Zachariah Hampton, once a sergeant in the 8th Georgia of Savannah, is retired from years of railroad conducting for the Central of Georgia. He lives on Tattnall Street with his daughter Emily. Son-in-law Lee Thompson is assistant city engineer and makes a comfortable enough living to allow them to employ a teenage maid, Alma.
Zachariah lives on bourbon and nostalgia, idling his days between events and gatherings that let him again see his old regimental friends. Emily is embarrassed by his drinking and decay. It not only damages her standing in the eyes of the ‘right’ ladies of Savannah but she despairs of him doing anything with his remaining days.
Lucius Robinson ran away from slavery the night of Savannah’s great panic in 1861. He made his way up the coast to the Union occupied territory around Port Royal, South Carolina. Here he was fed, clothed and educated by Northern civilians, many of them women, who put their abolitionist views to practical use. After the War Lucius worked as a harness maker and carpenter in Savannah. He lives on the black west side with his son Rufus and daughter-in-law Beulah, and three grandchildren. Alma, the oldest of these, is the maid in Lee and Emily Thompson’s house on Tattnall Street.
Lucius has lived for years on the memories of emancipation and the hopes of freedom that sprang from the War. But years of discrimination and daily acts of prejudice have worn down his spirit and saddened his heart. Although he has added 50 years to his bones, equality, justice, pride and peace of heart seem as distant as the night he ran away.
Calvin Salisbury joined the Union army in 1861, leaving behind his Vermont law practice and kissing his new wife Eleanor goodbye. He endured four mortal years of terror and horror in combat, determined to help the destruction of slavery with his own hands. But in the decades since as the judge of Rutland (recently retired) he has seen bigotry and prejudice steadily erode and undo what he fought for so valiantly. Both Calvin and Eleanor (who had taught school to the emancipated slaves in Port Royal, South Carolina) can feel their youthful triumph crumbling under a mild, formless yet steady foe. Smug assumptions, condescending attitudes and even flat out insults – how can you change hearts and challenge a soft, poisonous bigotry in a well-mannered society?
All three men in their mid-70s face their twilight years with troubled concerns. And then in the summer of 1912 an invitation comes, an invitation to a veteran’s reunion, the Great Encampment of 1913 at Gettysburg. The veterans will come by the thousands, the country will look on with wonder….. and Zachariah, Lucius and Calvin will be changed.