Pascal, a 12 year-old slave in the South, is told by his runaway brother that all slaves have been freed.
General Sherman has told all slaves that they can get 40 acres and a mule, so Pascal and his brother and friend Nelly go in search of this promise.
Even though they are free, in their travels they meet racist, untrustworthy people who do not wish them well. However, they finally realize their dream and get their land and a mule only to have it taken from them.
The overriding conflict in this story would seem not to be that they lose the land, but that even though they have been told they are free, freedom is a relative term when others refuse to give it to you.
In the story, the conflict then is trying to find true freedom and understanding exactly what freedom is.