Novel portrays Civil War through eyes of teen

By Ted Ayers | December 1, 2021

When The Missouri Ran Red,” by Jim R. Woolard (Kensington Publishing Corp., 2021, 297 pages $26.00)

Jim Woolard’s novel “When the Missouri Ran Red” focuses on the final few months of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri. It’s also a coming-of-age story.

Owen Wainwright is a 17-year-old orphan living with his aunt and uncle in Sedalia when in August 1864 he’s accosted by his older half-brother Lance. Their interactions throughout the remainder of the book create a plot line that is perhaps intended as a metaphor for how the Civil War divided families and friends as well as the nation.

Later, Owen is captured and conscripted by the Confederate troops who have raided Sedalia for the horses and cattle maintained there by Union forces. He travels with the Rebels, observing numerous battles and skirmishes between the Blue and the Grey. He is then arrested and jailed in a Union prison until he is given a chance at freedom — if he agrees to pursue and help capture his half-brother, who has fled to Texas as the Union’s superiority in resources, men and materiel make it clear that the days of the Confederacy are numbered.

As Owen’s tale unfolds, the terror, hardship and misery of war are made quite clear. However, Wainwright also learns that there remain honorable men and women and that both sides of the conflict have heroes and villains.

Woolard›s story references many locations in Missouri and Kansas that will be familiar to readers. 

War is, for better or worse, a fertile ground for writers, scholars and historians. Woolard’s novel skillfully plows that ground.