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Literature: The Guns of the South

The Guns of the South is a Science Fiction Alternate History novel by Harry Turtledove, set during the American Civil War.

January of 1864. The Army of Northern Virginia is in winter quarters at Orange Court House, trying to deal with its massive supply problems, when, one day, General Lee is approached by a strange man with a strange name, Andries Rhoodie. Rhoodie wishes to show the General a new breech-loading repeating rifle, with an unmatched rate of fire, which he claims to be able to deliver in almost endless quantities. He calls his weapon an AK-47...

Needless to say, the Confederacy wins the war pretty handily, and gains its independence. The book follows the war, and the aftermath, from the perspectives of General Lee and Nathaniel Caudell, a Nashville Schoolteacher and First Sergeant of the 47th North Carolina. Notably, it doesn't deal much with the war, but focuses on the aftermath. In fact, it's really a story of "What if the South won". The Kalashnikovs are just the explanation for how, and how Lee's attitudes come about are a result of the people who deliver them.

This book provides examples of :

  • Action Girl: Mollie Bean.
  • Airport Novel: On a long train journey, Robert E. Lee decides to partake of the then-new phenomenon of a railroad novel, though he ends up not finishing his choice (Ivanhoe).
  • Alien Space Bats: Trope Namer was a direct reference to this.
  • A.K.A.-47: In-Universe: Although the rifle is universally named the AK-47 by the Rivington men for the sake of simplicity, Confederate weapon-smiths examining the guns note that many of them were made in Yugoslavia and China as well as the "SSSR".
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Forrest's Trees, Nathan Bedford Forrest's supporters in the 1867 election, are loosely modeled after the Ku Klux Klan (notably wearing robes and peaked hoods), which Forrest didn't help found in this universe.
  • Alternate Universe: Considering that the time machine the AWB possesses can only travel forward and backward exactly 150 years, and considering that the "butterflies" that change historical events must have started flapping their wings as soon as Rhoodie & Company began meeting with various Confederate notables and doling out their future tech, it's possible that the universe in which the events of the book occur is actually a different continuum from the one that the AWB is from. The time travelers might not be aware of this at first, which is why Rhoodie hesitates when Lee asks if the "Rivington men" can supply rations for the Army of Northern Virginia in addition to arms and ammunition.
    • Supported by the fact that the AWB's stolen time machine is still obviously operational at the end of the book, the building in which it's housed surrounded by long rows of warehouses containing goods from the future, when the Confederate Army under Forrest storms Rivington.
  • American Civil War: Duh.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: Every single member of the AWB.
  • And Then What?: Lee is asked this a couple of times, first by Abraham Lincoln, and then by a British diplomat, who tell him that he must put the Confederacy on a course for the future. Lee resolves to emancipate slavery.
  • The Apartheid Era. The AWB hope to prolong this by turning the CSA into a superpower so South Africa isn't alone in racism.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: In the end, Lee worries that losing the war has not only made the USA expansionist and vengefulnote  but now they're also turning their massive industrial prowess to making better weapons, starting with successfully reverse-engineering and mass producing the Kalashnikovs.
  • Badass Bookworm: Henry Pleasants. Two engineering degrees and a Lt.Col. commission in both the Union and Confederate armies, by the end of the book
  • Badass Teacher: Nate Caudell, though he would definitely not consider himself as such.
  • Bad Future: The AWB claim to come from this.
  • Big Bad: Andries Rhoodie
  • Big Bulky Bomb: The Battle of the Crater that, in this timeline, takes place in North Carolina.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The Confederates don't know the names for some of the future technology and come up with their own names. For example, they refer to a machine gun as an 'endless repeater' and a computer as a 'qwerty', after the letters on the keyboard. (Remember this is two years before typewriters were invented, so they wouldn't be familiar with qwerty keyboards).
  • Camp Follower: Mollie Bean is a prostitute as well as Sweet Polly Oliver.
