Do you know what Special Order 191 was? It’s one of those pesky little details we weren’t taught about that in history class; details that, if something had just gone a little differently, history would have been changed.
This is what begins the Harry Turtledove novel How Few Remain. Special Order 191 was Confederate General Lee’s details of where every Confederate Army division was supposed to go and what they were supposed to do. In the real world, this order was lost by a Confederate courier and made its way into Union General McClellan’s hands.
Now suppose that didn’t happen…
Without going into the details of how the Confederacy won the Civil War, Turtledove sets this piece twenty years later as bitterness has now set in between the Confederates and the USA. A second engagement takes place and features familiar faces in different roles: Theodore Roosevelt brings together a renegade regiment out in Montana, Samuel Clemens is a newspaperman in San Francisco, General Custer is attempting to quell a Mormon uprising in Utah, Abraham Lincoln is about to break from the Republican Party to join the Socialist Party, and Frederick Douglass is a reporter writing from the battlefront.
What instigates the confrontation is the Confederacy purchasing two territories from Mexico which enables them to stretch from sea-to-sea. General Jeb Stuart is working with the Apache Indians (including Geronimo) in an attempt to keep Union soldiers out of the newly-acquired territories. France and Great Britain have sided with the Confederacy while Germany is attempting to remain a neutral observer.
This is essentially the first novel in his The Great War series in that it sets up what will happen in the next four novels about World War I. Alliances have been formed, continents divided, people coming into power at times different from what has actually happened in history.
This genre is known as Alternate History and makes for a fascinating read. Turtledove is thorough in his research and characterizations which makes the story so believable. The only problem is that so much detail and history can sometimes drag the plot along. Another thing I disliked was that he focused on people in history we already knew, rather than bringing in his own characters.
Note: This is not a sequel to Guns of the South which I previously reviewed. Though the premise is the same – the south winning the Civil War – in this novel their only help comes from the countries of France and Great Britain.
Next book in the series (link): The Great War: American Front by Harry Turtledove