Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 54


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Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 54


Science Fiction


Fifty- Fourth page of Fosfax, Issue 205, Part One: A review of alternate history


Timothy Lane


Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, July 2002




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ALTERNATE GETTYSBURGS edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg (Berkley, $6.99)
Review/Analysis by Timothy Lane

This anthology has an introduction by editor Thomsen, 11 stories (you may assume the usual SPOILER ALERT), a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, three factual articles on aspects of the battle, and William R. Forstchen’s speculation on what the results really would have been if Lee had really won a smashing victory there.
Perhaps we should start with that. Forstchen thinks the best time for a decisive Confederate victory was July 2. Victory the day before would only smash two small corps; the rest of the Army of the Poto¬mac (formerly "McClellan's Bodyguard") would manage to combine in a defensive position, probably behind Pipe Creek. Victory the next day would leave the Confederates too weak to make it decisive. But on July 2 it was theoretically possible for Lee to pull off a double en¬velopment, capture the Union supply train (located behind the Round Tops), and trap and destroy the army. Some would get away, though, and the Confederates would certainly suffer plenty of casualties from the tougher-fighting units before finally winning.
I will note here that Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettys¬burg by John Busey and David G. Martin estimates the Union battle strength as 93,693 of all arms. They estimate the Confederate forces at 70,136. Attacking and destroying a superior force isn't easy, and it does take a lot of killing — and dying — unless the superior force has weak morale, and collapses readily. That wasn't the case.
Forstchen also points to the severe rain that struck the entire area for several days after the battle. Of course, alternate history stories tend not to worry about getting the weather right, but it is necessary when doing serious speculation. They would arrive several days later at Washington to face a sizable garrison — perhaps not much weaker than the remaining troops in the Army of Northern Virginia, in strong fortifications, and well supplied. Lee, by contrast, would have used up a large part of his ammunition at Gettysburg. Capture of the city wouldn't be guaranteed; and even if he did get in, key people (such as Lincoln and other high officials) could escape by ship (the Potomac is navigable up to Washington).
And after all that, there would still be the remaining Union armies (such as Grant’s, which had just taken Vicksburg). So victory at Get-tysburg would not likely have changed the outcome of the war. (But it might have delayed it. Enough of a delay might have led to Lincoln losing to a Peace Democrat, or some other complication. I think we should always be wary of treating "very probable" as "certain".) Yet Forstchen treats Confederate scenarios with some sympathy. To him the valor of their armies is indisputable, and the story is like a tragic novel: we know how it will end, but . . . In addition, he thinks that the myth of the Lost Cause, and how with just a bit of better luck it might have triumphed, helped speed up national reconciliation. "It said that the inferno was not the vanquishing of a detested foe but rather was the testing of steel against steel, and the reforging of that steel into a true United States of America.”
Well. The first story, "Sedgwick’s Charge" by /'“X
Harold Coyle, has Pickett’s Charge called off at the ( )
last moment (as nearly happened). The following day, ^
Meade (finding out that Lee seems to be starting to / retreat) sends Sedgwick's basically unhurt VI Corps to / / L/
strike to the south (supported by Sykes's V Corps if ( \
needed). This flank attack is initially successful, but \ f
then Sedgwick dies much as he really did the next \ \ J)
year at Spotsylvania ("They couldn’t hit an elephant at y
this distance"), the usual friction develops, and Lee A (
finally turns defeat into victory. Yet, in the end, Get- / ^
tysburg can't cancel out Vicksburg, and the war still l
ends in a Union victory.
Coyle has a couple of minor errors, referring to Jerome B. Robertson as Robinson and A. T. A. Torbert as Tolbert. The scenario is certainly a reasonable one, as is the outcome. But would the wreck of the VI Corps really reverse the battle completely?
"Custer's First Stand" by Doug Allyn follows Custer in the July 3 cavalry action to the east. Unfortunately, he forgets the presence of David Gregg’s division and has only Custer involved. Custer charged successfully at a crucial moment in that action; he has the charge fail, and Stuart ends up hitting Hancock's rear just as Pickett strikes Ce-metery Ridge. (I suspect reserve forces could have blocked him, but I must admit to being unsure about that.) A decisive Confederate vic¬tory follows, and in the aftermath Lincoln is expected to recognize the Confederacy. Yet there was no pursuit after the Charge, so most of Meade’s army would have escaped. Washington would be in no dan¬ger, and Meade could have covered either Philadelphia or Baltimore 'nossiblv both) So why give no?
