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Literature / The Guns of the South

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

In January of 1864 the Army of Northern Virginia is in winter quarters at Orange Court House, trying to deal with its massive supply problems and the looming specter of defeat when operations resume come spring. General Lee is approached by a strange man with a strange name, who 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, the war itself occupies only the first third or so of the novel, with the remainder focusing on the development of the Confederacy as a nation and how both Lee and Caudell are forced to change their thinking as time progresses.


This book provides examples of:

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  • 20 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 then-present day of 1992.
  • Action Girl: Mollie Bean, who fought at Gettysburg before the start of the novel and marches with the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Airport Novel: On a long train journey, Robert E. Lee decides to partake of the then-new phenomenon of a railroad novel. He originally tries to purchase Ivanhoe, but the owner refuses to sell it as it is his last copy, so he buys Quentin Durward instead. Later in the story it is revealed that he never finished the book.
  • A.K.A.-47: Averted. The rifles are specifically referred to as the AK-47 and their care and maintenance is based on the real rifle. All other real-life guns that make an appearance are also given their proper names by the Rivington men.
  • Alien Space Bats: The Trope Namer was a direct reference to this story.
  • Allohistorical Allusion:
    • When Lee and Ulysses S. Grant meet after the armistice, they briefly discuss their previous meeting during the Mexican-American War. At the real-life surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox, the two of them had also reminisced about their first meeting to briefly put off the primary subject of the meeting.
    • 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 helped found in our real universe.
    • An In-Universe version happens late in the book, when the Confederates are invading Rivington, General Forrest calls a cease-fire to try and get the AWB to surrender. When Andres Rhoodie refuses to back down, Forrest says that he's more than willing to overrun the AWB with sheer numbers, a strategy that worked for the Union "until you came along". This goes over the heads of all the nearby Confederates except Nate Caudell, who read the Picture History of the Civil War and realizes that Forrest is talking about how the war went in the other timeline.
  • Alter Kocker: Mr. Goldfarb, a Jewish merchant living in Richmond who knows fluent Dutch, whom Lee recruits to translate the AWB's Afrikaner language books.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: The AWB is a South African white supremacist group that traveled back in time to preserve white power in the Confederate States of America (they're a real group with these views).
  • An Arm and a Leg: Since this was the late 1800s, medicine and surgery aren't exactly the best. Several references are made to people losing arms and legs in battle; Confederate General Richard Ewell, who lost his right leg earlier in the war, interacts with Lee a few times. During the invasion of Washington City, it's mentioned that a Rivington man had to have his leg amputated, but his fellows took him to one of their doctors who managed to break the septic fever he suffered before it could claim him.
  • And Then What?: Lee is asked this several times as the war comes to a close, first by Abraham Lincoln and then by Lord Lyons, the British Minister to the USA. They both tell him that he must put the Confederacy on a course for the future, and wonder what kind of nation it will become. Lee's response is that, whatever type of nation they become, they will be a nation.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted. An AWB member wearing a bullet-proof vest in the assault on Washington survives a point-blank bullet to the chest, to the shock of the Confederate soldiers fighting with him. When AWB tries to assassinate Lee, the assailants are all wearing bullet-proof vests, necessitating headshots to kill them.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • In one scene, Lee looks all the way down into the heart of Washington D.C. from a nearby hill; in the author's notes Turtledove observes that this is impossible, but "Sometimes geography has to bend to suit the author's wishes."
    • The town of Rivington, North Carolina does not and has never existed. While it could have been written it off as the AWB men founding the town themselves, but Mollie Bean says it's her hometown so it would had to have existed for at least a decade or two before they ever entered the picture.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: AWB is an Afrikaner Neo-Nazi group that props the Confederacy up out of sheer anti-black hatred, and act in accordance with their ideology. Their flag and insignia is given particular attention by the narrative and is described on more than one occasion.
  • 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 a world of perpetual interracial strife and domination by black people, where the American South is an occupied territory. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the world they come from is the actual world, and they had made up most of their "facts" about the future.
  • Big Bad: Andries Rhoodie, the leader of the AWB.
  • Big, Bulky Bomb: The Battle of the Crater that, in this timeline, takes place in North Carolina against the AWB, not the Union.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The AWB are vicious, wretched slavers who wish to ensure white supremacy. But most whites are still pro-slavery and/or anti-black, and even the nicest characters in the book are still somewhat patronizing toward black people. The man who takes the AWB down is the already brutal and racist Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was appalled by their treasonous behavior. And while General Lee ends slavery, black people in the Confederacy still don't have equal rights.