  • Character Development: Nate Caudell's move towards accepting blacks as regular people comes gradually and over time; after teaching a black man basic math (with him showing great aptitude), he thinks about the fact that his illiterate, racist landlady could buy the man in a heartbeat and remarks to himself "Damned if there's any justice in that".
  • Covers Always Lie: This happening to another author's book was actually the inspiration for this one—see below.
  • Cultural Posturing: Judah P. Benjamin's snarky comeback to an anti-semitic insult by Ben Butler.
  • Dramatization: In Turtledove's authors notes, he reveals that he took names and occupations for the 47th North Carolina Infantry from real life service records, but made up their personalities based off of details (such as Billy Beddingfield being portrayed as a hot-headed Jerkass based on the real Beddingfield repeatedly gaining and losing non-commissioned rank).
  • Deal with the Devil: Lee knows that the Confederacy is making one with AWB when they accept Rhoodies' help, but the South is desperate.
    • Rhoodie again tries to bribe Lee, this time with medicine for his wife, in order to get him to rethink emancipation. His wife herself calls him out on deciding the future of his country over her health. This time he strongly refuses.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The book analyses the difference between conservative racism (people are racist because that's the way it's always been) and reactionary racism (people actively move against other races to prevent race-mixing). This is demonstrated in early chapters where one of Caudell's squadmates says that if he owned slaves, he'd want a Rivington man as an overseer, but quickly recants when he sees how harshly they treat blacks, remarking that their attitude would either cause a lot of runaways or an outright revolt.
    • This is also the reason given for Gen. Forrest's Heel-Face Turn at the end of the book. He even says that if he'd known what the AWB were really planning, he'd have dropped out of the race and voted for Lee.
  • Fatal Flaw: For the Rivington men, their fanaticism means they are completely inflexible, which is what starts driving Confederates away from them. Even the rank-and-file soldiers, who themselves have little use for blacks, get put off when they see how harshly the AWB treats slaves. When Rhoodie tries to horrify Lee by telling him that there are blacks in the British Parliament, Lee asks how they can be blamed if they were properly elected, which gets Rhoodie red in the face and halfway to starting a fight before Lee calms him down. Later on after receiving The Picture History of the Civil War, Lee compares Rhoodie to John Brown, which REALLY sets him off.
  • Genre Savvy: As the novel progresses, Lee (Who is told at the beginning that Rhoodies and co. are time travelers, as well as some of the science behind it) starts figuring out how it works on his own. Nate, to a lesser degree. Considering these guys are from almost 150 years ago and from a more rural America, this is remarkable.
    • Lee was a trained engineer (as he reminded Rhoodie near the beginning of the book, when Rhoodie was giving a very elementary explanation of the AK-47's firing mechanism). He had some basic principles and enough native intelligence to put things together given the time.
      • In fact, this is what makes Lee question the Rivington men in the first place. When discussing the AK-47 with the head of the Tregedar Iron Works, it's remarked that even a less efficient ancestor of the AK-47 would be vastly superior than anything the Confederates currently have, and yet there is no such ancestor — the AK seems to have appeared from thin air.
    • This is part of a common theme in Turtledove's books of criticising time travel versions of Clarke's Third Law—in Turtledove's works, given time and the right opportunities people from the past will be able to match wits with those from later times rather than being overawed by them and their technology (as shown in his first sold work, A Death in Vesunna, where ancient Roman officials are able to figure out that a rich man was murdered with a gun by time travelers from the future).
    • Later in the novel when the Rivington men turn on the South, Lee reads dispatches from General Forrest and thinks the name "Henry Pleasants" sounds familiar; after confirming it with The Picture History of the Civil War, he orders Forrest not to use Pleasants' name in any more communiques, thinking that the Rivington men might be tapping the telegraph lines and could likewise look Pleasants up and figure out what he's up to.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Actually the inspiration for the book as a whole; Turtledove mentions that fellow author Tanith Lee described the cover of her latest novel as being as incongruous as "Robert E. Lee with an Uzi", and decided to explain how such a thing could happen.
