1858, Fort Gibson, Indian Territory.
2d Lieutenant Dobey Walls meets and bonds with veteran Corporal Jimmy Melton. As the Civil War begins, they leave to join the 8th Texas Cavalry in Houston, then take part in the first and the final charges of the Army of Tennessee. Between those events, they ride with Nathan Bedford Forrest, play an honorable role in the Fort Pillow Massacre, harass Sherman with Shannon's Raiders, and visit the second best brothel in Atlanta.
As surrender looms, they're released to search for Dobey's long-missing family in the Texas Panhandle. Their efforts are hampered by destitute farmers, lonely widows, dangerous militia, freed slaves, and runaways, who increase their numbers and excitement. In the process, they save a quadroon and her daughter from Yankee deserters who have stolen a Union payroll. This act of mercy brings them romance but puts Pinkerton detectives and a renegade lawman on their trail.