|Southern Victory Series character|
|First appearance||The Great War: American Front|
|Last appearance||Settling Accounts: In at the Death|
|Created by||Harry Turtledove|
|Occupation||Artillery sergeant, political activist, President of the Confederate States of America|
|Religion||Baptist, atheist in later life|
Featherston appears as a major viewpoint character in the series, from The Great War: American Front to Settling Accounts: In at the Death, rising from his rank as an artillery sergeant in the Army of Northern Virginia to the office of President of the Confederate States of America.
Featherston is driven largely by revenge and hatred. The "fire in his belly," as he calls it, drives him even in the years of political failure and through his presidency (and apparently keeps him thin while other men of similar age have put on weight).
Featherston blames Blacks, and the powerful families that control the country, largely via the Whig Party, for causing the Confederate States to lose the Great War. His rise in politics to the position of President of the Confederate States was spurred on by his dream of overthrowing the status quo, and solving race relations in the country once and for all. Featherston is so sure that Blacks are a threat to the Confederacy that, even as the United States begins to win the war, he continues committing resources to the genocide against them.
Ultimately, Featherston is a victim of his own megalomania, as he forces himself to attempt to accomplish increasingly dangerous goals in order to maintain his own belief in his greatness. He expresses several times his opinion that, without him, the Confederate States of America would amount to nothing, and that race relations would rot the core of the Confederate nation.
Born the son of an (ex-)slave overseer in the 1880s somewhere near Richmond, Virginia, Featherston grows up in a poor household and joined the CS Army at a young age. It is mentioned that he learned from his father various elements of "overseer lore" - i.e., how to detect when Blacks are lying or pretending ignorance.
Actions in Southern Victory Series
By 1914 he becomes a sergeant in the First Richmond Howitzers, under Captain Jeb Stuart III. As part of the Army of Northern Virginia, Featherston fights on the Susquehanna River and then falls back towards Maryland. During this time he reports his suspicions to an intelligence officer about Pompey, Captain Stuart's body servant, being a Marxist rebel. The accusation would have more influence on Featherston's life than he could ever have imagined at the time. Not only is Pompey protected from investigation by his prominent master, he turns out to be a real Marxist when the Negro uprisings break out. Ironically at this point Featherston is not a raving racist, and allows Negro workers to serve an artillery piece to repel a US attack. The Negroes themselves are even enthusiastic about serving with Featherston, commenting they would have helped him defend the position even if it came down to using pistols.
As the uprisings petered out in early 1916, Jeb Stuart III, who had destroyed his career by protecting Pompey, intentionally allows himself a "heroic death" in combat. His father is General Jeb Stuart, Jr., a power in the Confederate General Staff at Richmond, who ensures that Featherston never made officer's rank despite his fitness for the post. Featherston, previously no more racist than other ordinary White Confederates, now burns with intense fury at Blacks and aristocratic officers alike. His anger intensifies as the war starts to go badly for the Confederates. By the end of the war, Featherston has begun pouring out his hatred on Gray Eagle scratchpads in what would later become his autobiographical Over Open Sights. When the ceasefire goes into effect he vows to Clarence Potter that he would have vengeance on the Blacks and the aristocrats running the War Department.
During the aftermath of the war, Featherston drifts for a short while, before joining the newly created Freedom Party. Swiftly establishing himself as head propagandist, it is not long before Featherston, aided by Party member Ferdinand Koenig, becomes its leader. With his raw energy and humble origins, Featherston has little trouble whipping up support from much of the Confederate populace, and it seems by the early 1920s that he would surely be leading the country. But with the assassination of President Wade Hampton V in June, 1922 by a Party stalwart, the Freedom Party suffers a sudden and near-total collapse as a political force.
Featherston spends the next few years repairing the damage, and waiting for his next opportunity. The vital discovery of the power of the wireless radio and his subsequent broadcasts do much to aid the Party's recovery. The damage caused by the Mississippi floods and the Business Collapse of the early 1930s ensures that the Freedom Party sweeps the elections in 1933.
Once he is legally elected President of the Confederacy, Featherston slowly and quietly twists the Confederate Constitution into giving him more power. He maneuvers the Supreme Court into striking itself out of existence, provokes the Black minority toward rebellion with race riots, creates farm machinery to root them out of their livelihoods so he could incarcerate them in camps, and repeals the single term limit so he could run multiple times. In the meantime, the Black rebellions give the CSA a plausible excuse to reinstitute conscription and arm itself. He manipulates Socialist president Al Smith to allow the states of Kentucky, Houston, and Sequoyah (all former CSA states) to hold plebiscites to determine their futures. Kentucky and Houston vote to rejoin the Confederacy, while Sequoyah, which had been saturated with settlers from other parts of the north, remains a part of the USA.
