The 19th century media mislabeled M. Jerome Clarke female for their own purposes as well as because of his youth, clean-shaven face, and long hair. Richard Taylor imagines the real Confederate soldier-turned-guerrilla fighter from the time he follows an older cousin into the Civil War until he was hanged as a renegade at the war’s end, while he was still shy of his 20th birthday.
Enduring deprivation, capture, and imprisonment, “Jarom” and his older cousin make a daring escape from Camp Morton. But his cousin is soon seriously wounded in an atrocity that Jarom is on fire to avenge. He joins the Tenth Kentucky Calvary, part of General John Hunt Morgan’s infamous brigade. When Morgan goes down, his raiders scatter, some choosing a renegade route that wreaks havoc on innocents and Union sympathizers alike. Although a Unionist, editor George Prentice makes Jarom Clarke into the she-devil “Sue Mundy” to discredit the draconian rule of military governor General Stephen Burbridge.
Sue Mundy chronicles a young man’s descent from fighting under a flag to fighting for self-gain and violent whim, until he becomes the hunter hunted, captured, and hanged.
Jarom Clarke’s decent into terrorism is well researched and told, although the character of this young man drawn by “casual momentum” into a life of violence remained elusive for this reader. Yes, he’s an orphan who has a number of father figures shot out from his sphere of influence, but Jarom’s rage at his cousin’s fate abates, and that very cousin’s advice to change course is not heeded. Another intriguing question – how a man turned female by the press of his day felt about the transformation – is not explored any more than why Jarom Clarke chose to remain peach-faced and long-locked.