April 12, 1861. With one jerk of a lanyard, one shell arching into the sky, years of tension explode into civil war. And for those men who do not know in which direction their loyalty calls them, it is a time for decisions. Such a one is Lieutenant Samuel Bowater, an officer of the U.S. Navy and a native of Charleston, South Carolina. Hard-pressed to abandon the oath he swore to the United States, but unable to fight against his home state, Bowater accepts a commission in the nascent Confederate Navy, where captains who once strode the quarterdecks of the world’s most powerful ships are now assuming command of paddle wheelers and towboats. Taking charge of the armed tugboat Cape Fear, and then the ironclad Yazoo River, Bowater and his men, against overwhelming odds, engage in the waterborne fight for Southern independence.