For many years I have loved reading a form of Historical/Science fiction known as Alt-history. One of the more common themes is the “What if the South had won the American Civil War?” So far I have yet to read any that don’t show a Confederacy that is both economically and politically viable. My thought here is why?
I know that the authors of the story start out with the story idea and then work backwards to change history, but why always a Rosy or at least successful Confederacy? Why not a failed Confederacy? I ask this especially with the rash of post-apocalyptic story now being written. It is not as if it wouldn’t make for a great background.
Let’s just take a look at the problem a Confederacy winning would face. First is their own construction which give tacit, if not dejur, approval of a State leaving the Confederacy. Once the issue of abolition has been removed the issues separating the border slave states from the Plantation slave states. This problem has been touch one at least one ‘what-if’ (see “If the South had won the Civil war” by MacKinlay Kantor) where Texas leave the Confederacy. Assuming the maximum size of the Confederacy, giving them Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, I can see situations where one or more stares would leave the Confederacy.
Let’s move on to some of the problems that would face the CSA in the years following the end of the war to 1899. First and most recognized problem, even by the Planters of the time, is that both Cotton and Tobacco, the two cash crops that supported the southern economy, are very had on the land. Something the city Dwellers of the 21st century may not no is that there were no chemical fertilizers in the late 19th century. Once the land was worn out growing Cotten or tobacco all it might be good for is follow grazing land. An not very good grazing land at that. Don’t take my word for it, read up on the economic history of the old south in the latter half of the 19th century.
Now lets add in something else, the blights. The old south in our timeline suffered both the Cotton blight and the tobacco blight. These are just singleton bights either both cotton and tobacco suffered from both disease and insect bights. So now we get to the biggest problem economics for the south. When your agriculturally based economy falters what do you do with all those slave mouths you need to feed?
Let’s back here for just a moment and talk about the effect on slavery wining the civil war will have the ‘peculiar’ institution. Most just see the end to threat of abolition but lots more could happen. Like the end of the Underground Railroad. Most would say this is a good thing for slavery in the south. But stop and think about this; with the end of the Underground Railroad those slave who are most likely to lead slave revolts are no longer being removed from the south by running away. They are stuck in the south with no hope of freedom except revolting. This also means that both the National government of the Confederacy and the State governments are going to need to keep enough men under arms to suppress slave revolts befor they start. That will not be cheap.
Now add in an economic crash with very bad farming condition, little food, and you have the makings for a wonderful apocalypse. What do you do when you have a total glut on the market for slaves. Take a look at just how much of the wealth the Confederate States had tied up in slaves. Some estimates show a ‘prime’ field hand would go for $900+ gold. Now just think, what happens when you can’t give away a slave, that they are worth nothing, or just $100 (paper)?
Unlike live stock in this situation you just can’t kill them. You could try, but it would have to be done right or the slaves facing certain death or possible death revolting. Maybe the Confederacy might set up ‘colonization’ camp for “freed” slaves like the Nazi resettlement camps in Poland? Wouldn’t that make a dark world.
I would like to leave you with one more dark idea before I go. Imagine, if you will, a post 1900 America where all of the sites have either been killed or driven out of the Confederacy. That it is now a country based on agricultural economy, but working hard to industrialize, that like Israel today, welcomes any black but treats all whites as the deadliest of enemies. Say it is 1914. Which side of the Great War will both the USA and the CSA come in on? Both have good reason to hate and despise both Britain and France for their support of the ‘old’ white Confederacy.
Now, just why don’t we see stories like this? I don’t know. And before you say “Well if it is such a good idea, why don’t you write it?” I will just say this, when it comes to writing fiction “I suck big time”. My only thought on why we don’t have dark south winning is the massive influence on our thinking of the “Myth of the Lost Cause”. This myth has totally kept anyone from think about all of the flaws the antebellum south. It has papered over all of the fault lines in its culture so we find it hard to think about them. But they were there.
So, consider if you will……..