Thursday, February 6, 2014
Review: ‘CSA: Southern Cross, Annuit Coeptis’ by Dorvall
Perhaps the most popular question of all Alternate History is “What if the South had won the Civil War?”, which has been addressed by authors such as Harry Turtledove and even Winston Churchill. Military historians have debated time and again with most agreeing that a Northern military victory was inevitable due to its larger resources.
The new graphic saga CSA: Confederate States of America from Sekwana Comics examines the idea of a southern victory from a new direction. In the first volume, Southern Cross: Annuit Coeptis, we see the point-of-departure in General Robert E. Lee reconsidering James Longstreet’s advice for a flanking maneuver as opposed to the planned Pickett’s Charge. Historically, the charge was to be supported by artillery in tactics seen successfully in the Wars of Italian Unification, but it ultimately proved the moment of defeat at Gettysburg. In CSA, we see Longstreet’s flanking action throw the Union forces into confusion, resulting in a resounding Confederate victory just eighty miles from Washington, D.C.
Typical alternate historians dismiss a defeat at Gettysburg as slowing the inevitable, but author Dorvall shows a different scope of history accounting for the social impact of such a victory. Dorvall, an immigrant to the United States from France, gives a unique perspective, accounting for issues rarely considered by Americans. In 1863, the North was hardly united on the efforts of the war, even to the point of draft riots in New York City that raged for days before being dispersed by naval gunfire. It is entirely possible that the Northerners may have turned to panic in such dire times, causing the war effort to collapse and erasing the possibility for the military victory that so often seems assured as we look back.
In CSA, the world unravels. Senators in Washington blame one another for the losses, and the riots are even worse in New York. Washington begins an evacuation, which serves as a guise for former Union commander George McClellan to place Abraham Lincoln under military arrest, creating a coup to ensure the end of the war. General Ulysses Grant, whose victory in Vicksburg happened simultaneously in our history, loses his momentum and eventually becomes a renegade in the West with an army collapsing through desertion.
Dorvall’s writing carries dense dialogue, giving the graphic novel something of the feel of a play. Readers see the epic unfold through the eyes of four protagonists in their own various social circles. In the North, Female reporter Emma Loads combats chauvinism while standing for the cause of Emancipation while Frenchman Aymond Vouleuvre struggles to evade capture after joining the losing Union side. The issues of racism and slavery are raised through the treatment of captured Black Union soldier Joe Jefferson and his peers in a Confederate POW camp, while Captain Erwin Whitaker struggles to maintain a gentlemanly Southern posture in a nation going mad with looting. Southern Cross ends with a poignant image of the drafted Emancipation Proclamation being thrown out as scrap paper, showing the disastrous effect on the social progress of a nation.
CSA is a fascinating study on one of Alternate History’s most asked questions as well as an artistic graphic novel. The art by Philip Renne brings together elements of CGI, photography, painting, and traditional drawing. The unique style incorporates borders such as chains or molding to accent some of the scenes. Combined with Dorvall’s rich dialogue, CSA gives a thought-provoking experience of seeing a different outcome to the Civil War not as a military question but a social one.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 9:03 AM