The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War Summary

Kevin McColley

The Other Side

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Author Kevin McColley personalizes the dehumanizing violence of the border guerrilla struggles in Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War by weaving the story of Jacob Wilson, an ordinary farmboy caught up in the upheaval of the times, with historical characters and events. Jacob’s story begins in Ohio, where his parents have agreed to hide two runaway slaves, Isaac and his daughter, Sarah. Seventeen-year-old Jacob falls in love with Sarah. While Jacob’s father is away, militia sergeant Everett McGown and his men come looking for the slaves, destroy the farm, and brutally abuse Jacob and his mother. A neighbor manages to help the slaves escape, but when he is discovered and hanged by McGown, a distraught Jacob murders McGown. Jacob escapes across the river into Kentucky and becomes a wandering fugitive, until he eventually becomes attached to “Bloody” Bill Anderson and William Quantrill, ruthless leaders of outlaw bands of guerrillas. For the next four years, he is involved in raiding, sacking, and slaughtering farms and communities sympathetic to the Federal cause in Missouri and Kansas. Haunted by McGown’s ghost, appearing in grotesque, advancing stages of decay, he becomes desensitized to violence and sinks further and further into depravity, to the point where there is little difference between him and the outlaws he has joined.

The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War is a raw novel about the horrors of war. There are no heroes. A few decent people befriend him, but, for the most part, Jacob’s world is peopled by an assortment of alienated, simple- minded, cruel, or otherwise dislikable characters. The story is well crafted and McColley’s prose is compelling, but graphic violence, sexual encounters, and obscenities will disturb some readers.