How Few Remain
Author: Harry Turtledove
Published: Del Rey Books, 1998
How Few Remain is a a work of "alternative history" which posits a fairly well known "what-if" scenario in American History, i.e., "what if the Confederate States of America had won the American Civil War. In 1862, General Robert E. Lee had momentum on his side. His recent victory at the second Battle of Bull Run (also known as Manassas around these parts) had inspired confidence in him. Drawing up Special Order 191, he detailed a planned invasion of Maryland, taking the war into the Union in an effort to force it to sue for peace and get European diplomatic recognition. Also, there was the possibility of obtaining the aid of England and France in their struggle for independence. A copy of the order was lost, found by a Union private, and Lee's plans were foiled, paving the way for a devastating loss in the bloody battle of Antietam, and the eventual defeat of the Confederacy.
In Turtledove's carefully crafted work, this fortunate accident never happened. The plans were recovered by a Confederate soldier and returned to the messenger who lost them. Lee's plan succeeded spectacularly, and The Confederacy won what is called the War of Secession in his forked history. The bulk of the book takes place 20 years later. The Confederacy is headed by James G. Longstreet, and the United States by James Blaine. The purchase of Sonora and Chihuahua from the Empire of Mexico by the Confederacy, a move seen as being somehow "coerced" according to Blaine, is the pretext for the Second Mexican War, the central event of the book.
How Few Remain is an outstanding book. The developments of the characters is quite believable, Turtledove's vivid descriptions of military tactics are a joy to behold. Some of the amazing, though believable, developments of actual historical figures will have you pondering the possibilities, and will likely have you researching, which is a wonderful and novel response to a wonderful and gripping novel.
Undertaken in response to The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.