The Guns of the South
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1997 edition cover
|Cover artist||Tom Stimpson|
|Genre||Alternate history novel|
|September 22, 1992|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-345-37675-7, 0-345-38468-7|
|LC Class||PS3570.U76 G86 1992|
The story deals with a group of time-travelling Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging members 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), leading to a Southern victory in the war.
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"), and 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, even providing Lee with 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 travelled 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 informed that Abraham Lincoln will be a vicious tyrant during his second term and ensure that blacks will become the dominant faction in the South and later that they will take over other countries including the United Kingdom.
Soldiers are trained by the AWB men to use their new weapons, and ammunition is issued. Confederate morale improves considerably as the men prepare to meet Union forces in the 1864 campaign. 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 and in a surprise night attack captures Washington City, thus ending the Civil War. To the amazement of most of the Confederate troops, Abraham Lincoln had refused to flee the capital during their advance and appears on the White House lawn, addressing them before surrendering to Lee personally. 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 C.S.A., 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 for Kentucky and Missouri to hold elections to determine whether they will remain in the Union or secede and join the Confederacy. The two nations 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 and claim their motives for this are purely monetary, which given the group's seemingly-endless wealth seems highly unlikely. Other supporters, both official and unofficial, and including even the now-defeated ex-president Lincoln himself, pour into both states and try to sway voters their way. Ultimately, despite an assassination attempt on Lee by a former slave in Louisville and the Rivington men's machinations, Kentucky secedes and Missouri remains in the Union.
Confederate slaves freed during the war by Union troops violently resist returning to slavery; many of the ones who had been formed into military units by the Union during the war continue to fight Confederate forces long after the North's formal surrender, frightening many Southern whites and infuriating the troops charged with fighting them, particularly Nathan Bedford Forrest 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. In his mind the genie is already out of the bottle, and black guerrillas will continue to make trouble in the future, perhaps prompting at some point in the not-distant future a general slave rebellion. 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 were not returned to their previous masters; even in the parts of the South the Union had failed to take, many of the slaves had run away, mostly to the Union lines. Despite threats by the Rivington men, Lee makes no effort to hide his views as 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 pour their considerable resources, including their access to an apparently almost unlimited supply of gold coins (in the form of Krugerrands), into Forrest's campaign. When Lee manages a narrow victory, Forrest respectfully concedes defeat and promises to help rally the young nation behind its new president.
At Lee's inauguration, AWB men attempt 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. The AWB offices in Richmond are seized after a fierce battle, and Lee enters the stronghold to find more technological marvels (such as fluorescent light bulbs), along with a collection of 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 what his erstwhile allies have done, Forrest offers his services to Lee without reservation and is put in command of the hastily-remobilized Confederate forces summoned to do battle with the AWB men, and martial law is declared in the part of North Carolina in which Rivington lies.
Confederate forces surround Rivington and after a long siege capture the town. Confederate infantry destroy the AWB's time machine during the fighting, prompting the few of those who had been neither able to flee through it back to their own time nor already been killed in the fighting to lose hope and surrender. Almost as soon as he is captured, Andries Rhoodie is killed by an enraged slave, who the Confederates, well aware of the Rivington men's cruelty and treason, spare. In Richmond, the Confederate Congress narrowly passes President Lee's gradual abolition bill. Contemporaries have reproduced 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.
- Americanisms in Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South, Tatu Ahponen, 2003 (including detailed summary)
- 2010 review by Jo Walton
- Review by Mark Taha