Battledrum occurs during the early years of the Civil War in Kentucky and surrounding southern states. A 10-year-old Confederate boy named Rufus has been orphaned after his family's farm has been burned to the ground. With nowhere else to turn, he tags along with a Union troop as the "second drummer, on reserve." Jackson, the Union drummer boy in command, is none too pleased to have a Confederate charge underfoot—but, in time, the two boys develop a brotherly if quarrelsome regard. When Jackson offers Rufus a thick overcoat that he has reclaimed from a Civil War battlefield, the boys find a hand-written letter in the pocket and take small comfort in reading romantic excerpts at bedtime. Things change, however, when George Washington, a runaway slave boy who got lost on the Underground Railroad, stumbles into their midst. George Washington secretly taught himself to read on the plantation and provides a more accurate and more disturbing reading of the contents of the letter. The boys learn a harsh truth about the fate that awaited Civil War drummer boys—and as the battlefield looms, the boys learn about the courage required when children are employed in battle. "The drummer boys were the communication system relaying messages for the armies on both sides," says playwright Cooney. "If the enemy wanted to disrupt your army, they took aim at the drummer boys." Battledrum offers a compelling evocation of war, with plentiful moments of comic relief and an insightful message about the use of children in the military battles. The story is energized with entertaining songs—stylistically varied but still imparting a feel for the period—and the production climaxes in a thrilling drum line performed with bravura by the entire ensemble.