After waiting a long year, the highly anticipated novel The Grapple was released one week ago. I am almost finished with the book and decided to share my knowledge about it to the rest of you. The Grapple is part of an ongoing series written by Harry Turtledove in which the South won the Civil War and the rest of the history between the two countries is played out for the readers. Below is a map how things looked. Sorry for the grainy look at things, but it is the best I can do.
Now, time for the story. The whole premise of this series centers around the Maryland Campaign in 1862. While marching through the state, General Robert E. Lee issued orders to all of his generals as to how they should march their divisions through Maryland and the roads they should use. As history records it, one of the messengers sent out to deliver the orders lost one message and it was eventually picked up by a Union soldier a couple of days later. In this divergence from history, it is a Confederate soldier who sees the message fall from the rider and returns it to the messenger. The end result is General George McClellan is humiliated at the Battle of Camp Hill, which is located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Because of this major victory, Great Britain and France will formally recognize the Confederate States of America as a nation. (Before anyone starts to gripe, I will give a historical analysis towards the end of the post.)
The first book, How Few Remain, begins in 1881. The Confederate President, James Longstreet, makes a deal with the Empire of Mexico to buy the two northern states, Sonora and Chihuahua and annex them to the Confederate States. The Confederacy was already successful in obtaining Cuba from Spain. When word of this reaches President James G. Blaine of the United States, the decision is made to make it well known that if the Confederacy decides to go through with the purchase and expand, the United States will use military force to stop it. Longstreet will use political pressure to get help from Great Britain and France, but comes the realization that he will have to push a plan of manumission to get the support of those two European powers. The leader of Confederate forces, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, will center his defense around Louisville, Kentucky. The general in chief of American forces, General William S. Rosecrans, hopes that American resolve will help to beat the Confederacy and maybe bring back the southern states into the Union. In order to provide a backdrop to the story, there is a subplot of a Mormon rebellion in Utah, the emergence of Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln starting a new political party, and the editorial reports of one Samuel Clemens in San Francisco. For the United States, the war goes from bad to worse. Jackson is able to smash their advance and the British make a daring strike on a US Mint. The only area of comfort the nation arrives when the military, under the command of George Armstrong Custer, is able to beat back a British Expeditionary Force in Montana. The end result of the book comes with manumission for slaves, two new states for the Confederacy, a second humiliating defeat for the United States, the near complete destruction of the Republicans politically, and the rise of the American Socialist Party.
The first full trilogy for this time line is called The Great War: The American Front, Walk in Hell, and Breakthroughs. Instead of going through each book, I will summarize the events of the war. The United States will find itself on a multiple front war. To the north is Canada and the British armies there. To the south is the Confederacy. The east has British, French, and Confederate navies. The west has British and Japanese navies. The difference though between this war and any others is that the United States has spent thirty years preparing itself for the next war. The naval battles will end with the United States controlling the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and forcing the Empire of Brazil to switch sides and effectively starve Europe. As for land battles, the southern front will prove to be a major punching bag. The Confederacy will be able to drive up toward the United States capital, Philadelphia. However, due to fewer numbers, they will be forced to fall back. Helping the United States in this case is the Red Rebellion, started by the Negroes of the south. With this in play, troops are needed to put down the uprising. The shocking results of the war will be found when General George Armstrong Custer realizes the full potential of barrels (tanks). By pushing through Kentucky, Custer will advance on Nashville, Tennessee and create an open wound in the Confederacy. With the way things are going on that front, the Confederacy has no choice but to surrender. What is truly amazing is that even in 1917, artillery gunner Jake Featherston realizes the strategic importance of Maryes Heights in Fredericksburg. The northern front proves to be a different experience as the United States rolls through much of the country. The biggest problem with this area is that rebels show up behind their lines and causes trouble. In a bold political move, the Republic of Quebec is formed. As the war comes to a close, Great Britain is thrown out of Canada and can only reside in a few islands in the North Atlantic. Like the Confederacy, the United States deals with a rebellion of their own in the form of the Mormons. The end result in that comes with the heavy price of making Utah even more desolate than it already is. The Presidents for both countries are President Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson, three guesses which is which. In the end, the United States will crush the Confederacy in the peace treaty, take the states of Kentucky and Sequoyah, create the state of Houston out of West Texas, make Northern Virginia into part of West Virginia, and make it clear that they aim to keep the Confederacy from being able to rise up once again.
