Thursday, August 22, 2013

Creating an alternate Civil War

Something that has always interested me was the "What Ifs". Generally these what ifs surround the possibilities for a shorter Civil War. As a sci-fi fan, the idea of what ifs also has a power in and of itself. Generally though, they usually revolve around Axis victory in WWII.

For the past couple years, I have been working on an alternate Civil War trilogy. It explores the possibility of Confederate victory. It starts off with a larger victory at Chancellorsville, with three Corps being decimated at the Chancellorsville battle itself, instead of just the one. The story travels all over northern Virginia, up through Maryland and into Pennsylvania, and then back down into Maryland.

I've been publishing the trilogy over on Lulu, and the first one of them has even made it onto Amazon. But when it comes down to it, what makes a good alternative history? Is it simply a good story? Is it a good premise? Or is there more involved to it?

First: I believe research is key. In the book, These Few Remain by Harry Turtledove explores Salt Lake City of the time. He is incorrect with most of his stuff, and many of the characters are not true to form, even in a "future" in which the South won their independence. If the characters and setting don't feel right, it's not going to come out right. One thing I pride myself is how close I keep the real people to how they actually were. Longstreet ends up in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and actually fumbles and makes terrible battle decisions. This happened to him during the Knoxville Campaign of 1863. Usually a pretty solid commander, he fumbled against Burnside, who easily defeated every attack Longstreet threw at him.

Two: Winking at the real events I believe is a good choice. What I mean is this: In my books, I use a very detailed, "Ok, this has happened, so what would be the likeliest course of action?" Many of times, I'd use the real course of events to dictate how something would turn out. For example, in book 2, Lee meets with Jefferson Davis after destroying over half the Army of the Potomac to discuss what to do next. Davis suggests sending Longstreet West to help bolster against Grant. But Lee suggests moving northwards, saying that the East has more political value than the West. This meeting actually happened, although it was tailored to my "reality".

Three: Not everyone needs to live or die. You don't need to keep every person that has lived or died to live or die. Reynolds, who died at Gettysburg in real life, actually survives the war. But Lee on the other hand, who survived the war all but unscathed (his health deteriorated over the course of the war), actually gets shot.

So, when it comes down to it, the best way to create a viable alternative history is: Research your characters and place, giving a wink at real history and you can have people live or die.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction

Alright, if you haven't been on this blog before I will come out and say it. I am a Unionist through and through and feel that too much blame is thrown on the feet of the yanks and not enough of the blame taken by the rebs for their own actions. And I was looking forward to a read that finally tries to prove the Federals were not a bloodthirsty and lawless as described.

(Force Mind Trick) But....this is not the book you're looking for. And I will give a few thoughts on why I disagree.

This book's defense is based on three premises: The two sides weren't willing to take off the gloves because of the fact they were fighting whites as well. The discipline level was higher. And the later Union troops were more focused on proving themselves the equals to the Confederates.

1. Being the same race stayed their hands: This statement is not as accurate as he paints for the reader. Sure, during the beginning they tried to be less brutal. But, you read of Confederate troops right after First Manasass digging up a Union soldiers body to mutilate it. You read of Union troops after killing General Zollicoffer during the early part of the war and tearing out hairs of his beard for souvenirs. Lee's second invasion of the north saw Confederates look away as many Confederates all but robbed the northerners, Lee even going as far as saying to a woman complaining that everything has been taken, "Now you know something of what the people of Virginia have endured."

2. The Discipline was higher: Yes, it was, but discipline has a way of breaking down when soldiers capture cities. Fredericksburg being one example, even if the officers tried to stop their men from looting. One case sticks out quiet well in my mind. There's a story of the Overland Campaign where a Union officer told his soldiers he don't want to see them pulling apart fences, then turned around and looked away until his soldiers had dismantled an entire fence. And both sides officially authorized bushwhacking units.

3. Glory more important than revenge: There is a story of during the Georgia Campaign where Sherman's men captured a mill where 400 women were working. He kidnapped them and sent them north. Even despite the quicking an end to the war aim to do the Overland Campaign and March to the Sea and all the other maneuvers in the late part of the war was specifically meant to give the troops a chance to enact revenge against the South for their taking up arms. And meanwhile, as I pointed out, Confederate officers while they tried to limit the destruction caused by their troops in Pennsylvania, would look away at acts of revenge as long as they didn't get out of hand. You even hear of Stuart's cavalry shelling Chambersburg until they pay a ransom to be spared.

In short, this is really a book bent on not so much changing how people look at the war as to diverting their focus away from the war and looking at what other people did. It's the same as a kid who get's caught in trouble and says: "But everyone is doing it, and that kid is so much worse than I am."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recounting the dead

So, after two days of being unable to get on my computer, I finally jumped on and headed over the the Civil War Gaming site: MadMinute Games BBS and I saw there was a new post in the Civil War section. So, I went over there and there was a new topic called Recounting the Dead. The initial post from the author said this:
Interesting article on the possibility that the accepted number of deaths in the Civil War may be underestimated.
Listed was a link to an article written J. David Hacker associated professor of history at Binghamton University. In it he argues, with a strong argument, that the deal toll of the Civil War or directly related to it was actually between 750,000 to 850,000. High number right? Well, actually, he states that even when the 1870 census was created, it wasn't by no means accurate. Most of the Confederate records had been destroyed, and unlike the Union widows and orphans, southern women got no benefits from their loved ones pensions and didn't report the loss of family members. Also, the US population had increased 34-36% every decade. But, in 1870, the increase was only 21%, or three million less then it should have been.

