|Cover artist||Dennis Lyall|
The novel is a fictional account of the Battle of Fort Pillow, which took place on April 12, 1864 during the American Civil War. The battle saw Confederate forces under Nathan Bedford Forrest overrun the Union garrison at Fort Pillow, a garrison made-up primarily of colored troops.
The battle has become controversial, as the historical record suggests that after the fort fell, the Confederates engaged in a wholesale slaughter of the surrendering black soldiers. While Turtledove agrees that this is generally what happened, it also notes that the Union very quickly seized on the battle's propaganda value, and that the facts have been distorted to some degree by both sides for political reasons.
There are six viewpoint characters, all of whom are historical unless noted:
- William Bradford, Union major commanding throughout most of the battle.
- Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general commanding.
- Jack Jenkins, a fictional Confederate corporal.
- Mack Leaming, a Union lieutenant.
- Benjamin Robinson, a Union sergeant, formerly a slave.
- Matt Ward, a fictional Confederate soldier.