  • Bookends: The book begins with General Lee drafting a letter to President Davis when he is interrupted by Rhoodie and his AK-47 demonstration. The last chapter has President Lee drafting a letter to British Minister Lyons, and is interrupted by a crowd of reporters informing him that his repeal of slavery has just passed in the Confederate Senate.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. 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.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp":
    • The Confederates do not know the names for much of the future technology they encounter, and come up with their own names. They refer to a belt-fed machine gun as an 'endless repeater' and a computer as a 'qwerty', after the letters on the keyboard. MREs are known as "desiccated meals", based on similarities to their own desiccated vegetables.
    • Since the AWB are from South Africa, they occasionally slip into Afrikaner terms for things and have to correct themselves. The most notable is calling black people kaffirs, especially when they're angry.
  • Camp Follower: Mollie Bean is a prostitute as well as Sweet Polly Oliver.
  • Cassandra Truth: Subverted. When Rhoodie comes clean about being a time traveler, Lee quickly accepts it as truth, since the weapons of the Confederacy are more advanced than anything that can be produced in the 1860s.
  • Character Development: The book's two focus characters, Robert E. Lee and Nate Caudell, both gradually accept blacks as regular people over the course of the story. After seeing regiments of black soldiers and later guerillas holding off General Forrest, Lee comes to realize that blacks are inferior to whites only by circumstance. Meanwhile, Caudell's interactions with individual blacks lets him see them as people and not just a faceless mass, and seeing the harsh treatment they suffer for the crime of "existing while black" chafes his sense of justice.
  • Coincidental Dodge: Robert E. Lee benefits from this twice during the story. During the Missouri and Kentucky voting campaign, he barely avoids an escaped slave's assassination attempt, though Lee himself also attributes the fact that the man shot at him through a window that was reflecting the bright morning sun. Years later, during his inaugural address as President, his hat gets blown off by the wind and he stoops down to pick it up just as a Rivington man attempts to snipe him.
  • Covers Always Lie: Harry Turtledove had heard the cover of another author's book described as being as anachronistic as Robert E. Lee holding an Uzi. Afterwards, he wrote this book to explain how such a thing might come to pass.
  • Critical Research Failure: Happens In-Universe on the part of the Rivington men, who failed to anticipate how popular their rations would be among the Confederates. Even more than a lack of arms, the inability to keep the army properly supplied played a huge role in the defeat of the South, something that has been well-documented by historians.
  • Cultural Posturing: After Ben Butler makes a snide remark about the Confederates trying to "jew" money out of the US, Judah Benjamin (who actually is Jewish) responds with "While your ancestors were boar-hunting cavemen, mine were princes of the Earth".
  • Curbstomp Battle: The firepower advantage the AK-47 gives the Confederates is so massive that Union armies are thrashed by much smaller Confederate formations, and single-handedly causes the South to win. That being said, the Union soldiers still fight with all their muster and still inflict severe casualties against Confederate armies. In the Battle of the Wilderness, massed Union artillery manages to beat back a Confederate assault successfully.
  • Dramatization: In Turtledove's author 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, and actually reflects on the story of the last temptation of Jesus. Unfortunately, even though he sees the trap, the South is desperate.
    • When Lee and the AWB began to break apart, Rhoodie tries to tempt Lee again, this time with the offer of medicine to heal his crippled wife. Lee finds the temptation almost too great to refuse, but this time he does refuse.
  • Deconstruction:
    • The book takes a bit of a sledgehammer to the idea of the Confederate victory. While the South does manage to win its political independence thanks to the AK-47s, its slavery system would still be untenable in the long run: aside from its moral failures and global condemnation from a world becoming ever more opposed to slavery, the massive revolt against it by slaves who were freed by the Union would become inevitable, and Robert E. Lee recognizes this would pose a long-term threat to the stability of the nation. Not only that, but while the North may have lost the war, it still possesses significant industrial and numerical advantages over the Confederates, which means they could be crushed in a future war.
    • The book also deconstructs Set Wrong What Was Once Made Right; the racist Afrikaners want an independent Confederacy in the hopes that apartheid South Africa would have a strong ally in the future. However, they find to their chagrin that while many Southerners are racists and white supremacists who look down on people of color, they are put off by the rabidly reactionary mindset of the AWB, and the more pragmatic Southern establishment would reject their hardline behavior as detrimental to the nation. Lee is extremely unhappy to discover that the AWB was planning to use his people as a pawn. Even the strongest ally of the Afrikaners, Nathan Bedford Forrest, turns on them after seeing their horribly treasonous behavior.
