This is the story of a renegade adventurer, Alvarez Kelly (William Holden), who gets caught in the middle of the civil war. With no loyalties to either North or South, Kelly is hired to drive a herd of cattle from Mexico to the Union Army in Virginia. However, along the way he is captured by Confederate Colonel Tom Rossiter (Richard Widmark), who persuades him - by shooting off his finger - to deliver the cattle to starving confederates in Richmond. At a bridge leading to Richmond, the Union Army attacks and a bloody battle ensues in which Kelly risks his own life to save a confederate officer. In the end, Kelly's fate once again lies in the hands of Colonel Rossiter.