Well, to make a long story short, I agree with the article. I think as a society we have accepted too low a number. Heck, most people are under the impression that the 620,000 was all losses, dismissing the 400,000 wounded that lived out their natural lives. Also, rebel troops were very ill-fed and ill-clothed. The mortality rate had to be higher. Makes logical sense.

Several months ago I read an article that claimed civilian losses were 80,000. Too high a number in my opinion. That probably included all deaths, natural or otherwise. But, many civilians were killed, and we know of 400 women in the South who disappeared when they were kidnapped by Union soldiers under Sherman's command. Also, hundreds, even thousands died during the guerrilla warfare wagged in the Border States. I myself estimate the total losses in deaths closer to 730,000 at least.

But, a link to the article is here, just click the name: Recounting the Dead.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom

So, I recently purchased the documentary Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom. I had been looking forward to since 2009. And finally, I got it off of iTunes and watched it on my iPod.

It was well written and well delivered by the historians. The reenactments were fun to watch on it.

And besides, my good friend James McPherson makes an appearance on the show. Not every day I get to see him doing his thing.

One thing that surprised me was the defense of Burnside delivered by one of the historians. How he was the only person to take his assigned target, clear the area out of enemies entirely, and almost cut off the escape of the Army of Northern Virginia. Only problem; he hadn't yet paid up his gambling debt to AP Hill, who also lost his girl to McClellan. So, Hill had a bone to pick with him.

But, I certainly say you should go out and get this show. Very nicely done.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nathanial Lyon

What I think about this general is simple.

He was quiet a general and even in his short career did amazing things.

He only lived until August, and that was only like 6 months into the war.Despite he didn't have alot of time to build up a good reputation, he already did several incredible things, and probably would have done better, but, I don't really want to get into the what-ifs.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Army of the Potomac

So, anyways, despite the fact that I haven't been on for a while, I have several updates on my Civil War Experience. Those of you whom know what I mean, it is anything that happens that I am involved someway to the Preservation of the legacy of the American Civil War, which has not only defined America, but how the whole world views America in times of crisis.

The Major ones at this time is my doing in the Civil War gaming communities.

On MadMinute Games BB, they have been doing simulations for the game. Interesting though, for it is strictly a one player game. What happens is one person plays the game, and is the Facilitator. The man who has been doing the past two is called Motubu, from Africa. He's been doing one heck of a job I must say.

He only does anything though, depending on the orders he receives. So, the other players involved in this are commanders. We take a historical OOB and from there we take the positions of the historical person who we want to be. But, these aren't historical settings.

The turns go like this: we issue out orders to those below us and the the facilitator, they then carry out the orders. Then, we get written reports on the actions of the different people and the facilitator. Then, we issue out orders based upon the new information received.

There have been three total, but, I've only been able to participate in two.

The first one was a simulation called Longstreet verses Sickles. It was to show what would have happened if the I Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by James Longstreet, supplied with a division from the III Corps, randomly meet the III Corps of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Sickles. We played as Longstreet.

My character was Cadmus M. Wilcox, and I original was assigned the first brigade from the III Corps Division. But, my commanding officer, General Anderson, was killed, and so I replaced him most of the battle. My division ended the battle after five turns. with a smashing all-out attack on the units near us. My division received the highest scores of the simulation.

The second one, being played out right now, is called Burnsides' Gambles. It based upon the assumption that Burnside received his pontoon bridges on time and crossed the river on November 19. It also shows how much different it would have been, if two Corps were not present, used to keep the Army of Northern Virginia in place. And what would have happened if most of the Army of Northern Virginia had slipped past them and still arrived at Fredericksburg, but, without having the time to prepare themselves in a strong fortified line.

I am General Ambrose Burnside. It amazing leading the Army of the Potomac into battle. There is a set fixed limit of 10 turns, and we have completed turn 8. Half of the army was on the town side of the Rappahanock. The other half on the other side of the river. We learned only after intense fighting The I Corps was virtually mauled twice when trying to enter Fredericksburg from the south (or north on the map given us), and it has only 6,000 men left out of 13,000. The enemy set up a massed artillery base ontop of a hill, fixing us in place until we had drained enough of thier manpower to launch an attack on the hill.

The enemy crossed the river with a battery and seven brigades, but they were annihilated. Jackson's Corps is nearly wiped out and we are still in fairly good condition. But, the battle isn't over yet. No one knows what will happen next.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Strategy

So, anyways, there is so much on the subject of the war, that, from now on, I am going for a different approach. I am very active in several civil war/military history message boards, and so, I am going to start posting posts about different topics I have or am participating in.

The rules of engagement will still be the same, my opinions on the topics. But, this way, I can keep on my toes when it comes to new ideas. Have I exhausted my list of topics? By no means. But, this will keep them coming in a timely manner.

Civil War Clips