  • Dehumanization: When Robert E. Lee announces his plan to free the slaves, the arguments against him largely consist of this, ranging from those who cite the Curse of Ham as proof that blacks are being punished by God for their wickedness to those who use evolutionary theory to claim that they're closer to apes than humans. Lee is thoroughly disgusted by all these ideas.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After the Rivington men are defeated and captured, one of Andres Rhoodie's slaves runs in and stabs him in the throat with a broken bottle, leaving him to bleed to death. As an added twist of the knife, the Confederates present let the slave go free after seeing how horribly Rhoodie had mistreated him, and because (as one soldier puts it) "Reckon the son of a bitch had it coming."
  • Dramatic Irony At the beginning of Chapter 3, there's a brief interlude where Robert E. Lee thinks about George Washington and how he would surely be more at home on a Southern plantation than in a bustling Northern factory town, were he to somehow "whirl through time" to the 1860s. In other words, Lee contemplates the notion of Time Travel without realizing that his brand-new allies are time travelers themselves.
  • The Dreaded: Nathan Bedford Forrest strikes fear into the heart of all men, black and white.

  • Easy Logistics: Averted. The difficulties of supplying an army in the field come up a number of times, both for soldiers of the time and the AWB — when Lee asks if the AWB can also supply rations, Rhoodie admits that his people only really anticipated shipping weapons and ammunition and will need some time to work out the logistics, but they do eventually get MREs and other supplies for the Confederates.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even the other Rivington men look down upon Piet Hardie, who is a sexual abuser of some kind and is even harsher on his slaves than they are. His depredations drove a slave to suicide after a failed runaway attempt, and no white prostitute in Rivington will serve him, although we never get specific details.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • The book analyzes the difference between two different kinds of racism. Most Confederates possess conservative, pseudo-paternal bigotry, being okay with blacks as individuals but hating them as a group because it's what "they" say (whomever "they" may be), while some hold the belief that slavery may be the only way the two races can peacefully co-exist. The Rivington men, on the other hand, have a reactionary, outright malicious hatred of blacks, as if blacks have personally wronged them simply by existing. This is demonstrated in early chapters where one of Caudell's squadmates observes Benny Lang bossing around some slaves and says that he'd make a good overseer, but recants after he sees just how much Lang hates blacks, saying that his attitude would cause a lot of runaways or even an outright rebellion.
    • This is also the reason given for Gen. Forrest's Heel–Face Turn at the end of the book. He claims he'd never known the true depths of the AWB.
    • Relatedly, while Gen. Forrest is almost certainly the most anti-black Confederate in the book, even he admits to freeing slaves on several occasions. Even this gets him dirty looks from the Rivington men.
    • Raeford Liles, Nate's shopkeeper acquaintance, isn't the most enlightened guy, but he's uneasy with Forrest allowing himself to be bought by the Rivington men. He was also willing to hire a freed black man to help out around the shop, despite his misgivings about ending slavery, since even he recognizes that progress happens whether or not you like it.
  • 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 who always push for more black rights, Lee asks how they can be blamed if they're properly elected and merely represent what their constituents wants, 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 claims Rhoodie's extreme hatred for blacks makes him as much an outcast as John Brown's radical abolitionism, which infuriates Rhoodie.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Molly Bean is not an intentional spy, but after the war she becomes a favored bed mate of several of the Rivington men and stumbles across many of their secrets. When she ultimately finds herself in possession of a history book from the future, she smuggles it out of Rivington and brings to Robert E. Lee.
  • For the Evulz: It's a small moment, but during the invasion of Rivington, Nate Caudell comes across a plantation house that has slave huts but no fields, implying that the AWB man who lives there wanted to own slaves simply because he could.
  • For Want of a Nail: In-universe, a gust of wind is what saves Lee from getting a bullet to the brain.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • Abraham Lincoln, despite losing the Southern states (and much of his reputation) and in despair over the permanent breakup of the Union, remains genial toward Robert E. Lee, offering him advice about governing, and sending him condolences after the AWB kill his wife Mary.
    • General Grant, as well, remains genial toward Lee, while disagreeing over his decision to fight for the Confederacy. The two work together to keep the peace in Kentucky as it votes to secede from the Union as well.
  • Fun with Acronyms: When Lee asks Rhoodie what the AWB sign means, he claims it stands for "America Will Break". It is later revealed to actually stand for Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging ("Afrikaner Resistance Movement"), which is the name of a real-life South African racist group.
