Two young men in the household, one black, one white, become inseparable companions. Burson Joseph is admitted to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. During his studies there he is accompanied by a black family member, nicknamed Jeter, who is older and a mentor as Burson matures and gradually becomes a leader of men.
When war approaches, John Rhinehart is conflicted. He fears for the safety of the boys and for the prosperity of his farm. He allows the boys use of two very fine horses, and they transport the young men from one exciting adventure to another.
Mary Deborah Rhinehart, John's wife, and Rachel, Jeter's mother, work hard to feed and educate their children amid hardships. The educated black Rachel is imposing and plays an important role.
In war, Burson is a lieutenant in Company C of the First Virginia Cavalry. He draws assignments that are interesting, challenging and dangerous. Faithful Jeter is at his side cajoling, advising and criticizing, trying to save Burson's hide. As a team, they demonstrate much success against the Yankees, though with much frustration and argument. Jeter has a big, compelling reason to support Burson and therefore the Confederacy.
Burson is in love with Adelaide Braddock, the young lady he grew up with from Broken Oak, a neighboring farm. The romance blossoms at a Company C ball organized by Burson and his cousin Sergeant George Rhinehart, and held in nearby Edinburg.
A slave dealer spreads fear and panic among Braddock farm slaves with his appearance. Ensuing tragedies change many lives forever. A military commission is formed to determine the guilt and ultimate fate of the murder suspect, a slave named Oliver.
Burson and Jeter are part of many interesting and exciting events and witness many more. Slavery is an integral part of this story. The reader is not spared details of hate, punishment, injustice, and dependence. Excerpts from John Rhinehart's actual journal gives insight to the 19th-century farmer's life.