Alternate historians from Harry Turtledove to Winston Churchill love to play with the Civil War, positing changes that could forever alter the timeline. Check out our list of the war's alternate endings.
Through a Fortuitous Victory in Gettysburg
“If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg” by Winston Churchill: Churchill’s work of speculative fiction is narrated from the perspective of a historian in universe where the Confederacy won the Civil War. The victory allowed Lee’s forces to push on and take Washington, eventually pushing Lincoln to admit defeat. Immediately after Lee’s victory, he rose to such prominence in the Confederacy that he was able to effect the abolition of slavery, paving the way for an alliance between England and the Confederate States. England then helped broker a peace treaty between the Union and Confederacy, effectively ending the Civil War by appealing to a sense of common language and culture.
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore: Hodge Backmaker was born in what was left of the United States of America after the War of Southern Independence. After the war, the North, never enjoying an Industrial Revolution suffers in poverty, while the prosperous Confederacy annexes Mexico, Central America, and eventually all of South America. Hodge becomes a historian and realizes that the fall of Washington, the Great Retreat to Philadelphia and the eventual occupation of Philadelphia by the Confederate Army was all a result of Meade’s loss at Gettysburg, which, thanks to time travel, he has an opportunity to witness (and possibly alter) first hand.
What If the South Had Won the Civil War? by MacKinlay Kantor: Originally published in Look Magazine in 1960, Kantor’s classic work imagines that Grant died before taking Vicksburg and that Lee’s troops defeated the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. But the split is less acrimonious that one might think. The Confederacy eventually abolishes slavery, and after some time apart, the two countries contemplate a reunion.
“Sidewise in Time” by Murray Leinster: Leinster is credited with introducing the alternate history trope to pulp science fiction with this story of people traveling across timelines. One character finds himself travel through a pocket of time filled with Confederate towns in a timeline in which the CSA had won the Battle of Gettysburg.
Of course, not everyone thinks Lee’s victory at Gettysburg would have changed the course of history. In Newt Gingrinch and William R. Forstchen’s Gettysburg, Lee wins the battle, and has continued success in Grant Comes East. But, by the end of Never Call Retreat, the Confederacy has lost the war.
By Changing the Fate of Special Order 191
How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove: After Lee’s Special Order 191 is lost, it is recovered by a Confederate soldier, ensuring that it never falls into the hands of George McClellan. Thus, Lee’s forces catch McClellan by surprise and they destroy the Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Antietam. Once Lee marches on Philadelphia, Britain and France officially recognize the Confederacy. The South wins its independence and sets off the events for Turtledove’s Timeline-191.
“What Will the Country Say: Maryland Destiny” by David M. Keithly” Special Order 191 still ends up in McClellan’s hands, but it turns out that the Confederate messenger didn’t really lose the order. Instead, Lee planted the message and ordered the messenger to “lose” it deliberately, baiting a trap for McClellan’s forces.
By Allying Itself with England and/or France
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America: In this fictional documentary film, Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin succeeds in drawing Britain and France into an alliance with the Confederacy before the Battle of Gettysburg, turning the tide of war in favor of the South. The Confederation reigns over all of North America except “Red” Canada, institutionalizing racism and segregation, and continuing the practice of slavery.
“Hell on Earth: Anglo-French Intervention in the Civil War” by Andrew Uffindell: After the Trent Affair, the Confederacy causes increased tensions between the Union and Britain by manufacturing a series of incidents along the Canadian border. Britain eventually declares war on the Union and France follows suit. The Union enjoys some early victories in the Great Lakes, but its hand is eventually forced.
However, in both Robert Controy’s 1862 and Harry Harrison’s Stars & Stripes Forever, England joins the Confederacy after the Trent Affair, in which the Union seized two Confederate diplomats from a British ship. In 1862, the Union somehow manages to beat back both the Confederacy and the world’s great military power, all in less time than in our universe. And in Stars and Stripes, the bungling British leaders inadvertently attack a Confederate base, leading the Union and Confederacy to fight back against a common enemy a soundly defeat the British forces.
With More Effective Commanders
/>Gray Victory by Robert Skimin: Since Jefferson Davis didn’t replace the more effective General Joseph Johnston with the dashing but reckless John Bell Hood, the Confederate forces survived the Atlanta campaign and exhausted the Union Army. Tired of war, the Northern voters oust Abraham Lincoln in favor of George McClellan. McClellan quickly recognizes the Confederacy as its own nation. But anti-slavery groups on both sides of the Mason-Dixon continue to antagonize the Confederacy.
“We Will Water Our Horses in the Mississippi: A.S. Johnston vs. U.S. Grant” by James R. Arnold: AS Johnston is wounded at Shiloh, but survives and, after a year, reenters the war. He successfully coordinates John Pemberton and Joe Johnston, and secured the defeat of Ulysses S Grant by William Loring at the Mississippi. He secures the West and sends forces East to support Lee.
“When the Bottom Fell Out: The Crisis of 1862” by Michael R. Hathaway: Robert E. Lee never fell from his horse after the Second Battle of Manassas. Without his mind clouded with pain from his injuries, Lee became a more effective commander. His impressive victories against the North attract the approving attention of Britain and France, who intervene to mediate the conflict. And a demoralized Union agrees to peace.
By Strengthening Its Navy
“Ships of Iron and Wills of Steel: The Confederate Navy Triumphant” by Wade Dudley: Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory convinces the cabinet to build a fleet of ironclad ships. The new fleet defeats the Monitor, breaks the Union blockade, and prove a viable threat to coastal Northern states. The Confederacy’s ocean power enables it to starve McClellan’s forces into surrender and leads to Britain’s recognition of Confederate sovereignty.
By Employing Black Soldiers Earlier in the War
“Confederate Black and Gray: A Revolution in the Minds of Men” by Peter G. Tsouras: Jefferson Davis and the Confederate cabinet take a cue from Patrick Cleburne’s manifesto and allow slaves to join the Confederate Army in exchange for their freedom. This not only bolsters the Southern forces, it demoralizes the Union troops and improves diplomatic relations between the Confederacy and France and Britain. The Union Army falls apart after the death of William Sherman and newly elected President McClellan recognizes the Confederacy.
With the Aid of Time Travelers
The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove: Members of South Africa’s white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging group travel to 1864 to supply the Confederates with 21st Century weapons. Between the advanced weapons and the time travelers’ intimate knowledge of the Union’s plans, Lee’s victory is an easy one.
But even time travelers can’t guarantee a victory. In Harry Harrison’s A Rebel in Time, a racist colonel takes a gun back in time in an attempt to alter the course of the war, only to be thwarted by a fellow time traveler. And in Charles L. Harness’ “Quarks of Appomattox,” neo-Nazis offer Robert E. Lee a device that disintegrates metal, claiming that a divided America will ensure Germany’s later victory. But Lee lists all those strange little things that have happened during the war – the loss of Special Order 191, the absence of Stonewall Jackson from Gettysburg due to a freak accident – which prevented what should have been his certain victory. Deciding that God himself is trying to send him a message, Lee declines the Nazi’s offer and goes off to knowingly lose the war.