For history buffs, particularly Civil War history buffs, a more enjoyable book than If the South Had Won the Civil War can scarcely be imagined. MacKinlay Kantor, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his monumental Andersonville, has done exactly what the title of this little book indicates—imagined the consequences of a Confederate victory over the Union.
Kantor's grasp of real history is phenomenal given the ease with which he weaves true events with pseudo events. Two nearly simultaneous events lead to the fall of the North: General Ulysses Grant dies in a riding accident, and the Army of the Potomac is decisively routed at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Events slowly unravel. Abraham Lincoln flees Washington, is apprehended, and imprisoned in Richmond; the South sets its capital up in Washington; Texas secedes from the Confederacy and becomes the Republic of Texas; and small armed conflicts erupt here and there along the Union-Confederate border for years to come.
This is serious fiction (not parody or satire), but Kantor has a great sense of humor. Lines like this proliferate: "McClernand ranked both W. T. Sherman and J. B. McPherson, and on his arrogant shoulders there now fell a mantle which draped him almost ludicrously." Also, Woodrow Wilson (of the Confederacy) and T. R. Roosevelt (of the Union) are presidents simultaneously.
Kantor posits a gradual reunion of North, South, and Texas after the three nations join forces during both World Wars. On the one hand, this book is just fun. But on the other, it helps trains us to think critically about history. Great events turn on such small ones, and by looking at what might have been we can gain insight into what has come to pass. Highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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