Rifles for Watie

by Harold Keith

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In Rifles for Watie, was Jeff present when Watie and General Gano captured a valuable cargo?

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In Rifles for Watie, Jeff Bussey, a Union scout, is probably with the unit during the September 19, 1864 raid that captured a Union wagon train and $1.5 million in supplies, for he has been with Watie's forces in every other exploit that year.

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In 1864, Jeff Bussey, the main character in Harold Keith's Civil War novel Rifles for Watie, is a Union scout secretly embedded with General Stand Watie's Confederate cavalry. On September 19 of that year, Watie joined forces with General Richard M. Gano of the Texas cavalry to attack a Union wagon train. The raid was successful, and the Confederates captured approximately $1.5 million worth of cargo, supplies that were destined for the Union Fort Gibson. Instead, according to the novel, "Most of the captured stores were distributed among the needy [Confederate] refugee families along the Red River" or consumed by Watie's forces (289).

Is Jeff with Watie's men during this raid? The novel doesn't say specifically, but actually, he probably is. How can we make that inference? Let's look at some evidence from the text. When Jeff returns to Watie's forces after his bout with malaria, he seems to participate in all the unit's activities. We are told that Jeff usually serves as a horse-holder when the Watie cavalry goes on raids. He is with the group in Missouri when they bring out "several Cherokee rebel families" (281). He is with them when they raid "along the western border of Arkansas." He "saw it all" even from his position in the rear. He watched as Watie's men "took a wagon train at Poison Springs near Camden" and when they "chased a small Federal force off the Massard Prairie." Jeff "rode and ate and slept with the Watie outfit, sharing the hardships and dangers that bind fighting men inexorably together" (281). Jeff is also with Watie's forces when they raid a steamboat on the Arkansas River at Pheasant Bluff in early June.

There is no reason to think, then, that Jeff isn't with Watie and his men during the raid on September 19. He is, after all, part of the Confederate cavalry as far as anyone else can see. No one knows that he is a Union scout. Watie's men, except perhaps for Fields, trust him and accept him as one of their own. Fields even trusts Jeff enough to bring him along to the meeting with the traitorous Union officer who sells rifles to Watie and his men. Jeff probably could have remained embedded in Watie's cavalry indefinitely, but he knows he must return to the Union forces with his report, and when the Union officer recognizes him, Jeff must leave in a hurry to save himself and his mission.

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