  • Future Society, Present Values: The novel was first published in 1992, and the AWB men act more like they come from that time period, rather than 2014-2018. It should be noted, however, that the only AWB men whose ages are mentioned are in their mid-late forties, and as such are just the right age to have joined a pro-Apartheid militia group right before it ended.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Afrikaaners set out to change the Civil War, hoping to create a country that hates black people as much as they do. While the Confederacy does win the war, they end slavery in a gradual, peaceful manner that will more than likely ensure better race relations in the future, to say nothing of the idea that the two American nations might re-unite somewhere down the line.
  • 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 vocal disagreement over slavery led 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.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Nathan Bedford Forrest, as in real life, with the book even referencing an infamous incident where he stabbed a man to death with a pen knife. He's shown getting quite angry a few times in the book, such as when Robert E. Lee questions the Rivington mens' loyalty to the South, and during the Battle of Rivington when Andres Rhoodie calls him predictable, which causes Forrest to almost violate the cease-fire and kill him on the spot.
  • The Heckler: During the 1867 Confederate Election, Nashville's mayor delivers a speech in support of General Forrest. Caudell and his former squadmate Dempsey Eure both heckle the man for being a rich, out-of-touch coward (he bought a substitute so he could avoid the draft, calls General Lee a coward, and rails about him "taking away our slaves" in a county where most people are subsistence farmers and way too poor to even think about owning slaves).
    • Later, Captain Lewis (Caudell's former commanding officer) gives a speech in support of Lee and likewise has to deal with a heckler. Rather than trying to ignore him, Lewis addresses his "points" head-on, including dismissing the man's complaints about freeing slaves by pointing out "All you ever do is complain about how lazy and useless your slaves are, so what difference does it make to you?"
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Nathan Bedford Forrest. In the first Act, Forrest does not appear, but is frequently mentioned as an excellent general and boon to the South, though his conduct at Fort Pillow unnerves Lee. In the second Act, Forrest becomes the primary antagonist, siding with the AWB. In the third Act, he recants his alliance with the AWB after their atrocities and finding out about their lies, and personally leads the assault on Rivington.
  • Historical Domain Character: Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Abraham Lincoln, and the other generals, plus every member of the Castelia Invincibles (though with less known about them, Turtledove made up much of their characterization).
  • 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 a founder of the Ku Klux Klan (which he noticeably doesn't do in the revised timeline, given that the South wins, although his political supporters "Forrest's Trees" wear similar outfits as an Allohistorical Allusion).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Andries Rhoodie is killed when one of his slaves stabs him in the throat with a broken bottle. The Confederates soldiers present ignore the law and let the slave 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."

  • Improperly Placed Firearms: Justified, and the whole point of the book. Turtledove wanted to explore an alternate history with anachronistic weaponry.
  • I Owe You My Life: The reason Henry Pleasants is so loyal to Nate Caudell, as he explains later. Pleasants lost his wife in childbirth, later joining the Army in the hopes that he'd be killed and could join her in the next life. Caudell showing up and convincing him to move South gave him a new purpose in life, as well as the chance to deal with the pain of losing his family in a more constructive manner.
  • It's Personal: After Lee and Forrest have a heated exchange about slavery, Forrest leaves in a loud and bitter rage. Lee reflects that previously all his adversaries had been professional enemies in his duty as a soldier, and Forrest is his first personal foe. He does not enjoy the prospect.
    • Lee already had plenty of disagreements with the Rivington men before, but once they killed his wife Mary during their assassination attempt the gloves came off.
  • Jerkass:
  • Jerkass Realization: Though not a bad person by any stretch of the imagination, Nate Caudell grows out of the institutionalized racism pervasive in the South by interacting with blacks, and especially by seeing how horrifically they're treated by people like the Rivington men.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The minor character Billy Beddingfield is never punished for killing surrendering black soldiers, becoming a case of What Happened to the Mouse?.
    • Nathan Bedford Forrest not only suffers no repercussions for his war crimes, but ends up seen as one of the good guys by virtue of fighting the AWB.
