The horrors of the Civil War come alive in this intense, intricate story of the consciousness-raising of a young girl. Susan Chilmark is the daughter of a prominent Richmond iron merchant and a hysterical, obsessive mother who upholds the nobility of the Southern cause with every breath. Susan, whose father has told her to be true to herself, finds her own ways of being patriotic--including gathering silk dresses to be made into an observation balloon. But after reuniting with a black-sheep brother and helping to nurse the wounded, she begins to have strong doubts about the ""Cause,"" and eventually betrays her ""own"" balloon to the Yankees to express her loathing for the South's hypocrisy. Her actions endanger people she loves and completely estrange her from her home and mother; her brother helps her escape to the North. Susan's transition from girl to thinking young woman is well developed, although her betrayal of the balloon is disturbingly treasonous. Many other ethical issues are also raised in this lengthy adventure, including adultery, prostitution, and the social stratification of the South; it is the issue of miscegenation that finally disillusions Susan. The Civil War background is exceptionally well portrayed.