A Thirst for War is an historical novel centered on the planning and destruction of the Cumberland River Railroad Bridge in Clarksville, TN. Interwoven into the novel is a haunting love story that adds dramatic tension to the plot. The heroine (Lydia Robertson) is a strong, willful woman who is involved with two men: the protagonist (John Ulysses Martin) and a Yankee Lieutenant (Lawrence Wallace). Lydia is also beautiful and intelligent. Ahead of her time in regard to a woman's role in society, this very modern character widens the scope and appeal of the book, and ultimately allows John Martin to complete his mission when failure seems imminent.
Setting: Set primarily in Clarksville, TN, this US Civil War novel covers the period February to December 1862.
Characters: John Ulysses Martin: Professor of History at Stewart College. He is lame in his right leg, the result of a hunting accident at age ten. Lydia Robertson: An ardent eighteen-year old pacifist with a lifelong crush on John Martin. Her suitors include Lt Wallace and Reverend Parks.
Storyline: At the start of the American Civil War, Professor John Ulysses Martin and his students march off to face the harsh reality of battlefield combat. As his students die one by one, John questions his lofty convictions and, after losing a leg at Antietam, realizes he has made a fool of himself. He concludes that war is nothing more than the butchery of innocents.
During his convalescence at Armory Square Hospital in Washington, DC, John is caught spying on Yankee troops heading for an attack on Richmond, VA. Taken to the Old Capitol Prison, he is interrogated and sentenced to be hanged. However, he manages to escape, and when he reaches Richmond and turns in his notes, General Hood realizes John's value to the war effort and rewards him with a perilous assignment: destroy the railroad bridge over the Cumberland River at Clarksville, Tennessee.
Thinking John is dead, Lydia Robertson's relationship with Lt. Wallace blossoms. John's return to Yankee occupied Clarksville, however, complicates matters and she is torn between the two men.
Meanwhile, John goes about recruiting a band of conspirators to help him with the bridge. Black powder and weapons are obtained from a train derailment and several guerrilla bands. Soon, however, his group begins a gradual disintegration: one man comes down with dysentery, a woman is arrested for smuggling, another man is shot by a jealous wife, and a third is detained for possessing a weapon.
After Lydia is viciously attacked one night, John provides her with moral support and love. They are attracted to each other all over again, and when she finds out Lt. Wallace is married, she and John are drawn even closer together.
As events hurry toward a dramatic conclusion, John is faced with the prospect of his mission failing. Lydia sees his predicament and offers her help. In desperation, he accepts her offer and together they destroy the bridge.