Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Review: Rifles for Watie - by Harold Keith

Considering that I hardly every read historical fiction--especially wartime historical fiction, I was astounded by how wonderful this book was. Clearly, it won the Newbery Medal for many very good reasons. Having read many of the winning books, I can safely say that this is one of the better ones!

Set in the Western front of the Civil War, Rifles for Watie tells about the Kansas and Missouri bushwackers (loathed by the North and South alike) and the Cherokee troops that split and fought against each other throughout the war.

Harold Keith certainly did his homework in researching, and it's wonderful how he is able to incorporate life in both the Northern and Southern camps into his story. Jeff, the hero, joins up with the North when he is sixteen, ready and eager to dive into battle. Later on, he moves up the ranks, joins the cavalry, and later is sent as a scout. On his second mission, he is captured by Watie's men (the Cherokee leader for the Rebel Indian troops.) He ends up "joining" them, grateful that his name happens to be Jefferson Davis Bussey.

And the curious thing is that Jeff loves the people he knows from the South. Individual, he loves the men in his new troop. He cares for Southern civilians that he meets. (Earlier, he takes it upon himself to return a Southern lady's cow which had been stolen by a Union scavenging party.) He falls in love with Lucy, a Southern Cherokee girl he meets on the Indian reservation while they are recruiting. He even risks court-martial by refusing to be a part of the firing line that executes a Southern spy.

As the story unravels, Jeff has to make more and more important decisions about the type of person he is going to be. And ultimately, he needs to decide: will he join the South permanently, or will he escape back to the Union? Well, though he loves the South, and though it costs him his girl, Jeff knows that going back and serving the Union is right and for the good of the country.

This is a fantastic book full of exciting and interesting characters, spine-tingling moments of spying and discovering plots, a beautiful wartime romance, and a hair-raising chase scene as the Southern army pursues Jeff with a well-trained bloodhound. This is a great book for 5th grade through junior high and high-school (and beyond!) If you haven't read it yet, you simply must! 

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