This is the first Cornwell book I have read. I am told I should start with the Sharpe series but I fell into this one so there you have it. I was immediately drawn in by the story. Nate Starbuck (I thought about coffee constantly during this book) is a yankee who hates his crazy, abolitionist preacher father. He steals money and flees to Virginia with his floozy girlfriend who immediately takes the money and leaves Nate. As it happens, Nate lands in Richmond just after the fall of Ft Sumter (For those of you non US types, this is more or less the opening battle of the US Civil War) To say the least, this is not the greatest time to be a Bostonian in Virginia. Nate is saved from a date with some hot tar by respected landowner Washington Faulconer, the father of his college friend. Faulconer, it seems, is forming up a "legion" to defend his beloved Virginia from the coming Yankee apocalypse. Nate joins the legion and is commissioned a lieutenant.
At this point, we enter the middle third of the book which was a plodding, boring slog where you could see characters being slotted into the tracks they were going to take for the rest of the series. Only Cornwell's sterling reputation caused me to continue.
After surviving the middle third of the book, I was rewarded by the first battle of Mannassas. Cornwell really shone in his battle scenes. They were exciting, fairly realistically grim and made the book well worth reading.
Without the boring middle, this would be a 4.5 to 5 star book. as it is it gets a solid 3.5, recommended with reservations.