Marie Hawkland: A Louisiana belle, mistress of a thousand slaves
Nat Wheat: a Union Navy carpenter who dreams of piloting his own gunboat
Jamie Russell: a Confederate captain, fighting a running battle with the Yankees through swamps and bayous
Their lives collide at Belle View Plantation where the Red River flows into the Mississippi and the Civil War becomes a struggle for control of the country's largest waterway.
Elderly Colonel Hawkland and his beautiful young wife, Marie, must tread a wary path with the officers of both forces who visit them. Both sides want Belle View's cotton: the Confederates to sell it for weapons, the Federals to deny it to the Rebels.
Marie is admired by all, including Nat Wheat and officers from the federal gunboat Queen of the West. When Jamie Russell comes to Belle View, though, he is astonished to realize that he already knows the lady...very well indeed. The need to conceal their prior acquaintance compounds his troubles.
Will the war spare Belle View? Will Nat realize his dream? And will Jamie have to choose between his duty to his regiment and the urge to watch over Marie Hawkland come what may?