VINE VOICEon 9 June 2004
"Dixie Victorious: An Alternative History of the Civil War" is a collection of ten essays imagining how the South could have won the Civil War edited by Peter G. Tsouras, author of several alternative histories including "Gettysburg: An Alternative History." The title, of course, spoils the outcome off all of the essays, but then the appeal here is more argumentative than narrative and the question is whether each author can make a compelling case that tips the delicate balance between military success and failure the other way:
Andrew Uffindell, "'Hell on Earth': Anglo-French Intervention in the Civil War," has the "Trent" incident resulting in Great Britain declaring war against the Union and France following suit. Uffindell comes up with additional reasons for the two nations to fight the war that neither wanted in 1861 to force the North into fighting a war on all fronts.
Wade G. Dudley, "Ships of Iron and Wills of Steel: The Confederate Navy Triumphant," has Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory creating an ironclad navy. Consequently, when the "Monitor" shows up at Hampton Roads it faces not one Confederate ironclad but three and the historical stalemate becomes a decisive Rebel victory.
David M. Keithly, "'What Will the Country Say?': Maryland Destiny," turns Special Order No. 191, which fell into McClellan's hands before the Battle of Antietam, into a "ruse de guerre" as Lee baits a trap to destroy the Army of the Potomac. This one is an interesting twist on history and yet another opportunity to show Lee as being clever and McClellan incompetent, which is almost always fun.
Michael R. Hathaway, "When the Bottom Fell Out: The Crisis of 1862," revisits Lee's first invasion of the North and has the Confederate general avoiding hurting himself when he was thrown by his horse the day after the second battle of Manassas. Overall I tend to like the essays where the key change is rather simple, which is what Hathaway does by having Lee free from pain and clear headed during his first invasion of the North.
James R. Arnold, "'We Will Water our Horses in the Mississippi': A.S. Johnston vs. U.S. Grant," has Albert Sidney Johnston's life being saved by a tourniquet at the Battle of Shiloh. The South still loses on the second day, but Jefferson Davis is able to put Johnston back in command of Confederate forces in the West during the siege of Vicksburg. Clearly the idea here is insert Johnston back into the war in the western theater at the point where Davis most felt his loss, which explains why Shiloh remains a Confederate defeat.
Edward G. Longacre, "'Absolutely Essential to Victory': Stuart's Calvary in the Gettysburg-Pipe Creek Campaigns," has the Confederate cavalry keeping in contact with Lee during the second invasion of the North. The Battle of Pipe Creek replaces that of the historical Battle of Gettysburg. Those who have read the alternative history "Gettysburg" by Newt Gingrich and William R. Fortschen will find this essay of more than passing interest since it shares the belief that there was a Confederate victory to be had in Lee's second invasion of the North, but not at Gettysburg itself.
John D. Burtt, "Moves to Great Advantage: Longstreet vs. Grant in the West," finds Braxton Bragg being wounded and James Longstreet taking command of the Army of Tennessee and fighting Grant. Longstreet had agreed to go west so that he could have an independent command, and Burtt's essay argues out a best case scenario for what he could have accomplished, although his aggressiveness might strike many as being beyond his nature.
Peter G. Tsouras, "Confederate Black and Gray: A Revolution in the Minds of Men," has Jefferson Davis seizing the opportunity afforded by Major General Pat Cleburne's Manifesto to give the South's slaves an opportunity to earn their freedom by fighting for the Confederacy. This one has the advantage of taking actions the Confederacy was eventually compelled to do, and moving them forward to a time when it might have actually helped the Southern cause.
Cyril M. Lagvanec, "Decision in the West: Turning Point in the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy," has Kirby Smith taking back Arkansas and Missouri in 1864, as David Dixon Porter's Mississippi Squadron falls victim to its commander's greed for captured cotton. I had the most problems with this scenario because I am not inclined to think that the Union would have reduced its overwhelming number advantages in Virginia and Tennessee-Georgia to make up for setbacks in Louisiana, thereby setting up a domino of effects.
Kevin F. Kiley, "Terrible as an Army with Banners: Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley," basically has Phil Sheridan's ride failing to reverse the Union's fortunes after Early's attack in the Valley. Kiley also finds an opportunity to remove a major obstacle to a Southern victory with a single bullet, which I have to admit was a card I thought would be played more often in these essays.
In most of these essays the Confederacy does not win the war militarily, but rather a pivotal military victory (or combination of victories) tips the delicate balance and gives the South a political victory (e.g., McClellan defeats Lincoln in the 1864 election). All of these essays are presented as the work of military historians in an alternative reality. Each has footnotes documenting sources, with those from fictional sources noted with an * (Lagvanec is the farthest over the rainbow with all of his notes for his Trans-Mississippi essay having asterisks).
Readers will know exactly what they are getting with "Dixie Victorious," so those who are offended by "What If" stories in general and those in which the South wins the Civil War in particular can stay far away. The idea here is to be provocative and to come up with diverse scenarios for this to happen, and in that regard this collection is successful. Students of the Civil War will find a lot to argue about in these pages.