The Guns of the South

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The Guns of the South
Guns of the south.jpg
1997 edition cover
Author Harry Turtledove
Cover artist Tom Stimpson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Alternate history novel
Published September 22, 1992 (Ballantine)
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 561 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-345-37675-7, 0-345-38468-7
OCLC 26096611
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3570.U76 G86 1992

The Guns of the South (1992) is an alternate history novel set during the American Civil War by Harry Turtledove.

The story deals with a group of time-travelling white supremacist members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging from an imagined 21st-century South Africa, who supply Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia with AK-47s and small amounts of other supplies (including nitroglycerine tablets for treating Lee's heart condition). Their intervention and technologies results in a Confederate victory in the war.

Plot summary[edit]

It is January 1864, and the Confederacy is losing the war against the United States. Men with strange accents and oddly mottled clothing approach Robert E. Lee at the headquarters of the Army of Northern Virginia, demonstrating a rifle far superior to all other firearms of the time. The men call their organization "America Will Break" (or "AWB"). They offer to supply the Confederate army with these rifles, which they refer to as AK-47s. The weapons operate on chemical and engineering principles unknown to Confederate military engineers. The AWB establish a base in the little town of Rivington, North Carolina, making it into a combined fortress and arsenal.

The AWB continue to offer inexplicable intelligence and technology to the Confederacy, providing Lee with what they call nitroglycerin pills, which ease his frequent chest pains. Finally, Lee questions their leader, Andries Rhoodie, who ultimately decides to tell Lee the truth. The men of AWB are Afrikaner nationalists from South Africa, having traveled back in time from the year 2014, 150 years into the future. The newcomers claim that white supremacy has not endured to the modern era, and that blacks in the future will eclipse whites. Lee is told that Abraham Lincoln will act as a vicious tyrant during his second term and ensure that blacks will become the dominant political faction in the South, as they outnumber whites in many areas. The AWB say that blacks will take over other countries, including the United Kingdom.

The AWB men train soldiers to use their new weapons, and issue ammunition. As the men see the power of these new weapons, Confederate morale improves considerably during preparations for the 1864 campaign against Union forces. With the AWB's guns and some direct military aid from the time-traveling South Africans, the Army of Northern Virginia drives Ulysses S. Grant's forces out of Virginia. In a surprise night attack they capture Washington City, thus ending the Civil War. To the amazement of most of the Confederate troops, Abraham Lincoln refused to flee the capital during their advance and appears on the White House lawn, addressing them before personally surrendering to Lee. The United Kingdom and France recognize the Confederacy, and President Lincoln is forced to accept Southern victory. As Confederate forces begin to end their occupation of Washington, and Union troops withdraw from the portions of the South which they had captured, the new country starts to determine its future social and political direction.

In negotiations between the two Americas, to which Lee is made a representative for the CSA, the United States agrees to pay millions of dollars in reparations, albeit reluctantly. The Confederacy, in turn, gives up any claim to Maryland and West Virginia. After much debate, both sides agree that Kentucky and Missouri will hold elections to determine whether they will remain in the Union or secede and join the Confederacy. The two countries appoint Lee and his former opponent Grant to supervise these elections to ensure fairness. At one point during the runup, AWB men are caught smuggling weapons into Tompkinsville, Kentucky; when questioned they disclaim any effort to affect the outcome of the elections. They claim they were selling weapons which, given the group's seemingly great wealth, seems highly unlikely. Other supporters, both official and unofficial, and including the defeated ex-president Lincoln, pour into both states to try to sway voters. Despite an assassination attempt on Lee by a former slave in Louisville and the machinations of Rivington men, Kentucky votes to join the Confederacy and Missouri remains with the Union.

Confederate slaves freed during the war by Union troops violently resist returning to slavery; many who made up Union military units during the war continue to fight Confederate forces long after the North's formal surrender. This frightened many Southern whites and infuriated the troops charged with fighting them, particularly Nathan Bedford Forrest (in history, in the postwar years he became an early Ku Klux Klan member, elected its first Grand Wizard) and his men. Lee, already dubious about slavery and respectful of the courage of the United States Colored Troops during the war, becomes convinced that continuing to enslave Negroes is both morally wrong and ultimately impracticable. He believes that it is too late to try to re-impose pre-war conditions. He thinks black guerrillas will continue to raid and perhaps prompt a general slave rebellion in the near future.

The parts of the South which had fallen to the Union during the war had already lost many of their slaves, as they were freed as soon as the Union troops had arrived and did not return to their previous masters. In other parts of the South, many slaves had run away, mostly to Union lines where they gained freedom. Despite threats by the AWB men in Rivington, Lee makes no effort to hide his views. He runs for president at the urging and with the full backing of Jefferson Davis, limited by the Confederate Constitution to a single six-year term, in 1867, despite Davis' initial reservations about Lee's views on the slavery issue. The Rivington men convince Nathan Bedford Forrest to run against Lee on a pro-slavery ticket, and put their considerable resources into Forrest's campaign. They draw from their large supply of gold coins (in the form of Krugerrands). When Lee achieves a narrow victory, Forrest concedes defeat and promises to help rally the young nation behind its new president.

At Lee's inauguration, AWB men try to assassinate him using Uzis, resulting in the death of Lee's wife, Mary; his vice president, Albert Gallatin Brown, various dignitaries and generals, and many civilians. Police forces seize the AWB offices in Rivington after a fierce battle. Lee enters the stronghold to find more technological marvels (such as fluorescent light bulbs and air conditioning), along with books that document the increasing marginalization of racism from 1865 into the 21st century. Lee shows these books to Confederate congressmen, hoping that the future's nearly universal condemnation of slavery and racism will convince the congressmen to vote for his plan for gradual abolition. Appalled at the AWB attempted assassination, Forrest offers his services to Lee without reservation and is put in command of hastily remobilized Confederate forces. They ready to do battle with the AWB men, and Lee declares martial law in the Rivington area.

Confederate forces surround Rivington and, after a long siege, capture the town. AWB men use modern weaponry such as belt-feed machine guns, sniper rifles, mortars, barb wire, and land mines, inflict heavy casualties on the Confederate forces. Confederate infantry destroy the AWB's time machine during the fighting. Those few surviving men who were unable to escape back to their own time lose hope and surrender. Soon after being captured, Andries Rhoodie is killed by an enraged slave. Well aware of the Rivington men's cruelty and treason, the Confederates do not prosecute him. In Richmond, the Confederate Congress narrowly passes President Lee's gradual abolition bill.

Pharmacists have copied the nitroglycerin pills brought by the AWB, and Lee hopes, with their help, to live to see the effects of his plan for emancipation. Meanwhile, a few of the stranded South Africans agree to help the Confederacy replicate their 21st century technology from 2014, helping Lee to counter the Union's own replica AK-47's and greater industrial strength. Though the Confederacy has maintained strict neutrality in a war which the Union has started with the British Empire by invading Canada, Lee fears the Union may attempt a war of revenge against the CSA in the future, but he rests assured that the CSA will remain the most technologically-advanced nation in the world for many decades to come.


The book won the John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction in 1993.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Greater Los Angeles Writers Society Special Speaker Event!". Greater Los Angeles Writers Society. Feb 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2014. Turtledove won [..] the John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction in 1993 for The Guns of the South, [..] 

External links[edit]