Readers of Civil War News know that I contribute a regular column, “Critic’s Corner,” in which Publisher Jack Melton allows me to write about books and other published works. July is traditionally our “Gettysburg” issue, with a big central section featuring historical essays, news items, and battlefield updates about the huge event. In keeping with that, I’ve written my July column about the counterfactual literature of how the South won Gettysburg.
As I rummaged through a bunch of old notes, I came upon a source I had not thought about in years: Alexander A. Lawrence’s article, “If Longstreet Had Come Up at Gettysburg.” Lawrence (1906-1979) was a native Savannahian who practiced law there for almost forty years. He was also an avocational historian and author of several books, including A Present for Mr. Lincoln: The Story of Savannah from Secession to Sherman (Macon GA, 1961). His counterfactual musing (back then it was called “What if? history”) dates from October 1947, when he delivered a paper before the Atlanta Historical Society entitled, “Celebration of the Eighty-Fourth Anniversary of the Surrender of Washington, D.C.” Years later he published it as “If Longstreet Had Come Up at Gettysburg” in a collection of essays entitled Tongue in Cheek (Atlanta, 1979).
Pete Longstreet, as everyone knows, didn’t launch his assault against the Union left till late afternoon of July 2. But in Lawrence’s revisioning, the Confederates attack around 9 a.m., catching the Federal infantry so unprepared that soon the Peach Orchard and both Round Tops are in Southern hands. Just then Ewell attacks Culp’s Hill at the other end of Meade’s line and the Union army, pressed by the Rebel vise, begins to retreat. Lee’s pursues vigorously on July 3, pounding the fleeing Yankees with his infantry and artillery. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry swoops up thousands of prisoners as the Army of the Potomac effectively melts away (General Meade himself is captured). Lee’s army bears down on Washington, whose defenders fail to prevent President Lincoln from being bagged while trying to slip out of the city. The Federal capital surrenders on October 25, 1863. (Recall the title of Lawrence’s address.)
Out west, demoralized Federal forces under Grant in Mississippi and Rosecrans in Tennessee begin their own retrogrades back toward the Ohio. But a lot of Yankees in New York and New England refuse to give up, and must be dealt with. The triumphant Lee, his army now swollen to 100,000 by Southern volunteers eager to be in on the kill, marches north. By April 1, 1864, New York has fallen to Confederate forces. “The surrender of Brooklyn,” Lawrence explains, “was delayed for several days by the difficulty the Confederates experienced in finding any officials in that city who could conduct the negotiations in English.”
Then commences Longstreet’s celebrated “March to the Sea”: the Confederate campaign from New York to Boston harbor, calculated to crush the spirit of New Englanders who fail to see that they had lost the war. To do so, Southern soldiers for the first time in the war are forced to resort to the hard techniques—burning and wrecking—that the Yankees had originally introduced and developed. Thus it is in this march, as Connecticut and Massachusetts farms and sweatshops go up in smoke, that Georgia’s General John B. Gordon earns his reputation as being “a good soldier, but a little careless with fire.” Boston falls to Confederate forces exactly one year after Gettysburg. “On July 4th, 1864,” Lawrence observes, “Bob Toombs, true to his promise, called the roll of his slaves on the steps of Fanieul Hall.”
To President Davis, Longstreet dispatches his famous telegram: “I beg to present you as a Fourth of July gift, the city of Boston, with 25,000 cans of baked beans, 150 tons of cod and Harvard College.”
The world after the South won is a far better place, as Lawrence traces subsequent events well into the 20th century. Confederate international power is brought to bear against the Bavarian rabble-rouser Hitler, who is hanged after his failed effort to reoccupy the Rhineland. Even the Russian dictator Stalin cowers, reminding Confederate diplomats that he, too, had been born in Georgia.
All this could have happened, Alexander Lawrence reminds us, if only Longstreet had attacked early on the second day!