Hugh Fitzgerald proudly calls himself a "canawler." He works on the C&O Canal transporting coal nearly 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland and Georgetown. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.
The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. The Civil War was in full swing and the canal, which runs long the Potomac River, marked the border between the Union and Confederacy. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.
Not only are the Fitzgeralds' lives endangered by the increased activity of warring army and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds' secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endanger their lives all the more.
Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature and the railroad together.