What if the Civil War had ended in the summer of 1863?
Those who suspect that former Speaker of the House Gingrich’s politics hinge on getting even for Appomattox may be surprised to read in the pages of this tome, the third volume in his conscripted Civil War trilogy (Gettysburg, 2003; Grant Comes East, 2004), that the North’s superiority lay in the unified power of the federal government: “That is the paradox and the curse of their system even more than ours, states’ rights,” says Union politico Elihu Washburne, though that may just be co-author Forstchen talking. The premise is this: on the third day of Gettysburg, Lee realizes that it would be a waste to send Pickett’s men against the well-protected foe, orders a wheeling action, and carries the day. As this installment picks up, the rebels threaten to torch Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. The Yankees, spurred by U.S. Grant, are gathering strength; Sickles’s boys beat up on Pickett’s division, poor lads, but Sickles falls; and Lee’s forces turn to the foot of Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains to face down McPherson’s opposing army. In the ensuing bloodbath, George Custer is felled by an exploding railcar (“Damn rotten place to die, he thought. Out in the open, after a damn good charge. That’s how I wanted it, Custer’s Last Charge”), lots of Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs die, and the contending armies drain each other’s veins. And yet, and yet, the North has reserves and industry, the South now nothing, and in August 1863, there at Monocracy Junction, Lee realizes that he has nothing left to fight with. With Grant’s generous surrender terms in hand—among them a promise that, with Southerners back in office, the unified federal government will resume come January 1864—Lee makes his way back to Richmond, and the U.S. lives happily ever after.
Reasonably well-written and plausible, with excellent period photographs as a bonus. Still, there’s so much good Civil War history to read that this what-if exercise seems more than a touch unnecessary.