The Yankees under General Sherman have just finished burning Atlanta to the ground. This Sergeant Carter reports as his family sits down to their usual meal of turnips and oatmeal. Private Swayze arrives to inform Carter that their outfit has to march today. That only sours him more on the war, but there’s no putting it off. His wife can’t believe he will leave his family in the face of the Yankee onslaught, but he reminds her that his own army will come looking for him if he doesn’t. Before leaving, he gives her revolver, telling her to shoot anyone who tries to invade their property.
Scene 2 has Sally sneaking into the kitchen and pulling the revolver out of the cupboard drawer. As she brandishes it about as if in battle, her mother comes in and furiously orders her to go outside and wait for a good whipping. The preacher enters at that moment and approves of the harsh punishment Sally can expect. He then launches into a tirade against southern women like Mrs. Carter for not having produced enough men for the army. Since there will be other wars in the future, he figures there’s no better time than the present to get hot on this problem. Sally comes in to find him trying to force himself on her mother and chases him out the door with a switch.
Meanwhile on an isolated part of the battlefield, Sergeant Carter nearly shoots Swayze when he returns to their lines from the direction of the enemy. He could also shoot him for bringing back ammunition instead of food. Sick of the war and hunger, Carter starts daydreaming about a time when food like squirrel stew was plentiful. Swayze doesn’t help his mood any by suggesting soldiers like them would never be hungry if they were cannibals, but manages to redeem himself by spotting and shooting a hapless squirrel. But as he goes to retrieve it, the Yanks shoot him. Carter grabs the squirrel and heads for the rear.
Back at home, a deserter from the Union army enters the Carter kitchen and starts looking around for something to eat and steal. Mrs. Carter stumbles in after thinking it’s Sally rummaging around in there. With Mr. Carter’s whiskey in hand, the soldier starts eyeballing Mrs. Carter like he hasn’t seen a woman for years. She heads off his advance by quickly taking the revolver out of the door. He tries to talk her into giving him the gun and ends up getting shot for his efforts. Wounded, he starts screaming for the whisky. When Sally comes dashing in, Mrs. Carter drops the gun, setting it off and killing the soldier for good. Mrs. Carter faints and falls on top of the soldier, leaving it to Sally to dispose of the soldier alone.
Mrs. Carter is now totally out of it and merely sits at the table, looking straight ahead without moving or saying a word. Before her is a bowl of oatmeal and a letter that Sally has written to her father describing what has happened. When Yankee soldiers suddenly appear at the door, Sally quickly tears the letter up and stuffs the pieces into the oatmeal. A captain and lieutenant enter, presumably looking for the deserter, but find only Mrs. Carter, whom the captain attempts to feed, and the whiskey, which the lieutenant helps himself to. Sally protests that it isn’t fair of them to steal her father’s whiskey, but the captain only replies that he never asked for this job.
A captured Sergeant Carter spends the rest of the war working in a Yankee prison hospital. There he encounters the preacher, presumably dying of pneumonia and feeling the need to confess. He hands Carter a letter from Sally, which at first seems harmless, then suggests that the preacher had tried to take liberties with the folks back home, meaning Mrs. Carter. Furious, Carter takes a pillow and starts to smother the preacher, all the while an offstage orderly orders him to come and help him amputate a soldier’s leg. Against the soldier’s pleas, Carter tries to make short work of the preacher but he just won’t die. Finally he gives up, but warns the gasping holy man, “I’ll be back.”
The war is finally over but Mrs. Carter is still sitting at the table, totally oblivious to Sally rushing in and telling her that daddy is home. Sergeant Carter comes in and confirms that his wife has totally lost it. Sally assures him she’ll recover once she realizes he’s home. She then goes on to show him all the food she managed to buy with the money she found on the deserter. Carter is overjoyed and decides to celebrate with a shot of his whiskey. Sally meekly tells him that there ain’t no more, but there’s plenty of fresh milk. Carter can’t believe his whiskey is gone and starts wailing away with “Goddammit”. Finally recognizing that her husband is home, Mrs. Carter comes to and hugs him in tears, inadvertently knocking over the eggs and milk and process. Sally drops to her knees, crying that her mother spoiled the homecoming she had prepared for her father.