Rifles for Watie (1958)

My rating: 4/5 stars

Finished reading Rifles for Watie a couple days ago. It is about a boy from Kansas who joins up with the Union army because he and his family want the Kansas territory’s slavery status to be determined by the settlers, not by people crossing over from Missouri to stuff the ballots. He begins by being very excited about the prospect of fighting in battle and is dismayed when his own involvement is delayed. Of course he comes to be in many battles, fighting on both sides (one side undercover), before the war is over and sees they are nothing to be excited about after all.

I enjoyed the book, and was especially hooked when he was undercover with the rebel forces. What I liked best was that it was about a faction of the war that I never really learned about before, namely the Cherokee nation’s split loyalties to the North and South, depending on which side had offered them what they considered the best treaty. Their people were just as split as the white settlers throughout the nation. The author did considerable research for the book, which made me wonder what the Cherokee perspective is on the war and the book today.

I also liked that Jeff, the main character, maintains his honor and treats everyone with respect, regardless of which side they are on. I particularly like that he is able to see the good and bad that exist no matter where he is.

What I did not like is that in the end, though the author seems to be starting off by showing Jeff (and the reader) that war is awful, ends up glorifying it anyway. There is even a line about how Jeff “lived life more fully” than most people throughout his three years in the army. I suppose if one person had indeed done all of that, it would be true. However, I felt like there should have been more acknowledgment that war is ugly and brutal.

Overall likeable characters, great use of dialect, and important messages about what it means to be human in the middle of difficult times. The Yankee soldier, Rebel girl love story didn’t hurt, either.

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