When the Missouri Ran Red: A Novel of the Civil War

Written by Jim R. Woolard
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1864, the entire American nation seems to be bleeding. Arguably, however, the state of Missouri seems to be suffering even more than the other states. Missouri is populated by both Union and Confederate sympathizers as well as gangs of simple bandits profiting by preying on both sides during the ongoing Civil War. Seventeen-year-old Owen Wainwright survives being shot by his half-brother during a robbery and enlistment in the local Union militia only to be captured by the Confederates. Intelligent, likable, and, adaptive, Owen is soon the trusted blacksmith of his rebel cavalry unit.

Missing his hometown sweetheart and wary of his treacherous half-brother, who is loosely aligned with the Confederate forces, the young man somehow manages to survive in this decidedly hostile combat zone, through his wits and personality, until he is once again recaptured by Union forces in a deadly ambush. He is rescued from a squalid Yankee prison by a stalwart and friendly law enforcement officer who enlists Owen to help track down and bring his half-brother to justice.

This novel is a detailed and fascinating account of the messy history of Missouri during the Civil War. It is also a genuinely historical coming-of-age novel minus the hyper-emotionalism and saccharine drama of that type. Filled with interesting and sometimes surprising characters, the book points out the good and evil on both sides without preaching. Mundane details, like caring for cavalry mounts, are described. The travails of having fiery red hair are also pointed out as making their owners stand out for better or worse. This is an outstanding and singular Civil War novel. Exceptionally well crafted.