  • Kick the Dog: Benny Lang destroys whatever goodwill he might have built up with the readers in the first couple of chapters by going berserk when he sees a black Confederate with an AK-47 and does everything in his power to get it taken away; this leads to the solider running away and getting shot dead by a picket guarding the border.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: The only person to ever call Nate Caudell "Nathaniel" is an official at the balloting station. Everyone else calls him Mr. Caudell or Nate.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Piet Hardy, the vicious woman-abusing Rivington man, gets killed in the Battle of the Crater — his neck gets broken some time around when the bomb goes off, meaning he died slowly and painfully. Nate discovers his body during the battle and taunts him by saying he won't be able to hurt any more women now.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: A recurring thread in Robert E. Lee's sections of the plot is his devotion to his duties. His wife Mary understands that he's an important person to the Confederacy, but is still upset that being a General has kept him away from his family for so long, and is likewise dismayed when he agrees to oversee the Missouri and Kentucky elections since it means another six months apart. And as much as he would love to retire to the life of a gentleman farmer, Lee runs for President because he wants to keep the AWB away from the levers of power. Tragically, Mary is one of the casualties when the AWB attacks Lee's inauguration.
    • In one conversation, Mary sarcastically quips President Davis ordered her husband to fetch a coal from Satan's stove, he would say his goodbyes and be off without a second thought. Robert admits that she's probably right, but adds that he'd either return with that coal or else give "Old Nick" a battle he'd remember until the end of time.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong:
    • Early in the novel, Nate discusses how Lang is putting himself in the crosshairs by making his slaves hate his guts. Eventually, Rhoodie gets it from one of his abused slaves.
    • Despite the danger to themselves, many escaped slaves continue their rebellion. While General Forrest believes they can be crushed, Lee himself starts to realize that rebellion will only grow.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: The villains' scheme is this.
  • More Dakka: The AK-47 isn't as impressive as some other examples, but it's so far beyond the capabilities of anything being brought to the field in 1864 that once it's introduced it gives this impression off to the Union soldiers who end up facing it. When AWB breaks with the Confederacy and attempt to kill Lee, they deploy Uzis and machineguns in their attacks and defenses, respectively, which outguns the Southerners badly.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Even when some of Lee's officers remain suspicious about the AK-47's, the AWB men win them over by presenting - among other rations - instant coffee. The South is so pinched by the Union blockade that even the officers haven't drank anything but chicory substitutes for years.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The Confederates repeatedly refer to the Federal commissioners as "Our honored guests, and Gen. Butler" or words to that effect (Lee calls them "the gentlemen and Mr. Butler" at one point, for example). They feel that Butler's actions during the war merit far worse (the South pledged to hang him without a trial, in fact), and limit themselves to such zingers because he now has diplomatic immunity.
  • 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.
  • Name's the Same: In-Universe, Nathaniel Caudell and Molly Bean have a brief conversation about how his name is almost the same as General Nathan Bedford Forrest's; Molly teasingly remarks that it's too bad their bank accounts aren't similar too.
  • 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.
    • Most of what the AWB does after the first couple of chapters fits this trope, as their fanatical, borderline psychotic hatred of blacks manages to alienate all but the most extreme Confederates; even those who originally supported slavery find themselves asking "Do I really want to be on the same side as these madmen?" and begin reevaluating their opinions.
  • 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 and is described as having a disposition matching his name (i.e. very pleasant), was an abolitionist and hires only free labor to work his farm. Robert E. Lee, a man of great honor, treats his servants with respect and gradually frees his remaining slaves as the novel progresses. The AWB men who treat their slaves horribly are bastards who even most Southerners can't stand.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: Robert E. Lee, of course, gets this treatment in the book. He's a Reasonable Authority Figure as CSA President and works to free the slaves soon after the war ends.
  • No Hero to His Valet: 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.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Lampshaded. Colonel Gorgias notes that even a less efficient prototype to the AK-47 would far outclass any weapon currently wielded by either the Union or Confederate Armies, and yet to his knowledge no such prototype exists. The "No Backup" part is averted, as the Confederates and later Union forces are able to develop their own versions of the AK-47.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In-universe, Caudell sees Josephine, a sex slave, escape from one of the AWB men, only to be recaptured. Later, he learns from one of Mollie's letters that Josephine 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. Molly also tells him she and the other prostitutes all refuse to see him, though without explaining why.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lee when he realizes that the main ingredient in the explosives used in the AK-47 ammunition is nitroglycerine — the medicine the AWB men have been giving him for his heart condition. He briefly thinks they have been trying to kill him. After a moment he calms down and realizes that it is a very clumsy and roundabout way to get rid of him, if the pills have not exploded after so much jostling in combat then they probably will not explode at all, and the pills, after all, do work as advertised.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Late in the book, when Henry Pleasants meets General Forrest face-to-face, he says "Now I wish I'd voted for you in the election!" Everyone present expects to see the legendary Forrest temper, but instead the general very seriously says "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for myself", explaining that the Rivington men lied and manipulated him, and he intends to pay them back with interest.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: The time machine used is a square platform, a few meters in size, that travels forwards and backwards exactly 150 years. It dematerializes travelers in much the same way as the transporter in Star Trek.