  • Graceful Loser: After Lee wins the 1867 elections, Forrest goes to his house to personally concede — a deliberate contrast to their first meeting, also at Lee's house, where their disagreement over slavery lead to Lee asking Forrest to leave. Forrest says that he still disagrees with Lee politically, but not personally, and he wants to make sure that Lee understands this; Lee is more than happy in this regard, since he doesn't like the idea of personal enemies.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Nathan Bedford Forrest. In the first Act, Forrest doesn't appear but is frequently mentioned as an excellent general and boon to the South. In the second Act, Forrest becomes the primary antagonist, siding with AWB. In the third Act, he recants his alliance with the AWB after their atrocities and personally leads the assault on Rivington.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: While the second Act of the novel treats him as the primary antagonist, Nathan Bedford Forrest receives surprisingly sympathetic treatment for being the founder of the Ku Klux Klan (which he noticeably doesn't do in the revised timeline, although his political supporters "Forrest's Trees" wear similar outfits as an Allohistorical Allusion).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard/Karmic Death: Andries Rhoodie is killed when one of his slaves stabs him in the throat with a broken bottle. The Confederates ignore the law and let him go, having learned how horribly Rhoodie (and indeed most of AWB) treated their slaves; one soldier even remarks "Reckon the son of a bitch had it coming."
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Lee has one to his son Custis as they're discussing hiring black people to spy on the AWB.
    Custis: I promise, Father, I shan't be niggardly.
    Lee: Good, for mostly being poor, they are—you young scamp!
    Custis: I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't resist.
    Lee: You might have tried.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: The villians' scheme is this.
  • Mata Hari: Molly Bean, who is brought into the headquarters of the AWB and becomes a favored bedmate after the war. Ignorant and only recently taught to read, she nonetheless becomes a vital part of the attempts by the South to destroy them. While she is spying on them, she sends letters to Nate describing futuristic things like electricity and books that haven't yet been published, causing him to figure out that they're from the future.
  • More Dakka: The very first scene of the book. And the cover. And, well, the whole premise....
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The Confederates repeatedly refer to the Federal commissioners as "Our honored guests, and Gen. Butler." They feel they are justified in doing so, given their reactions to some of Butler's actions during the war.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Many of the Confederates have this sort of reaction to seeing the assortment of books from the future all describing slavery in such drastically evil terms.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The inauguration massacre not only fails to kill Lee, but hands him the trump card he needs to get the manumission bill passed, meaning this South will likely have better race relations than its real-world counterpart.
    • In addition, part of what convinces Robert E. Lee to push for the end of slavery is his discovery of the AWB library, which to him are now books from an alternate future where his country was defeated - he is revolted to find out that the CSA had been so consistently judged as barbaric by history because of their support of slavery, even among those who sympathized with other portions of their cause.
  • Nice to the Waiter: The treatment of a black servant is a good gauge on a person's behavior. Henry Pleasants, the Ex-Union officer who moves to North Carolina treats his free black employees very well. Robert E. Lee, a man of great honor, treats his servants with respect as well. The AWB men who treat their slaves horribly are bastards who even most southerners can't stand.
