Poet Paulette Jiles opens a chapter of Enemy Women with an yewitness account penned in the 1860s: ".....On this same raid they went into the home of two of my uncles and took them out and hung them to their own gatepost. They were big men and were my mother's brothers. My mother was there and saw it all and as long as she lived she never got over the shock. And they called that a civil war. It was the cruelest war we ever had."
In 1864, the third year of the war, Adair Colley lives with her family on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks. It is Confederate territory but the Colleys remain neutral. Adair has just turned eighteen when the Union Militia gallops onto their property, attempts to burn the house, and strikes her widowed father in the face with a wagon spoke before arresting him. To punctuate their visit the Militia "shot the dogs and took as many chickens and geese and pigs as they could catch."
John, the only Colley son, seeks shelter in nearby hills. While Adair, believing there might be safety to the north, takes her two younger sisters and begins the 120 mile trek to Iron Mountain. They join "the streams of refugees afoot as if they were white trash." Any hope of finding a haven is destroyed when one among the walkers falsely accuses Adair of collaborating with the enemy, and she is taken from her terrified sisters to a women's prison in St. Louis.
It is there that she meets her Union interrogator, Major William Neumann. They fall in love. When Adair refuses to sign a confession in order to obtain her freedom, Neumann helps her escape with the promise that he will find her after the war.
However, there are still countless dangers to be faced as Neumann is sent to the Alabama front lines, and Adair braves a perilous solitary trek through uncharted wilderness and enemy territory to find what might be left of her home and family.
Debilitated by her prison stay and a chronic cough which a "steam doctor" diagnoses as consumption she presses on, sometimes forced to steal for food and clothing.
This report prepared by The Snide Gail Cooke