Civil War Fiction

Civil War Fiction

Lawrence Martin

Civil War Fiction

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Before beginning my novel Sherman's Mistress in Savannah, I knew of several popular Civil War novels, and for perspective mention them in the Preface (see below).

Sherman's Mistress in Savannah
...from PREFACE, Sherman's Mistress in Savannah

"Civil War fiction is a popular genre, with many titles to choose from: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, E.L. Doctorow’s The March, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, John Jakes’ Savannah: Or a Gift for Mr. Lincoln, James Reasoner’s Savannah, and others. The war lasted four years, resulted in the death of 620,000 soldiers, abolished slavery and saved the Union. Within those years took place hundreds of battles and major events that could serve as canvas for painting the emotions, thoughts and dialogue of historical figures, and for the creation of new characters. If the history is made interesting, the reader can learn something while enjoying the author’s story. And there is always this to ponder: the story may seem implausible, but it is not impossible."

For my second Civil War novel, I decided to change the war's outcome by invoking time travel. Turns out this is a well trod genre of civil war fiction, and in the Preface to my second novel I list many (if not all) the books in print using this theme.

Out of Time: Alternative Outcome></a>

<a href= Out of Time: An Alternative Outcome to the Civil War

It is November 1864 and General Sherman’s army is marching through Georgia. Sherman has recently burned much of Atlanta and meets very little opposition as his 60,000-man army aims for Savannah. General Hood’s Confederate army will soon be defeated in Tennessee by General Thomas’s Union forces. General Grant is squeezing the vise he has placed around Petersburg, and the Confederate capital Richmond is threatened. General Lee’s troops are demoralized, many shoeless, and some are deserting to return home so they can help feed and protect their family. The South has all but lost the Civil War and leaders on both sides sense the end is near. It is just a matter of time, yet the Confederates do not give up or in. They are hoping for a miracle. Across the ocean comes a foreign fleet of submarines, promising to save the South from inevitable defeat. Is that possible? What could be their motive? And why -- oh why -- do they come at the last hour?

This ‘alternative history’ of how the Civil War ends presents both real and imagined events of that momentous conflict. Alternate Civil War history is now a common genre, with many essays and novels that posit a different ending. Among titles available at

--Dixie Victorious and A Rainbow of Blood, by Peter G. Tsouras;
--Confederate Union, by Alan Sewell;
--The Guns of the South and How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove;
--Time Change (Book 1 and 2), by Alex Myers;
--Gettysburg, by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen;
--The Last Best Hope, by David L. Parrott;
--Gray Victory, by Robert Skimin;
--Stonewall Goes West, by R. E. Thomas;
--A Rebel in Time, by Harry Harrison.

A subgroup of this genre invokes time travel to effect a different ending to the war. In Out of Time you will find my own unique alternate-outcome scenario...

There are in fact many novels plotted against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, more than I ever imagined. Until a few years ago almost all were published by royalty publishers, but in the last few years self-published Civil War fiction has also blossomed. In addition to my novel, others include The Long Road Home, by Nick West, and Where the Mockingbird Sang, by David Atwood. and Down Every Dark Valley, by Ronnie Seals. (Self-publishing no longer carries the stigma of past years; see WSJ article How I Became a Best-Selling Author.)

There are several lists of civil war fiction available on the internet, though none is up to date and comprehensive. One of the best lists, because it rates the books by readers' opinions, is Goodreads Civil War Fiction. Another recommended site, among the most comprehensive, is Guide to Civil War Novels.

I have included many titles of the genre in this web site (sidebar), with links to The Red Badge Of Courage (1895), to quote one critic, "has long been considered the first great 'modern' novel of war"; it is also the one most likely to be read in school, as part of course curriculum. Now out of copyright, the entire text is freely available on the internet (click on the book title above). The blockbuster of all civil war fiction is of course Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. GWTW spawned a sequel by Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett, published in 2007. (Reviews on of the sequel are much lower (3.1/5) than for GWTW (4.7/5)

In the more modern era, consensus seems to point to Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels as the best of the genre. Jeff Shaara has taken up where his father left off, with three civil war era novels. Several others have written 3 or more civil war novels (listed below). The most prolific is James Reasoner, who has 10 books in his American Civil War Battle Series. Reader reviews of all these books can be found on

  • Jeff Shaara: Gods and Generals; The Last Full Measure; A Blaze of Glory
  • John Jakes: North and South; Love and War; Savannah: Or a Gift for Mr. Lincoln
  • Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House and contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination) and William R. Forstchen (Professor of History at Montreat College, in Montreat, North Carolina): Gettysburg Trilogy (Gettysburg; Grant Comes East; Never Call Retreat) and The Battle of the Crater.
  • Howard Bahr: The Judas Field; The Year of Jubilo; The Black Flower
  • Bernard Cornwell: Rebel; Copperhead; Battle Flag
  • James Reasoner: Manassas; Shiloh; Antietam; Chancellorsville; Vicksburg; Gettysburg; Chickamauga; Shenandoah; Savannah; Appomattox
  • Harry Turtledove: The Guns of the South; How Few Remain; Fort Pillow. Harry Turtledove (his real name) has written dozens of "alternate history" books, including several that involve a victorious Confederate Nation in an era long after the Civil War. A list of Turtledove's "Southern Victory" books, as this group is called, can be found on the Harry Turtledove Wikipedia web site.

The list also includes two collections of Civil War Stories. Ambrose Bierce's Civil War Stories were written during and after the war, and includes the classic An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Chickamauga and Other Civil War Stories is by Shelby Foote. Foote was a fiction writer before he gained fame for his epic 3-volume The Civil War: A Narrative, and his wry commentary on Ken Burns' Emmy Award-winning documentary The Civil War.

