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The Guns of the South  
Author Harry Turtledove
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Alternate history novel
Publisher Ballantine
Publication date 22 September 1992
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 561 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-345-37675-7, ISBN 0-345-38468-7
OCLC Number 26096611
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 20
LC Classification PS3570.U76 G86 1992

The Guns of the South (1992, ISBN 0-345-37675-7) is an alternate history novel set during the American Civil War by Harry Turtledove.

Plot introduction[]

The story deals with a group of time-travelling Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging members who supply Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia with AK-47s and small amounts of other supplies (including nitroglycerine tablets for treating Lee's heart condition), leading to a Southern victory in the war.

Plot summary[]

It is March 1864, and the Confederacy is reeling after defeats at the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Andries Rhoodie, a man wearing mottled green clothing, speaking in a strange, guttural accent, and carrying a strange rifle, visits the headquarters of the Army of Northern Virginia and demands to demonstrate his rifle to Robert E. Lee. The rifle, to the Confederates' astonishment, can fire thirty rounds in only a few seconds, with considerable accuracy. Rhoodie and his comrades, who declare that they are members of an organization called "America Will Break" (or "AWB"), offer to supply the entire Confederate army with these rifles, which they refer to as AK-47s.

General Lee visits Richmond, and learns that Rhoodie and the other "Rivington men", named for the North Carolina town where they have built homes and warehouses, are charging an absurdly low price for the weapons. Upon visiting the Confederate armory, Lee also discovers that the weapons operate on chemical and engineering principles completely unknown to the Confederate military engineers, and are marked with names of countries of which the Confederates have never heard, such as the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and Yugoslavia. In the meantime, the story follows soldiers of the 47th North Carolina regiment (notably Sergeant Nate Caudell and Private Melvin [really Mollie] Bean) as they are trained by the Rivington men to use their new AK-47s. Caudell notes that the Rivington men display uncanny skill in both firearm-based and hand-to-hand combat, and that they possess an almost maniacal hatred toward African-Americans, who they call kaffirs.

Mystery piles on mystery for Lee, as the Rivington men provide accurate intelligence of a raid into central Virginia by Union cavalry under General Kilpatrick, which is turned back by the Confederates and their new weapons. Finally, Lee confronts Rhoodie and learns the truth: the Rivington men are time travelers from 21st-century South Africa. Rhoodie informs Lee that in the 21st century, the supremacy of the white race has been overthrown, and that he and his comrades aim to establish the Confederacy as a nation to preserve white supremacy. Rhoodie provides Lee with the details of Ulysses S. Grant's plan for the coming campaign, and Lee uses this knowledge, in tandem with his army's newly acquired advanced weaponry, to defeat Grant at the Battle of the Wilderness, and again in a subsequent battle at the town of Bealeton. The Army of Northern Virginia then assaults and captures Washington D.C., securing recognition of Confederate sovereignty from President Abraham Lincoln and ending the war.

Caudell returns to his previous life as a schoolteacher in Nash County, North Carolina. On his way home, he meets and befriends a Union prisoner of war named Henry Pleasants, who is convinced by this meeting to settle in North Carolina rather than return to Pennsylvania. As the Rivington men settle down as plantation owners in rural North Carolina, Caudell further observes their cruelty toward African-American slaves, and after he is hired to teach arithmetic to a local shopkeeper's freedman servant, he becomes increasingly doubtful of the notion that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites. He continues to correspond with his friend and former lover Bean, a native of Rivington who informs him of the technological marvels the Rivington men have brought to the town.

After extended negotiations, the Union and Confederate governments agree to allow the border states of Kentucky and Missouri to determine by popular referendum whether or not to join the Confederacy; Kentucky opts to do so, while Missouri remains in the Union. But during the referendum the AWB sent weapons and ammunition into the states to spark rebellion against the Union, but the shipment is captured by the union and adds tensions between the US and the Confederates. The Rivington men claim to be civilians selling their rifles to civilians, and General Grant purchases all the weapons and ammunition. This gives the Union large numbers of AK- 47s in their disposal. In the 1864 presidential election, Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin are narrowly defeated by Democrats Horatio Seymour and Clement Vallandigham. In western areas of the Confederacy previously occupied by the Union army, units of freed slaves operate a guerrilla war against Confederate armies commanded by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lee, who had previously displayed a distaste toward slavery and a respect for the courage of the United States Colored Troops, is convinced by the courageous yet futile resistance of these guerrilla bands that the continued enslavement of African-Americans is wrong. After being slandered and threatened by the Rivington men for adopting this belief, Lee runs for president in 1867 alongside Albert G. Brown and advocates the gradual abolition of slavery. The Rivington men convince Forrest to run against Lee on a decisively pro-slavery ticket alongside Louis Wigfall, and pour their considerable money and resources into Forrest's campaign. Lee, however, squeaks out a close victory over Forrest, who accepts the loss well and pledges support to Lee (going so far as to promise to quiet any Southerners wishing to secede from the CSA).

At Lee's inauguration, the Rivington men attempt to assassinate him, resulting in the deaths of Vice President Brown, Lee's wife Mary, and various dignitaries and generals such as Jubal Early. The Rivington men's offices in Richmond are seized after a long battle, and Lee and the Confederates discover a wealth of unknown technologies such as electric lighting and computers, along with a collection of books detailing the history of the Civil War as it would have been without the intervention of the Rivington men, as well as describing (regretfully, from the Rivington men's perspective) the ongoing marginalization of racism from civil society between 1865 and the present. Lee leads delegations of Confederate Congressmen on tours of the Rivington men's offices, appealing to the future world's near-universal condemnation of slavery in an attempt to convince them to vote for his gradual abolition bill.

Outraged at the Rivington men's betrayal, General Forrest takes command of the Confederate army, including the newly recalled 47th North Carolina (now joined by Pleasants), to seize the town of Rivington and bring the Rivington men to justice. Unfortunately, the Rivington men possess advanced technology such as bulletproof vests, belt-fed machine guns, land-mines, handheld radios, night visions equipment, long range mortars, scoped rifles, and razor wire, and can easily hold off the Confederate assaults. Pleasants suggests to Forrest the possibility of tunneling under the enemy lines and blowing a gap in their defenses (just as the real-life Pleasants suggested to George Meade during the Siege of Petersburg, resulting in the Battle of the Crater). However, Forrest does not botch Pleasants' idea as Meade did in our history, and the plan works perfectly: the Confederates break through to Rivington, Caudell and his men destroy the Rivington men's time machine, and Andries Rhoodie surrenders, only to be killed seconds afterward by a disgruntled slave, who the Confederates allow to escape unharmed.

The remaining Rivington men are captured, and the Confederates attempt to use them to unravel the mysteries of 21st-century technology to use in a future conflict against the US who are starting to use their copy of the AK-47 in Canada. Caudell and Bean are married, and Pleasants' free-labor farm is thriving, sending a strong message to the largely still pro-slavery inhabitants of Nash County. Meanwhile, the Confederate Congress passes President Lee's abolition bill, and the story ends with the Confederacy arguably on track for a better future than the that of the South in our history.


The book won the John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction in 1993.[citation needed]

References in other works[]

  • Several of the characters, or at least South African people with the same name, appeared in S. M. Stirling's 2003 novel Conquistador, where they are killed. A copy of the Turtledove book is seen on a bookshelf in Stirling's novel.[citation needed]
  • In the 12/26/2008 submission of Least I Could Do, a webcomic by Ryan Sohmer and Lar Desouza, the main character, Rayne, is reading a copy of Guns of the South. He initially misinterprets it as historically accurate and is eventually inspired to write his own historical fiction.

See also[]

External links[]