  • Overprotective Dad: At one point Rhoodie tries to scare Lee by asking if he likes the idea of his daughters marrying a black man; Lee's unspoken response is that he's not too keen on the idea of his daughters marrying anyone.
  • Politically Correct History: Defied and arguably Lampshaded. As noted elsewhere, the AWB men travel from (initially) 2014 to 1864 in order to help the Confederacy win the American Civil War with the expectation that Apartheid Era South Africa will gain a useful (and racist) ally on the global stage and last well into the 21st Century in the resulting Alternate Timeline. They instead find out that a vast majority of the Confederates are only racist because their whole world is for the most part, and (with only a couple exceptions) are in fact even better than most with regards to said issue. Their actions eventually result in (presumably) a new timeline with better race relations than the "Prime" timeline.
  • 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), an offshoot of the National Socialist Party that is so racist they were actually banned in apartheid-era South Africa in real life, this isn't surprising.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Ben Butler opens the negotiations between the USA and the CSA by uttering an antisemitic remark intended to infuriate Judah P. Benjamin. When Benjamin coolly deflects the insult, Lee is surprised to see that Butler does not seem upset, and then realizes that Butler does not actually care that Benjamin is Jewish, he had only uttered the insult as a ploy to open negotiations. Lee is repulsed at such calculated effrontery, but recognizes that it reflects Butler's sharp mind and political drive.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Confederacy may have gained independence, but the war has already freed many slaves throughout border states, many of which have begun a fierce rebellion. Aside from a newfound moral stance, Lee recognizes that the only way to prevent societal collapse is to abolish slavery.

  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. Though numerous characters point out that he can be extremely fractious and lets his personal animosity affect his ability to work with certain people, he is on extremely good terms with General Lee throughout the course of the novel. He supports Lee in all his military campaigns, agrees with him regarding the dangers of the AWB, and pushes Lee to run for President himself. In the end, Davis willingly, indeed enthusiastically, subordinates himself to Lee and agrees to join Lee's Cabinet as Secretary of War - the job he always really wanted in the first place - saying that if he wants to continue his career in public service, it will necessarily have to be at a lower level of authority.
  • Red Baron: Nathan Bedford Forrest receives the nickname "Hit 'Em Again Forrest", since he turns a blind eye to the armistice order and tears up the Northern supply lines in Tennessee, which the common soldiers compare to hitting them one more time just to remind them that they lost.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Robert E. Lee gives a couple of these, once by Shaming the Mob and once when he calls out Rhoodie after learning about the 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. They also buy merchandise and pay Confederate soldiers with gold, which is worth far more than the face value of the currency/pay vouchers.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Lampshaded and Discussed by Rhoodie and Lee after the former admits that he and his comrades come from the future. Rhoodie notes that his information will no longer be of use to the Confederates once things change too much from the (for lack of a better analogy, though Rhoodie's wording is different) "original history" due to the AWB's influence.
  • Rock Beats Laser: And strategically placed TNT can beat a whole passel of future weapons.
  • Samus Is a Girl: "Melvin" Bean is introduced as just another Confederate soldier being taught how to use the AK-47, but the next scene reveals "he" is actually Mollie Bean.
  • San Dimas Time: Justified. The time machine only works over a period of 150 years; the AWB stole it in 2014, so they could only go back to 1864 and no earlier. This prevents them from interfering with the earlier portions of the war, such as the crippling Battle of Gettysburg which is mentioned repeatedly throughout the story.
  • Schizo Tech: More elements of future technology are introduced throughout the book, sometimes quietly slipping into Confederate society and sometimes being glaringly out of place.
  • Science at the Speed of Plot: Averted and lampshaded. 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 novels, and that he does not share Gorgas' disappointment in any way.
  • Science Hero: That being said, Gorgas makes incredible progress in reverse-engineering the AK47s and building them using downtime technology. This is Truth in Television: historically, Gorgas was able to build an entire arms and ordinance industry in the South from scratch, and his department was one of the few in the Confederate government that functioned throughout the war.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Nate and Molly assume he's the only one in their unit who knows "Melvin" is really a woman. When Molly rejoins the unit to take on the Rivington men, Nate is worried her growth will expose her. When their commander cracks "Melvin, haven't you grown a beard yet?" Nate realizes the man (and probably several other officers with the unit) had figured out the truth long ago but kept quiet out of respect for Molly's bravery.
