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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.

Winter of 1863. 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.
  • American Civil War: Duh.
  • The Apartheid Era. The AWB hope to prolong this by turning the CSA into a superpower so South Africa isn't alone in racism.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Face Heel Turn: Nathan Bedford Forrest runs for President against Robert E. Lee after the latter talks about freeing the slaves and speaks poorly of the Rivington men. After Lee wins the election, however, Forrest turns again and comes to concede in person, saying that while he may disagree with Lee's politics, he doesn't want them to remain personal enemies.
  • 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.
  • Giving Kalashnikovs To Confederates: 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard/Karmic Death: Andres 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."
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 calls 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 gets a couple of Crowning Moments Of Awesome for doing this, 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.
  • 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; 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.
  • Society Marches On: Your Mileage May Vary. Some think that the time-travellers more resemble the pro-apartheid South African ultra-right of the late-eighties/early-nineties (when the book was written), rather than the 2014 they claim to come from; others point out that the one time traveler who is given an age is in his early forties, and as such of just the right age to have joined a pro-apartheid militia when apartheid fell.
    • It has also been claimed that choosing the AK-47 instead of for example the M16 is an anachronism; set against this is that AK-47s are so cheap a small extremist group could buy a hundred thousand of them, and so easy to use it can be taught to a ten-year-old who's never seen anything more technologically advanced than a knife - a point that is made in the book itself. (Indeed, this is the reason the AK-47 was created, and still remains in use all over the world.)
    • Additionally, the AK-47 is very easy to maintain and can handle a lot of abuse, whereas an M-16 will exhibit significant wear just in routine cleaning and disassembly. An important factor to consider when one's supply base is 150 years in the future and could potentially be cut off at either end.
      • The AK-47 is so easy to maintain and make, in fact, that the Confederates are, within a few years, able to develop a workable copy using currently available materials (though, as Colonel Gorgas puts it, the rifle "kicks like a mule" when fired because it uses black powder for propellant), and by the end of the book, the Union is working on its own version for its war with Great Britain; Lee is particularly determined to keep things like land mines and heavy machine guns a state secret because of the possibility that the North might decide to try for a second round with the South.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The Rivington men's intention is to weaken the USA and create a racist CSA to help back up apartheid South Africa in its views and leave it less isolated later on. When Lee is given a modern history book, he learns that the South will not be Vindicated by History, which starts his turn away from tacitly accepting slavery. By the end of the book Lee is leading the CSA towards a gradual, compensated emancipation, which could potentially give the altered timeline much better race relations.
  • 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.
  • 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'.
  • Worthy Opponent: Abraham Lincoln to General Lee. Later Nathan Forrest assumes that role.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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