  • No Hero To His Wife: Lee's wife does believe him a national hero, but is also understandably disillusioned with how little he can be present for her and their family, with the duty of serving the nation always foremost on his mind.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In-universe, Caudell sees a mulatto sex slave escape from one of the AWB men, only to be recaptured. Later, he learns from one of Mollie's letters that the mulatto hung herself. Caudell wonders what that man did to push the slave into such a response. He is so shaken by the possibilities he immediately tears up the letter.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The only times Nathaniel Caudell's full name is used is when he musters out of the army, and when he goes to vote. When in uniform, he's Sergeant Caudell, when teaching he's Mr. Caudell, and otherwise everyone calls him Nate.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: The time machine used is a square platform, a few square meters in size, that travels forwards and backwards exactly 150 years. It dematerialises travellers in much the same way as the transporter in Star Trek.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Rivington men just have "evil racist scum" written all over them. Given they're fanatical members of the AWB (in English, Afrikaner Resistance Movement), this isn't surprising.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Benny Lang is racist like the rest of the Rivington men, but he treats his slaves decently enough, fought valiantly for the Confederacy, and treated Mollie nicely when he called upon her services. At the end of the novel when Lee offers the captive Rivington men a form of amnesty in return for sharing their future knowledge, he asks Lang first for these reasons, thinking him the most likely to honestly consider the proposal and pass it along to his fellows.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Robert E. Lee gives a couple of these, once by Shaming the Mob (mentioned above) and once when he calls out Rhoodie after learning about AWB's deception and true intentions.
  • Retired Badass: When the Rivington men attack Lee's inauguration, several civilians pick up weapons dropped by slain bodyguards and shoot back. When Jefferson Davis calls for a guard for Lee, the narration remarks that it's probably the highest-ranking guard in history since several generals came in order to see one of their own take office.
  • Ridiculous Exchange Rates: The Confederates are befuddled by the Rivington men selling their AK-47s for 50 Confederate dollars, given the currency's complete worthlessness.
  • Rock Beats Laser: And strategically placed TNT can beat a whole passel of future weapons.
  • Samus is a Girl: Melvin Bean is actually Mollie Bean.
  • San Dimas Time: Justified. The time machine only works over a period of 150 years, or at least that's all anyone can ever figure out to do with it (it was stolen tech from even further in the future); the AWB stole it in 2014, so they could only go back to 1864 and no earlier, meaning that events like Gettysburg still happened.
  • Schizo Tech: The Guns of the South gets this on purpose.
  • Shaming the Mob: One of Lee's most effective weapons against the Rivington men is future historical documents that show how negatively the modern world views the South because of slavery, shattering the notion held by many slavery proponents that they would be Vindicated by History.
    • Happens more literally in one scene where a mob, egged on by a Rivington man, attempts to lynch a free black blacksmith. Lee comes upon the incident and gives the men holy hell, defusing the situation, though the Rivington men later try to use Manipulative Editing to make Lee look bad.
  • Shown Their Work: Very much so, as Turtledove is quite the expert on the American Civil War. An appendix describes the history of the real 47th North Carolina Infantry, and the contemporary characters are mostly drawn from real people.
    • Not to mention the fact that he calculated out the election results in the United States of the novel (1864; just after losing the Second American Revolution), and that of the Confederacy in 1867. And explains how he calculated it, state-by-state.
    • Much of the slave auctioneer's patter is verbatim from an 1850s account of a real slave auction.
  • The Squadette: Molly fought at Gettysburg, y'all.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: Nate begins falling in love with Molly over the course of the novel, and she develops feelings for him because he treats her well. They split temporarily after the war, since Nate has a problem with her prostitution. They eventually reunite and marry.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mollie Bean.
  • Technology Marches On: The AWB (who are from 2014-18, as the book progresses) have an Apple computer in their main headquarters. The Apple logo is explicitly stated to be multicolored. The real Apple company switched to a monochrome logo in 1998 (six years after The Guns of the South was written). Although it is possible that the Rivington men prefer Mac OS 8, or that Apple will change their logo back to the multicolored logo in that timeframe.
  • This Is My Boomstick: Played straight, almost to the point of deconstruction.
  • Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: The Picture History of the Civil War, an ordinary (perhaps even elementary) history book, is what really causes Lee and the Confederates to turn away from the Rivington men.
  • Time Travel: Duh. Again.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: The Rivington Men are from 2014. Besides fitting the idea of a time machine that can only travel a neat 150 years, Turtledove probably chose this date because it was just enough years ahead for a time machine not to be totally absurd, but still close enough for the Rivington Men's weapons and technology to basically be equivalent to the 'present day'.