  • Self-Defeating Prophecy: The AWB men travel back in time and help the Confederacy to ensure white supremacy stays forever. However, they end up debasing their own cause with their wretched behavior.
    • Their brutal treatment of black slaves forces moderate people like Nate to see the ugly truth behind slavery, and alienates even pro-slavery whites.
    • Rhoodie's increasingly hostile attitude toward Lee is what drives the retired General to seek the Presidency when he otherwise wouldn't have.
    • Their attempt to assassinate Lee goes horribly wrong for them: it erases what goodwill they have in the Confederate States, drives supporters like Forrest away from them, and allows Lee to access their historical materials, which allows him to convince other Southerners to abolish slavery for good.
  • Shaming the Mob: Happens 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. What they claim is so over the top though that no one really believes it.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: The AWB members only care about one thing, and that's making sure black people stay on the bottom rung of society. Anything else they do is in support of this singular goal.
    • During the Confederate election of 1867, one of Robert E. Lee's talking points is that he plans on rebuilding the South's shattered economy and infrastructure, while Nathan Bedford Forrest only has "one drum to beat", namely the slavery issue.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: After Nate Caudell returns home, he starts exchanging letters with Molly Bean. Raeford Liles, who handles Nashville's mail, repeatedly teases him about having a "sweetheart", which Nate always denies. His attitude changes over time, and at the end of the book they get married; at the wedding Liles gently teases Nate by bringing all this up, and Nate responds that he's glad he was wrong.
  • 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. He also 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, as is the curious mention of the slave oiling the train wheels in Rivington being more careful than slaves elsewhere.
    • Nathan Bedford Forrest's opinions and Heel–Face Revolving Door are rather close to his actual denouncing and dissolution of the Klannote  in Real Life, after it went from a legally-organized political group to a terror organization. He also later sought reconciliation with black Southerners and supported them fighting for their rights, leading to his denunciation by former comrades.
  • Skewed Priorities: Slavery is looked at as a skewed priority from both sides.
    • When Lee talks to Lincoln, he says that he couldn't go against his home state of Virginia. Lincoln chuckles that Lee acts as if that explains everything and Lee is confused as, from his viewpoint, it does.
    • General Lee and several other members of the Confederacy do not understand why the rest of the world is so intensely focused on the sole issue of slavery. To them, the world's condemnation of the Confederacy for slavery while ignoring all of its other merits is a bizarre fixation.
    • The rest of the world condemns the Confederacy for slavery and view all of their other lofty and philosophical claims to fall by the wayside of this singular horror. At several times they point out that the Confederacy's proud claims are false within their own borders.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: A running theme of the book is how slavery interacts with the socioeconomic status of Southern whites. As Lee - quite possibly the Confederacy's richest (non-time-traveling) man - begins leaning more toward abolitionism, both the Rivington men and Forrest accuse him of highhandedly dictating how poorer whites should treat blacks. On the other side of the coin, Caudell's old squadmate Dempsey Eure mocks the town mayor for touting Forrest's pro-slavery stance, when most of the town is too poor to even think about owning a slave.
  • Spotting the Thread: Lee immediately believes that the AWB are from the future without question in part because he notices Rhoodie repeatedly slipping up with regards to information that he otherwise couldn't possibly know.
  • The Squadette: Molly fought at Gettysburg, y'all.
  • Supreme Chef:
    • Henry Pleasants' cook, Hattie. A hotel owner later tries to buy her, only to learn (to his disgust) that she's a freedwoman.
    • Richard Dabney, the caterer in Richmond. No-one who's anyone in Richmond dares throw a party of any size without having him on the payroll.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The Notahilton (Not A Hilton).
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mollie Bean, who disguises herself as a man to serve in the Confederate army. She returns to the guise when the CSA takes on the AWB and her commander's reaction ("Haven't you grown a beard yet?") makes it clear he (and most of the rest of their squad) had figured out she was a woman but kept quiet out of respect for her bravery (plus the fact she keeps up her old profession of prostitution).
  • Technology Levels: Discussed. At the end of the book, Lee asks Benny Lang if the captive Rivington men could build him a computer. He replies that the Confederates not only lack the technology to make it, but they lack the technology to make that technology, and probably a few more steps back from that too.
  • They Do: Nate and Mollie.
  • This Is My Boomstick: This trope is heavily Deconstructed.
