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Rifles for Watie is an American children's novel by Harold Keith. It was first published in 1957, and received the Newbery Medal in 1958.
Set during the American Civil War, the story revolves around Jefferson Davis Bussey who is sixteen and caught up in the events of history. Actual historical personages (e.g. Generals Stand Watie and James G. Blunt) and battles (e.g. Wilson's Creek and Prairie Grove) are seen from the viewpoint of an ordinary soldier, enabled by the choice of protagonist. Harold Keith spent many years interviewing Civil War veterans and visiting the sites depicted in the book, resulting in an authenticity that is rare for historical non-fiction that targets a young adult audience.
The setting, west of the Mississippi, is also not typical of Civil War novels, so the reader gets a perspective on the war not generally available in other books, let alone one found in children's books.
Jeff marches off to Fort Leavenworth from Linn County, Kansas in 1861, on his way to join the Union volunteers. He's off to fight for the North; his zeal having been fueled by reaction to the guerilla war of "bushwhackers" that was taking place in eastern Kansas. However, Stand Watie is on the side of the South. We meet many soldiers and civilians on both sides of the war, including Watie's raiding parties, itinerant printer Noah Babbitt and, in Tahlequah, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) the beautiful girl, Lucy Washbourne.
Jeff's story is notable as he eventually winds up fighting for both the North and the South at different times during the conflict while making new friends on each side. It is also notable for the detailed depiction of contemporary Cherokee life in Indian Territory, including various tribal political factions. Keith portrays how Jeff Bussey, in the midst of huge conflicts, had to choose one side or another at various times and how this was not always as simple as it may seem in historical hindsight.
- Jefferson (Jeff) Davis Bussey – the main character
- Lucy Washbourne – Jeff's love interest, a young woman living in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (then Indian Territory)
- Lee Washbourne – Lucy's brother, a Confederate soldier and scout
- Noah Babbitt – an itinerant printer, older than Jeff, and a Union soldier.
- Stand Watie – historical character, the last Confederate general to surrender at the war's end.
- James G. Blunt – historical character, Union general who battled to control Indian Territory.
- David Gardner – Jeff's hometown friend who joins the Union Army with him.
- John Chadwick – Another of Jeff's hometown friends who joins the Union Army with him.
- Capt. Asa Clardy – Jeff's commanding officer in the Union Army, and a major antagonist against Jeff.
- Heifer Hobbs – company cook and mentor for Jeff in the Indian cavalry, a division of the Confederate States Army.
- Sparrow- The cook for the Jeff's regiment on the Union
- Bill Earle- A friend Jeff made in the war, on the Union side