    • The AK-47's themselves qualify from the perspective of the Confederates, being originally designed in the 1940's but with peasant conscripts not entirely unlike the Confederate soldiers in mind. They're certainly more advanced than anything the Confederate Army fielded, but still recognizeable for what they are. They're also inexpensive and easy to obtain, very easy for even the most untrained user to operate and maintain, and can be repaired in an average rural workshop. Turtledove may have anticipated the Rivington Men having access to more advanced weapons from the 2010's when he wrote the book, not realizing the sheer ubiquity of the AK-47 in the world arms market would ensure its dominance for some time to come.
  • Void Between the Worlds: Possible fate of one of the AWB men, who had the the misfortune of using the time machine just when Caudell shot it up. He theorizes that the man was either dumped in a different time, or stuck in a time limbo.
  • Worthy Opponent: Abraham Lincoln to General Lee. Later Nathan Forrest assumes that role.
    • Caudell himself admires black soldiers who continued to battle his regiment, even when faced with their overwhelming firepower.

It averts:
  • Bottomless Magazines: The soldiers are carefully instructed that full-auto is actually mostly useless except in extreme circumstances — it's the ability to fire single shots without stopping to reload that is their primary advantage.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Caudell is a Baptist, and the two ministers shown are Baptist and Episcopalian. Not surprising as it's set in the South, which has been dominated by Protestantism from the beginning.
  • Easy Logistics: The difficulties of supplying an army in the field come up a number of times, though the AWB are tripped up by this a little - they have a huge stock of AK-47s and ammunition ready to supply to the Confederacy, but weren't expecting them to be interested in their field rations.
    • This is also a reason for concern in the end of the novel. Even with the new technological boon the CSA has gained, the fact that the North has used its massive industry to start mass producing functional copies of the AK has the characters fear that said advantage might not be enough.
  • Magic from Technology: The AK-47s are never treated as magic, simply as weapons of amazing quality whose appearance makes no sense. Neither are MREs and instant coffee. The Confederates are well acquainted with the desiccated vegetables the Federals have, they just didn't know anyone was preparing whole meals or coffee that way. Even given a bit of a lampshade, when Lee comments on the "desiccated stew" he is offered, and notes that Rhoodie seems disappointed that he isn't more surprised.
    • The Confederates become accustomed so quickly to their marvelous new rifles, indeed, that Mollie Bean is soon as readily cussing out a refractory AK-47 that she's trying to disassemble as she might curse a Springfield that she was having difficulty cleaning. Nate Caudell himself is actually a good deal more astonished by Bennie Lang's body armor, as he is well aware that any iron plate strong enough to stop a rifle bullet would be far too heavy for a man to wear.
  • Technobabble: Nobody has to explain one bit of the science behind the machine, since it was stolen from who-knows-how-far into the future in the first place, and all they could do was try and work the controls.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Along with being the premise of the novel itself, it is actually meta-lampshaded in the first chapter by the characters themselves:
      "Pity they couldn't have come a year ago," Walter Taylor said. "Think what we might have done with those rifles at Chancellorsville, or up in Pennsylvania."
      "I have had that thought myself a fair number of times the last few days, Major," Lee said. "What's past is past, though, and cannot be changed."
    • This is something of a Running Gag with Turtledove; when Lee and Lincoln run into each other in 1865, Lincoln says he might write a book about how things would have been better if Lee and the South hadn't won.
    • An acknowledged moment occurs when Lee reads the Picture History of the Civil War and sees that in the original timeline, Lincoln was killed on Good Friday of 1865; Lee shudders when he remembers that he spoke to Lincoln on that day (in a scene depicted earlier in the novel).
  • Science at the Speed of Plot: When Colonel Gorgas states his disappointment at not being able to figure out smokeless powder, General Lee bluntly states that The Smart Guy having the Applied Phlebotinum rejiggered and ready exactly when The Hero needs it is something that only happens in stories, and that he does not share Gorgas' disappointment in any way.

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alternative title(s): The Guns Of The South
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