The second series is American Empire: Blood and Iron, The Center Cannot Hold, and Victorious Opposition. In this series, the country goes between wars. Everyone in the United States is happy because the economy goes very well. Meanwhile, the Confederacy is miserable as they go into a state of hyper inflation. With this hyper inflation in state, the Confederacy has a rise of new third parties. Of all of them, the Freedom Party will become the most popular with the leadership of Jake Featherston. With a few setbacks, the Freedom Party will get an extra boost of power when the Great Depression hits. While Featherston gets his party going, the Socialists find themselves weakening. In 1920, they elect Upton Sinclair as president, and then Hosea Blackford in 1928. During Blackford’s administration, the economy topples and he gets the blame. 1932 will see Calvin Coolidge get elected president, but an accident of fate gets Herbert Hoover in office instead. Hoover will fair no better in office and 1936 will have Al Smith become President. For the Confederacy, Jake Featherston will become president and implement a new policy of doing everything he can to rebuild the country through programs very much like the New Deal, but also work towards eliminating the Negro population of the south. Featherston will be able to get a plebiscite in the states of Kentucky, Houston, and Sequoyah. While the former two rejoin the CSA, the last will not. No real loss in Featherston’s mind. The series will end on June 21, 1941, the invasion of Ohio.
The current series, Settling Accounts, is on its third book. The books thus far are Return Engagement, Drive to the East, and The Grapple. The final installment will be entitled In at the Death. In this series, the Confederacy is able to push its way through Ohio, capturing it, and drive towards Pittsburgh. The Mormons will once again return in a third rebellion, but this time the decision is made to make sure there won’t be one more: exile. The Negro population in the south is being wiped out as death camps eliminate Negroes by the thousands. The United States is able to show that they can survive a short war and make things into a long war as they turn things around in Pittsburgh and drive the Confederates back out of Ohio and all the way down into southern Tennessee. Featherston finds himself now trying to get his uranium project completed before the United States does and it seems that all of his hopes are caving in on him. While this series is not done yet, I would bet it will end with the United States having to occupy the Confederacy and reuniting the country. Whether or not that is true will be decided next year when the final book is released.
Fact of the Matter
The fact of the matter on this series is that it does make one think. The Civil War itself is something that had too many possibilities. If the South had been able to pull of what Turtledove wrote about, it is highly unlikely Lincoln would rolled over in 1863. Instead, the war might have continued until 1864, or March 1865. However, with the help of England and France, maybe the United States would decide to end hostilities. It is a difficult thing to say. The manumission of the slaves probably would have also occurred, but a little bit later. As for the constant warring between the two nations, it is also hard to say. A great number of things comes down to how diplomacy between the two nations would have worked.
What makes alternative history so fascinating is the fact that it does make you think about the things that could have been. For instance, in this series, the lack of a strong Republican party make the Democrats become more conservative, with the Socialists are the liberals. I am sure a number of Democrats have fainted at the prospect of their party looking like the Republicans in an alternate universe.
However, there are a number of things in our history that certainly is very interesting. The eugenics programs of the 1920s in this country did give Hitler the idea of medical experimentation in Germany. Race relations in this country could have lead to something like how the CSA treated their Negro population, with the exception of death camps. The rise of a national third party is not unheard of and could have occurred a number of times in our own history. I think above all else the most fascinating part of this is that it gives you a chance to explore other dimensions and worlds. If we don’t think about the other possibilities out there, then we turn ourselves away from those numerous possibilities. As a result, we put blinders on ourselves and stay that way permanently.