In most Civil War alternate history fiction, the story ends when the fighting ends. Less common are counterfactual tales that explore how the world would have been different in the aftermath of a different outcome to the conflict. Once the bullets stop flying and the long-term “butterflies” need to be considered, constructing an imaginary alternate history becomes much more difficult. In these stories, the end of the war marks the beginning, rather than the conclusion, of the real story. If we envision the Civil War ending differently, usually with an independent Confederacy, we have to stretch our imaginations to cover another century-and-a-half. We have to ask ourselves what an independent Confederacy would have meant for slavery and long-term race relations, the balance of power on the global stage, and daily life in both North and South. What would have been the postwar relationship between the Union and the Confederacy? How would the Confederate and Union economies be different than they were historically? If one really puts his mind to it, one could even try to imagine how music, art, and literature would be different.
When I wrote Shattered Nation: An Alternate History Novel of the American Civil War, I knew I wanted to take the story beyond the end of the war and explore what an independent Confederacy would have meant for the subsequent history of both America and the wider world. That exercise in imagination started last month, when I published Blessed are the Peacemakers: A Shattered Nation Novella.
Had the Confederacy succeeded in establishing its independence, it makes sense to assume that the war would have ended in the traditional manner: a peace conference between representatives of the two governments. Blessed are the Peacemakers brings readers to that conference, which takes place on neutral ground in Canada. Readers watch events unfold through the eyes of John C. Breckinridge, former Vice President of the United States and successful Southern general, who is now serving as a Confederate delegate to the peace talks.
In my opinion, there were only two realistic possibilities for a Southern victory in the American Civil War. The first was a better showing by the Confederacy in 1861-62, leading to European recognition of the Confederacy. The other would be outlasting the Union and inflicting such heavy losses upon it that a “peace through exhaustion” occurs in 1864, with Lincoln being ousted from the White House by Northern voters. Shattered Nation explores the latter scenario, the point of divergence being Joseph Johnston remaining in command of the Army of Tennessee and winning a tremendous victory over Sherman at the Battle of Peachtree Creek.
This is a critical point, for a Confederate victory scenario in 1864 is vastly different than a Confederate victory scenario in 1862. Most important of all is the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, making the abolition of slavery a Union war aim and beginning the process of freeing huge numbers of slaves. By mid-1864, hundreds of thousands of slaves had been set free and many thousands had joined the Union army. Aside from slavery, the two years between 1862 and 1864 saw greater centralization of authority in Richmond at the expense of the Confederate state governments, a greater harshness and brutality introduced into the war on both sides, and a realization that America as it had been could never be restored, no matter who won the war. Keeping this in mind was crucial in framing the attitudes of the characters who made up the convention delegates.
As I began writing, I asked myself what the most divisive issues at such a peace conference would be. Some were obvious. How would the armies disengage? Where would the border between the two nations lie? Since, in the Shattered Nation timeline, the Confederate victory takes place after the Emancipation Proclamation has been enacted, how would the delegates approach the subject of the thousands upon thousands of slaves freed by it?
As I wrote, issues that would have seemed minor and technical from the perspective of history, but which would have been vitally important to the participants at the time, kept popping into my head. Some occurred to me while following news of the Scottish independence referendum campaign in the United Kingdom, which can be viewed as a test case for two countries splitting apart. Others popped into my head simply by doing thought experiments. If I was a Union or Confederate peace delegate sitting at that table, what would I have demanded and expected to get? I also bounced ideas off of my fellow posters in the discussion forum at AlternateHistory.com, getting lots of very useful feedback.
As part of my research, I began pouring over the text of treaties from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The idea then occurred to me to write out an actual treaty, which could be included at the end of the novella as an appendix to the story. It was a fun experience, though I imagine most people would find it boring. Such is the quirky life of the history-obsessed.
I was excited to write John C. Breckinridge as a character. I deliberately left him out of Shattered Nation (aside from a very brief cameo near the end), because I wanted to use him as a major character in later writings. I have always felt that he is one of the least appreciated figures of American Civil War. He played a crucial role in the political events before 1861 and he became one of the outstanding generals on either side who had had no prewar military training. As a Kentuckian, he had a unique ability to see the war from the perspective of each side. Few men encapsulate the American Civil War, in all its tragedy and drama, as well as John C. Breckinridge. We’ll be seeing more of him in future Shattered Nation books.
Blessed are the Peacemakers is intended to serve as a bridge between Shattered Nation and its sequel, House of the Proud, which is about a third of the way to completion and which I hope to publish in 2015. I’m excited about the future course the Shattered Nation series will be taking. I am doing preliminary research and outlining for future novels that will take the alternate timeline up to the 1960s, as well as some that take place during the Civil War in regions other than Georgia. There will also be more novellas like Blessed are the Peacemakers, including one that explores the postwar life of Abraham Lincoln.
I’m quite proud of Blessed are the Peacemakers and hope that the alternate history community enjoys it. Now, on to the next book!
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