The US Civil War (1861-1865) continues to evoke fascination and interest in the minds of Americans and others. The war was a struggle of ideas – slavery, states’ rights, freedom, national unity. Each of these ideas had been fiercely contested in political debates in the decades preceding the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. His election was seen as the last straw by those people who felt that slavery should be permitted to exist, and by those people who felt that federal legislation should not be used to strike down the laws of individual states. As states seceded from the Union to join the new Confederate States of America, the passions of many others were aroused that felt that the ideals and cohesion of the wider United States of America needed to be preserved by armed force.
The bloody struggle that followed helped to define the modern American character.
Films, documentaries and novels have been written to capture the spirit of the struggle – or at least, how later generations perceived the spirit of the Civil War to have been.
Novels provide writers with an opportunity to explore not only the broader themes and the human drama, but also to speculate on what might have been. For example the Battle of Gettysburg, which for the Confederacy ended tragically with futile charge after charge against Union positions, has evoked many attempts to re-tell the story to find an alternate ending for the battle. And of the individual events of that battle, Pickett’s Charge encapsulates the yearning for find an alternate ending for the waste of human life:
‘For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out…and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…’
|Stars and Stripes Trilogy||Type||Novel (alternate history)|
|Overview||Entertaining and thought provoking, but implausible in many areas, the trilogy explores what might have happened if Britain had allied itself with the Confederacy. And, to provide further complication to the story, the trilogy charts the break-down of that alliance and the union of Confederacy and Union unite against Britain. The war ‘ends’ with the military conquest of Britain by America.The novels explore some interesting ‘what might have beens’ – a naval clash between USS Monitor and HMS Warrior, the equipping of Lee’s Cavalry with repeating rifles etc. – but otherwise it is an exercise in American vanity, which sees the US (New World) as naturally superior to Britain (Old World).|
|Gettysburg trilogy||Type||Novel (alternate history)|
|Author||Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen|
|Overview||The Battle of Gettysburg has attracted much ‘what if’ speculation – for example, what is Robert E Lee had heeded the advice of his senior subordinate (James Longstreet) and avoided continual assaults on the Union lines on Day 2 of the battle. Instead, ‘what if’ the Confederates had pulled back from a projected and bloody slugging match with the entrenched Union forces and instead turned in a wide flanking movement around the Union forces?Over three novels, the authors set-up an alternate epic struggle – a succession of bloody battles fought not at Gettysburg but near Washington DC and in Maryland. The trilogy ends with the surrender of the Confederate ‘Army of Northern Virginia’ and the subsequent surrender of its government.In contrast to other alternate histories of the Gettysburg battle, Gingrich and Forstchen suggest that if Longstreet’s opinion had prevailed over Lee’s, the whole Confederate cause may have come to an abrupt end just a short while later.|
 William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.