Below is an excerpt from my own Civil War Novel, Sherman's Mistress in Savannah. For additional excerpts from the book please see Preface & Excerpts and Sex in the Civil War.

At the bottom of this web page is a list of all the lakesidepress Civil War web sites.

from Chapter 26, Sherman's Mistress in Savannah

[Tuesday night, January 10, 1865]

“You bitch! You goddamn bitch!” The words echoed throughout the second floor of Savannah Gardens. They were followed by a girl’s scream and another “Goddamn bitch!” Sophie came running to the room, followed in half a minute by Gustav. They saw a large, naked man, easily 6 feet and 240 lbs., pounding away at Sarah. Gustav ran in to restrain him. He brushed Gustav off and again raised his fist to Sarah. Just then Nick rushed in to the room. He had arrived a few minutes before, hoping to have Sarah for himself that night, only to find her besieged by this brute. Nick grabbed the burly client’s right arm, while Gustav grabbed the left.

“Get out of my hotel. Leave!” yelled Gustav.

“That bitch bit my ear off!” He jerked his head to focus attention on his right ear; indeed there was a noticeable gap in his earlobe.

“He done raped me” said Sarah. “Cause I told him to use a condom. He say no, I say yes, or no sex, and he grabbed me, held me down, forced himself. I bit his ear. I bite his dick if I get a chance!”

“You didn’t give me a chance to come, you bitch. So you can’t say I raped you.”

“Mister, please, put on your clothes, leave, no trouble, OK?”

“Fuck you, you dirty kraut, I want my money back. I ain’t paying for no black whore that bit my ear off.”

“Sophie, go get Sergeant O’Riley, quick. Ve got troubles.” By now several women were crowding the doorway, along with a couple of their clients. Sensing he was outnumbered and with the cops summoned, the dissatisfied customer hastily dressed, all the while pointing to Sarah. “You black bitch, you whore. Knew I shouldn’t have taken a chance with no teenage nigger.”

“Mister, I’d watch your tongue,” said Nick.

That enraged him even more. The brute swung for Nick who ducked, and the punch landed squarely on Gustav’s jaw, sending him to the floor. The now-dressed man growled, “You goddam cocksuckers. I’m out of here” and fled down the stairs.

Nick knelt down to Gustav, saw that he was dazed but moving, and yelled for someone to fetch a basin of water. Within minutes both the water and Sgt. O’Riley arrived.

“Gustav!” Sophie screamed, “what happened? What happened to you?”

“That bastard threw him a punch, Miss Sophie. I think he’ll be alright,” said Nick.

“Oh Gustav,“ she moaned. She sat down on the floor and gently lifted his head to her lap. “You poor man.”

“What the hell happened here?” yelled O’Riley. “Everyone in the hallway, leave us be. Back to your rooms. I’m in charge now. Move on.”

Gustav stirred, his head cradled in Sophie’s arm and nose close to her right breast. He nuzzled himself into her chest while she stroked his head.

“Oh Gustav, you tried to do the right thing. There, there. I understand.”

Nick answered O’Riley’s questions, which seemed to focus more on Gustav’s injury than Sarah’s rape. Of that, the cop seemed unconcerned. And Nick had his own question: Where was Sarah? She had fled the scene. He went out to the hallway and asked one of the women still loitering about, who explained the girl went to the basement. “Said she was getting out of here.”

Nick ran down the stairs. The basement, really a street level part of the hotel, was small, only two rooms. Both were empty. She was gone. Yet her clothes were still in her room. He ran out to the street, not sure which way to go.

It was 10 pm, past curfew time. Nick would have to be on official business. He figured that Sergeant O’Riley’s report would go nowhere and there would be no further inquiry into the beating, especially that it involved a black girl. His only real concern was finding Sarah, and avoiding the brute. But where could she have gone? He knew of a sister on the plantation, but that was miles away, but maybe the sister had moved to town and there was an address. He didn’t know. But only a few minutes had passed, so she couldn’t have gone far. He espied a sentry on Broughton, a block from Abercorn. He would take a chance.

After saluting: “I am private Nick Gilkeson, on official business. Looking for a homeless runaway slave girl, about 17. She’s with our detachment. She’s needed for questioning about some work over to the cemetery.”

“Shit, private. What you doing out so late? Sherman freed all the slaves. Didn’t you know that?”

“Yessir, I meant ex-slave. Sorry.”

“I seen your nigger girl running like a banshee, headed this way” and he pointed straight down Broughton.

“Thanks sir, got to go find her. Captain’s waiting,” and he took off running.

Nick got lucky. When he approached Abercorn he saw her. She turned right, heading north to Reynolds Square. The night was cold and he couldn’t tell if she had a coat on. He followed, saw her stop and sit on one of the park benches. Breathless, he came up to her.


She looked up at him, fear in her eyes. He could see in the moonlight that the right side of her face was swollen from the blows.

“Sarah, where are you going? Do you have a place to go?”

“Ain’t going back dere. Dat man crazy.”

“He’s gone. He won’t hurt you. Gustav kicked him out. Where are you going to spend the night?”

“Don’t know.”

She did have a coat on. “Aren’t you cold?”

“What you want, Nick?”

“I want to help you, that’s all.”

“I better off as slave girl. Da money not worth the price.”

“Let me help you. I have an idea. You have to trust me.”

She looked away, did not respond.

“Sarah, you can’t stay out here all night. I can find you a place to stay. Will you trust me?”

“What you mean?”

“I want you to walk back with me to Savannah Gardens. No sex, no work, just walk back with me. You need to get your clothes, so you can move out. I promise nothing will harm you. I want to talk to Gustav. I have an idea.”

She stood up, did not speak, but indicated a willingness to walk with him.

“OK, let’s go,” he said.

Copyright 2012 - 2014, Lawrence Martin