It is 1861 and civil war has erupted in the United States. Young boys dream about becoming heroes just like the old timers who sat around and talked about their fifty-year-old exploits. Some just dream of a better life than what they have. They lie about their age or have someone sign for them as their parents just to get into the army, the army that would provide free hot meals and clothing. Little did they envision the dire consequences and devastation of what war would really give them in return for their services.
Posters are on trees claiming money to be had just for signing up in the army, which is more money than George can imagine at the time. He sees a way of getting off the farm and finding a better life and, at the same time, helping to support his family through some tough times. He tries to act educated but ends up flaunting it at the wrong time and place. Education isnt just about book learning. Chester Check Penny befriends George and leads him into card games, hustling, and lies. Georges turning point is a card game where he wins a pistol, a pistol that is allowed for officers only, which George is not. Georges obsession with owning a pistol and carrying a pistol almost leads to his demise during the ragtag, motley fleets trip to the South to strengthen General Burnsides part of the Norths Anaconda Plan to cut off supplies.
One friend gets George into card games and a chance to make easy money while another one keeps all of them out of trouble through his military savvy. George discovers that friends are lost faster than they are made during war.