At the Civil War's end, the horrors of war have taken their toll on Campbell McCool, a freshly-discharged young Confederate Army doctor.
Having accidentally shot a young Union Soldier after peace had been declared, Cam pledges to himself and to the dying lad to seek out the boy's parents in an effort somehow to help them reconcile their son's not returning after the war.
With his home and family destroyed by the war Cam starts his journey northward, preaching along the way as his ordained minister father had done before him--this, in a vain attempt at self-healing and to gain some renewed purpose in life.
Campbell crosses paths with Tademus Co (pronounced Coe), a spirited young homeless black boy about nine years of age. Tad is also embarking on a mission of his own which is to find his father who had joined a black Union regiment.
Unable to discourage Tad's following him, Cam soon succumbs to the boy's charm. Such an unlikely duo, traveling in post-Civil War America, attracts trouble while facing a myriad of dangers along the way. Still, through such inherent adversities, their bond of friendship develops into a genuine love.
An encounter with a 'deranged' Union officer still fighting the war renders Cam beaten, bloody and unconscious. In such state, Campbell is inadvertently delivered by Tademus to the farm of the Mannings, the very family Cam had been seeking. These good folk nurture Campbell back to health and recovery with their affection for him growing, unaware he is the killer of their son and Cam, left in a state of amnesia, equally unaware.
By the time Campbell regains his memory, the Mannings have indeed 'adopted' him as their own and he them.
Thusly, is established one of the major dilemmas of our tale: Campbell's disclosing to the Mannings his implication in their son's death without losing their love.