The Guns of the South is an alternate history book by Harry Turtledove, arguably the master of alternate historical fiction. In Guns of the South the unthinkable happens and the Confederacy wins the civil war with slave owners retaining their “right” of owning slaves. Southern victory was achieved by the means of 21st century time travelers (South-African neo-Nazis to be exact) who introduce the AK-47 assault rifle to the Confederate forces allowing them to outgun their opponents and swiftly claim victory.
Naturally the book covers a delicate subject and any discussion about a possible Confederate victory in the civil war is incomplete without wondering what the status of the slaves would be. Guns of the South tackles this subject in a realistic manner. General Lee is elected Confederate President in 1867, he had witnessed the ferocity with which black soldiers fought with in the Union army and so had many other Southerners which made him and others find new found respect to their “inferiors” and fear a possible slave revolt. Not to mention the fact that he had access to a history book from the 20th century, which covered the events of our timeline in which the South lost and showed how slavery was considered something only a criminal state would employ in the modern age. Subsequently President Lee passes a bill which would have slowly given blacks full civil rights, this law is comparable to the abolition of slavery in the Empire of Brazil which slowly progressed until its eventual abolition in 1888.
The book itself is an enjoyable read and Turtledove gives one a fascinating input on the progress of events through the eyes of General Lee (later President Lee) and Nate Caudell a sergeant in the Confederate army. These two characters present the reader with two different viewpoints, the more historically interesting events surrounding Lee and what Confederate victory meant for ordinary people through the eyes of Nate Caudell. Sadly the book does not have any major black characters, although this does not mean that blacks are excluded from the story but are merely in the background. I found this rather disappointing and I’m sure the book would have benefited with a point of view of a black slave. The two protagonists Lee and Caudell are abolitionists and are always on friendly terms with the black characters they come across, be they slaves or not. This is not true of some of the more dislikeable and outright racist characters such as General Forrest (future KKK founder) and many of the time travelling Nazis whose savage treatment of black slaves is considered grotesque even by slavery supporting Southerners.
The love interest of Nate Caudell, Mollie Bean, is an interesting character. She is a former prostitute turned soldier in the Confederate forces who had to conceal her identity to fight alongside the men. A handful of examples of secret female soldiers in the civil war are well documented on both sides of the conflict, so she does not seem entirely out of place for the time period.
Guns of the South is definitely one of the more interesting books I have read on the American Civil War and possibly the best alternate history novel I have read in some time, maybe on par with Robert Harris’ best seller Fatherland. I easily recommend the book to any fan of history or the civil war who has probably wondered, what if the South had won?