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Reference to the book Rifles for Watie in this issue’s “Q&A” (P. 26) triggered memories of scenes from Harold Keith’s Newbery Award–winning novel, which I first read in third grade: How the main character, Jeff Davis Bussey, toiling at the plow, regretted eating his corn bread well before noon after hunger pangs struck him at midday; his disgust at slashing his own poncho—tied to his saddle—while learning how to use his cavalry saber; and his homely but kind Confederate friend, “Heifer.”  Keith’s book also introduced me to the complexities of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, at a time when my knowledge of the conflict was limited to the fighting in the East. Rifles for Watie’s conflicted hero, who ends up serving both the Union and the Confederacy, meets Stand Watie, a Cherokee who fought for the South. After reading about the Trail of Tears, which the Indians saw as a betrayal by the American government, I could understand why Watie and his followers took up arms against the U.S.  Keith interviewed Civil War vets before writing the book, and that intimate connection is evident in his vivid depictions of common soldiers on campaign. Rifles for Watie is aimed at young adults, but sophisticated enough for older readers. It’s just as good as that novel about the guy from Maine at Gettysburg. Pick up a copy and follow Jeff Bussey as he navigates the hardships of the war.


Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.