William H. Keith, Jr. sets "In the Bubble" in an alternate future in which Lee won at Gettysburg by following Longstreet’s July 3 advice. The setting is an extensive simulation of the battle by gamers, which happens to follow our own battle — and then alters the past. Part of the basis of this is Schrodinger’s Cat; the idea is that the actual result wasn’t really known until the simulation was done. But this makes no sense. I’m no quantum mechanic (kinda makes you think of Science Made Stupid), but Schrodinger’s point is that the outcome of quantum events is unsettled until they are observed. That would definitely not be the case with Gettysburg.
James M. Reasoner doesn't alter the battle itself in "Blood of the Fallen"; instead he changes the Gettysburg Address. Just before he’s to speak, Lincoln is informed that his ailing son has died, and his wife thereupon committed suicide. This causes him to speak of a need for avenging the dead, and eventually to a peace without any thought of reconciliation. This leads to a far worse version of the Klan (called the Brigade of the New South) waging a determined guerrilla war ag¬ainst Yankee tyranny. So far, so good.
But Reasoner then has the British support the Brigade. Admitted¬ly, they might bluster about doing so to force Lincoln to back off the Alabama claims, but it’s doubtful they would go further — especially not recognize Forrest as the legitimate Southern ruler. Given this, the rest follows logically for a while: Lincoln invades Canada and fails, and eventually the North falls to the combined British and Southern armies. Reasoner then takes another very doubtful turn, as the British then take over all of America east of the Mississippi (the rest is united behind Texan leadership).
If Reasoner is unreasonably pessimistic, Brendan DuBois's "High Water Mark" is the reverse. In this, a father takes his son to visit the Gettysburg Visitors’ Center, and explains the crucial role an ancestor played in stopping Pickett’s charge. These scenes alternate with those of the ancestor, which occasionally jar the reader (as if the writer has a few errors) until it turns out the unwilling conscript is a Russian in the Tsar’s army, sent to help fight the Confederates and their British and French allies. (DuBois probably didn’t realize the British had an effective monopoly on saltpeter at the time, nor did he consider how Russian troops would be gotten to America past Anglo-French ships in control of European waters.)
Those are doubtful, but the follow-up is far more so. Pained to be fighting for slavery against Lincoln and Alexander II, the British and French pull out, the Confederacy surrenders, Alexander puts through additional democratic reforms, the British and French join in, and all through the world peace and freedom reign. A nice pipe dream, but hardly realistic.
Jake Foster follows with a most interesting tale, "The Angle", ab¬out black prize-fighters in the Confederacy sometime well after their successful secession (he has the "frog-faced" Jesse Helms IV as current President, basically a cheap shot). It's a good story, but doesn’t really fit the anthology’s theme.
Much the same is true of Robert J. Randisi’s "A Bad End", which follows Booth as he’s preparing to assassinate the Presi- dent. Only at the end do you find out the indication of a differ- ) ent world, but without the details that would probably have fit it r\) in here. Like the previous one, it’s a nice enough story, any¬way.
\ Jim DeFelice gets us back to the topic in "Lazarus". This
J features a Union soldier killed on Round Top — or so those ' who buried him thought. But he survived, and heads south in the conviction that there must be a reason for it. It turns out that severe defeat at Gettysburg has led Lincoln to surrender, and the soldier’s long march leads him to the signing ceremony, with interesting results. There are no specifics as to how the battle was reversed, or why this reversal forced an immediate surrender.
Simon Hawke’s "A Gun for Johnny Reb" has a very different al-ternative. In this, most of the wagons Stuart captured after crossing the Potomac were filled with Spencer repeating carbines, and plenty of ammunition as well. This causes Stuart to seek to join Lee a little more directly, thus arriving by the beginning of the battle — with his cavalry force much better armed. (Hawke seems to have some con¬fusion as to timing, but it doesn't really affect the scenario.) Lee was about to attack directly, but now he tries a new approach: go around Meade and head south to Washington, with Ewell’s II Corps and Stu¬art’s enhanced cavalry to block off pursuit. Longstreet and Hill take Washington, capturing plenty of supplies (but Lincoln and the Cabinet escape by ship). This doesn't end the war, but it does reverse mo- mentnm. leading to eventual Confederate victory.
Repeating carbines are a useful weapon, particularly in the hands of

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