By 1941, Featherston is ready for war. With the excuse of redeeming lost territory, he initiates the Second Great War in North America with a surprise air raid on Philadelphia and the immense success of Operation Blackbeard, which cut the USA in half through central Ohio. His megalomaniacal mindset would prove to be his undoing, however, and his expectations of quick victory are quickly dashed when Al Smith rejects his peace offer. His empire begins to unravel starting with his disastrous attempt to take Pittsburgh in the fall of 1942 and the subsequent loss of an entire army trapped in a pocket there, because Featherston defiantly refuses to withdraw even when his generals realize it is the sensible thing to do. Meanwhile, Featherston increases the program of systematic genocide of the Confederacy's entire Black population.
Though he suffers further losses in 1943, losing occupied Ohio, as well as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Camp Determination, Featherston refuses to admit defeat. When U.S. President Charles La Follette demands the Confederates surrender unconditionally, Featherston goes on the wireless to refuse, and quickly responds by firing two rockets into Philadelphia from Virginia to prove that he is not ready to end the war.
Despite his displays of defiance, Featherston continues to lose more ground into 1944, losing northern Georgia, and large parts of South Carolina and Alabama. A coup attempt by Nathan Bedford Forrest III shakes his confidence in his men, and he begins to lose his grip on reality. Even then, he believes that he will be able to get his way through the use of superbombs, a technology he had poured everything he could into upon realizing the war would not be short. Shortly after Germany uses the first superbomb in warfare, the only Confederate superbomb is set off in Philadelphia, by General Potter.
As Richmond falls to U.S. forces under Daniel MacArthur, Featherston flees to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to give a speech to what remains of the Confederate States. After leaving the radio station, he calmly watches Newport News explode, as a U.S. superbomb attempting to assassinate him goes off. Featherston is annoyed at the display of US power, but takes it in stride, considering it was he who set off the first North American superbomb, that Newport News wasn't nearly as important a target as Philadelphia, and most importantly, he was still alive.
Well into 1944, with the Confederate cause all but lost, Featherston attempts to flee the more populous northern areas with many core Freedom Party and CSA officials, including General Potter. He wants to lead them into the woods so that they could begin guerrilla action against the U.S., making occupation too hazardous for the United States forces to attempt. Ultimately, his plan was defeated by a guerrilla fighter named Cassius (son of Scipio/Xerxes), who finds the bedraggled party and kills Featherston. Upon his death, his vice president, Donald Partridge, quickly moves to end the war, and the Confederate States' existence, by surrendering to U.S. forces.
Featherston serves in the series as an analog to Adolf Hitler. (In American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold, Sgt. Adolf Hitler - never explicitly named but his identity confirmed by Turtledove - appears as an aide to Lt. Col. Guderian, and after hearing him rant about Jews and Slavs, an American soldier notes how similar he is to Jake Featherston.) One reviewer, however, has pointed out that Featherston is not an exact parallel to Hitler and found his image, rhetoric, and propaganda techniques for the most part credibly adapted to the American South.
Like Hitler, Featherston wrote a book expressing his political and racial views called Over Open Sights, an analog to Mein Kampf. The title of the book is a reference to Featherston’s career as an artillery sergeant. Featherston started writing this book back during the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the Great War of 1914–1917. His embitterment over his lack of promotion coupled with his resentment in the general atmosphere of defeat and his view that the CSA’s Blacks had stabbed his country in the back, is spoken clearly in the novel. It was published right prior of the Second Great War. While most Confederates bought the book, many characters remarked there wasn't anything different than what they had heard already from Featherston's radio broadcasts.
Turtledove himself had this to say about Featherston:
I see people who write characters who are loonies and make them convincing and believable, and I envy them tremendously. I don’t really understand them. It’s funny, because I’ve created my own monster. In the ‘Great War’ and ‘American Empire’ books, I’m writing the person who is the functional equivalent of Adolf Hitler. I’m inside his head — and that’s a very strange place for somebody who thinks of himself as a fairly rational fellow to be. That’s alarming.
Literary significance & criticism
- Nader Elhefnawy (2007-10-05). "Review of Settling Accounts: In at the Death by Harry Turtledove". Book Review. Strange Horizons. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- "Shaun Farrell interviews Harry Turtledove". Shaun’s Quadrant. September 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- Nader Elhefnawy (2007-02-06). "Review of Settling Accounts: The Grapple by Harry Turtledove". Book Review. Strange Horizons. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- "Harry Turtledove: Revisioning History". Interview. Locus Magazine. February 2003. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
- Paul Di Filippo (2006). "On the Shelf: Settling Accounts: Return Engagement". Book Review. SciFi.com. Archived from the original on 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2008-09-04.