon Henry for him.
Adding to the turmoil, Duncan Ebersole, Polly's planter father, seeks to exploit the circumstances and regain his daughter. The war has wreaked havoc on Ebersole's plantation, and he has found comfort in the bottle, but he has been unable to pay for the whiskey provided by an unscrupulous moonshiner. Blackmail and murder follow. Not everyone survives, and brothers turn on brothers in the end.
Meanwhile, Will decides that he cannot honorably abandon the men he has led in combat for two years, and so he returns to duty in time to be swept into the cauldron of conflict that begins with the fighting in the Wilderness, progresses to Spotsylvania, and ends with Cold Harbor. For a time, Mac is with him, but a Federal raid towards Richmond propels the once vaunted Confederate cavalry toward the crossroads at Yellow Tavern and destiny.
News from the war again hits hard at the Brannon farm, now behind enemy lines. Of the two brothers left there, one decides to find vengeance on the Yankees in the Shenandoah Valley. There are few battle lines in the valley but much fighting, and the fast-strike strategy of John S. Mosby appeals to one who, in his own way, has much to avenge.