Lowell Rocklin, Clay's youngest son, encounters General Longstreet, who understands the South's current dilemma and encourages Lowell to make an observation balloon for the Confederate army. Before he can begin the project, Lowell is wounded and sent to Chimborazo war hospital in Richmond. There Lowell meets Rooney Smith, an extraordinary young woman who nurses him back to health and agrees to help him make the balloon. On the balloon's maiden voyage in battle, Lowell is wounded and loses a leg. Physically he recovers, but mentally he gives up and won't face the world. He will need a dying young friend and the love of a young woman to help him recover.