I’m writing an alt-history novella that takes place in 1977, 114 years after the Union lost the Civil War. The consequences of such a scenario are astonishing, and much to the Union’s advantage.
My scenario hinges on one crucial decision by Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg in July, 1863. In actual history, he ordered Pickett’s Charge, which resulted in a catastrophe that nearly destroyed the Army of Virginia. In my alt-history, Lee heeds the advice of his aide, James Longstreet. The Confederates sweep around the Union position, and within days are besieging Washington. The Union has no choice but to let the Confederate states go.
The Confederate celebration wouldn’t have lasted long.
Their most immediate problem would be the 1863 cotton crop. The war had limited how much could be planted, because the army needed so much feed and forage, and since so much of the landscape had been “burnt over” by war.
The problem woould become most acute in the late-summer and fall cotton harvests.
By cutting itself off from the Union, the Confederacy would have lost the power it once had to enforce fugitive slave laws in the North. These laws had been greatly resented and resisted in Northern states, and certainly would have been voided when the 11 states seceded.
Slaves in the CSA would have had great motivation to escape north. And there were plenty of Yankees who loathed slavery and were eager to help them. Escaped slaves in the North would have (and did) form societies to free their brethren. So the limited plantings and scarcity of labor would have put the South in bad economic shape as 1863 closed.
Victory would also have revealed the deep divisions within the Confederacy. Texas, always bent toward independence, would have declared itself a nation and, I believe, would have taken Arkansas with it. Even today, Dallas is the nearest big city for people in southern Arkansas. Arkansas had been sort of a Confederate orphan state anyway. A Texas-Arkanansas union would have had advantages in an age of water transport, giving “Texarkana” access to both the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico.
Eastern Tennessee, long a Union stronghold, would have seceded from the CSA, much as West Virginia actually did. The cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga would have flown the Stars and Stripes, and there would have been little the Confederacy could do to stop it.
Encouraged by these secessions, Virginia and North Carolina would have realized their affinities, and how little they had in common with the Cotton States. Their economies were more centered on tobacco, which didn’t require slave labor. Their businesses depended on links to Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. In this scenario, they joined to form the independent state of Roanoke, seeking friendly relations north and south.
Which brings us to Florida. That state’s economy, as it developed, would have relied heavily on Yankee travel and trade. Florida also had the most to gain from the various plots to take over Cuba. For these reasons, I believe, Florida would have declared its independence as well.
This would have left the Confederacy with South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Western Tennessee. The capital would have been moved from Richmond probably to Atlanta, which a shortened war would have spared. So after all the fallout, sometime in the 1870s the Confederacy would consist of six cotton states, with a capital in Atlanta.
There was no way for this diminished Confederacy to solve its labor problem. Slaves escaped north in greater and greater numbers, never to return. The importation of slave labor from Africa was forbidden, even by Confederate law, and the slave trade was suppressed by the all-powerful British Navy. The Confederacy also would have been under pressure from Britain and France, the great powers of the time, to abolish slavery.
The solution was sharecropping, both in the real world and in this scenario. The Confederacy would have been forced to gradually abolish slavery. Some freed slaves would have sharecropped. Others would have migrated to Southern cities. Free blacks would not have been able to legally cross into the Union, although many would anyway.
My novella picks up this world in 1977. There are five nations in the former US territory: Texarkana (under Lyndon Johnson) the CSA (under Jimmy Carter) Roanoke (under Harry Byrd) and the United States, (under Richard M. Nixon.) and Florida, under the fictional president Michael Kuckrow.
Nixon, the story goes, would have won his first term in 1976, following the 16-year grip Bobby and Jack Kennedy had on the White House. Neither JFK nor his brother has been assassinated. The Vietnam War ended in the election year of 1968, as the Oval Office passed from Jack to Bobby. The brothers were enormously popular, almost revered in some quarters.
The novella begins with a plot by Richard Nixon. Jealous of the Camelot mystique, Nixon wants to enshrine himself in history by re-uniting the United States. Nixon’s first step is to secretly engineer a re-union referendum in the Republic of Florida.
Nixon, in this alternative history, would preside over a much different Union. By actual count, the ERA would have passed by the states of the Union in 1974.
The passage of the ERA would have settled any lingering abortion controversy, and led to lawsuits enforcing gender equity in the workplace.
My imagined union would actually have 41 states, including East Tennessee and the former District of Columbia. It’s highly likely that its gun laws would resemble Canada’s. And that some form of Universal Health Care would have been adopted.
Thus the great issues of America today would be in the rearview mirror, leaving perhaps only foreign immigration and the limits of the welfare state on the hot plate. (As in Canada.)
Any plan for reunion certainly would not include Texarkana, which, by the 1970s, would be strong, oil rich, with good relations North and South, and a wary eye on Mexico.
A reunion with the CSA would have met strong resistance among the Northerners. Such a scenario is playing out in Ireland right now. Some in the Republic want to bring the stray 6 counties into the fold, but many don’t want either the trouble or the expense. Northern Ireland is much poorer, and much more restive, than the prosperous Republic.
The CSA, in this scenario, would most likely resemble a police state, run by whites who held only a slender majority over its black citizens. The potential for social unrest, and the relative poverty of the departed states, would have made the CSA an unattractive target for reunion in the view of many Northerners.
And finally, to Florida. In this novella Florida has devolved into something resembling of a Libertarian narco state, with a small weak government, many of its services privatized. Drug money laundering is a huge source of income, as is Yankee tourism and the transshipment of certain white powders. Literacy is abysmal. Higher education has become the province of Evangelicals and hucksters. Drugs are against the law only when horded in mass quantities. Gunfire and carjacking are common, and not just in the worst neighborhoods.
Welcome to the Republic of Florida …