The plot revolves around the families of two sisters; Maggie Geyser and Evelyn Hale. The Geysers are southern farmers and slave owners in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Hales own a small newspaper in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Geysers are generally indifferent to the issue of slavery but are sympathetic to the Southern cause since slavery is a 200-year-old way of life in the south. The lone exception in the family is son John, an artistic young man who becomes sympathetic to the plight of southern slaves and free Negroes. The Hales are pro-Union and anti-slavery, but like many northerners at the time they hope for a peaceful solution to the nation's problems.
The drama begins in October 1859 when John Geyser, the primary protagonist, wants to use his talent as an artist working for a newspaper and leave the farm. He travels to Pennsylvania to work as an artist correspondent for the newspaper of his uncle Jacob Hale, Sr. John's first assignment takes him to Charles Town, Virgina to cover the trial of abolitionist John Brown where he meets and befriends the mysterious Jonas Steele, a former Jayhawker and Pinkerton detective. Jonas returns with John to Gettysburg and falls in love with Mary, one of the Hale's two daughters but is afraid to commit to her to his troubling dreams to predict the future.
After falling out with his family over the issues of slavery and secession over the Christmas of 1860, John returns to Pennsylvania. John's three brothers Matthew, Mark, and Luke will eventually serve in the Confederate Army. His three male Hale cousins Jake, Malachi, and James join the Union Army.
James dies from an illness before the first battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Caught "betwixt and between", John will not fight for the South but is unwilling to bear arms against his own brothers. After being reunited with Jonas Steele, who has joined the Union Army as a scout, John becomes a war correspondent for Harper's Weekly.
John travels with the Union Army and witnesses many of the important events of the Civil War including First Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness (Mark Geyser is listed as an MIA in this battle), Lee's April 1865 surrender at Appomattox and Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
At Bull Run, John meets Kathy, who despite her social standing proves to be a good war nurse.
Jonas overcomes his doubts and marries Mary.
Lester Bedell, who had married Emma Geyser, are caught up in the Siege of Vicksburg. Lester is killed and Emma and her child return home.
The Battle of Gettysburg is a prominent focal point of the story (Mary Steele is killed as the battle rages near her and Jonas's home).
John has a reconciliation with his family as he, his father and brother Matthew with a group of Confederate troops defend and drive off a Union Army attack against their house. Matthew is killed in the battle.
A little later, Jonas wins the Geyser family heart by getting the youngest brother out from a Union POW camp but his strange dream of President Lincoln arrives too late to save the president at Ford's Theater.
In the final scene, the Hale and the Geyser family are reunited after the war at John and Cathy's wedding.