When John Rockwell, a Yankee captive at Andersonville, reaches across the prison's 'dead line' to pluck a bunch of violets, Confederate guard Jack Foster is supposed to shoot him. Conflicted over thoughts of Lucy Moore, his girl back home, Foster lowers his gun. Spared, Rockwell lives to escape Andersonville, and Foster is discharged in disgrace. After the war, the paths of the two men are predictably divergent. Foster, as a symbol of the Confederacy, is a burned-out, bitter shell. Rockwell, as an emblem of the North, is thrifty and eager to make something of himself. When Rockwell's ambitions lead him to take charge of a rundown plantation in Foster's native Mississippi, the prisoner and guard find their paths crossing once again. The struggle of these men represents the post-war chasm between North and South and raises issues of forgiveness and renewal.
Herbert Collingwood wrote Andersonville Violets: A Story of Northern and Southern Life in response to his time in Starkville, Mississippi, in the 1880s, where he witnessed firsthand the lingering bitterness that the war left behind. Andersonville Violets is Collingwood's salve for the nation's wounds.