    • The AWB present many future devices to the Confederates, but until explanations start coming out, much of it is accepted as simply an advanced part of their own world; this produces a funny moment early on, for example, when Rhoodie is somewhat disappointed that Lee isn't very impressed by his dehydrated MREsnote . It is not until Rhoodie explicitly states that he is from the future that Lee even begins to suspect such an event. While working with 1860s level technology, the brilliant General Gorgas is able to reverse engineer the AK 47 from scratch.
    • Just because the Confederates live in the "past" doesn't mean they're stupid, and the Rivington men are from only 150 years in the future, so they're not using ray-guns or hover-tanks that might seem like magic. Instead, Lee pretty much recognizes their tech as reasonable advances on technologies they already have. The explicit comparison Lee uses is wondering what a general in the Napoleonic wars, fifty years ago, would have predicted about advances in technology by Lee's time: steam-trains alone have drastically altered the mobility of warfare, to a level that would have shocked Napoleon, but the basic technology behind steam-trains did exist in prototype form at the time. But then there are one or two examples of things the Confederates don't really have an equivalent for, such as computers.
    • Turtledove is reportedly not a fan of this trope in general and dissects it in several of his stories, including this novel, his Worldwar series, and the short story A Death in Vesuna.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: As previously mentioned, the AWB is what remains of the South African branch of the National Socialist Party, kiddies.
  • 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, realizing just how badly they will be viewed for supporting slavery in the future.
  • Time Travel: The time machine which the AWB possess can go backwards and forwards exactly 150 years.
  • Token Good Teammate: Benny Lang of the Rivington men, despite being a bigot (furiously demanding that the Confederates take the the AK-47 away from a black soldier), is otherwise portrayed as a decent and honorable person who treats his slaves fairly well (especially when compared to his compatriots) and is genuinely fond of Mollie Bean. At the end of the novel, President Lee decides to offer the remaining AWB members a limited and conditional release, and chooses to make the offer to Lang first because of his positive traits and level-headedness.
  • Vindicated by History: In-Universe, the Confederates were convinced that while slavery was far from ideal, future generations would recognize that it was the best way for blacks and whites to co-exist. The Picture History of the Civil War shows the exact opposite, which causes a lot of people to rethink their stances on slavery and helps President Lee pass a bill that will abolish slavery over time.
  • Villainous Valor: Despite their less than admirable qualities, many characters acknowledge the AWB men as quite fanatical in battle.
    • During the final battle between the Confederates and the AWB, a wounded Benny Lang gets caught with a walkie talkie; rather than handing it over to his captors, he defiantly smashes it to pieces against a nearby rock. Nate Caudell wonders to himself if he would have been brave enough to do the same thing had the roles been reversed.
  • Void Between the Worlds:During the book's climax, Nate Caudell destroys the Rivington mens' time machine while one of them is in the middle of "beaming" back to the future. As he escapes the burning building he briefly wonders what happened to the man, if he was dumped off in another time period or if he was stranded in a time limbo, but the book never resolves the question for obvious reasons.
  • War Is Hell: Even though the South wins in this timeline, none of the main characters are particularly nostalgic for the actual fighting. When Nate returns home after the war, shopkeep Raeford Liles asks him how it was, and his unspoken response is "Filthy, boring, hungry. Terrifying past any nightmare." After he resumes his job as a teacher, some of his students ask him about the war and he very plainly tells them that there's nothing glamorous or heroic about it.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Beddingfield, a soldier with a huge build, and his fellow soldiers are amazed when Benny Lang throws him to the ground with his "fancy wrasslin'" (judo).
  • What Could Have Been:invoked
    • 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.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Robert E. Lee thinks of Rhoodie's Afrikaner accent as "not-quite-British" and is constantly guessing where this man originated from. He later thinks they're Dutch when he hears them speaking Afrikaans, from which the language arose originally, and a Jewish man who speaks Dutch describes it as a "mish-mash".
  • Worst Aid: The Civil War's medical techniques are, of course, the stuff of nightmares to people from 150 years in the future. Several AWB members state they'd rather die than let Confederate surgeons operate on them.
  • Worthy Opponent: A common theme is the story is that even you can find yourself respecting your opponent, even if you disagree with their cause.
    • Lee has several, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and later Nathan Bedford Forrest.
    • Lee also comes to feel this way about the black soldiers fielded by the US, who later become guerilla rebels after the South wins the war. Seeing them fight with the same courage and spirit as white soldiers goes a long way to convincing him to support freeing the slaves entirely.