1862

by Robert Conroy

Presidio Press

0-345-48237-9

410pp/$6.99/2006

1862

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Robert Conroy, previously best known for his alternate history novel 1901 has traveled back to the American Civil War to look at an alternate world in which the Trent Affair caused England to enter into a war with the United States.  In 1862, Conroy's British are not enamored of the Confederacy's stand on slavery, but seeing a victorious United States as a potential future threat to Britain's ascendancy, decides to use the Trent Affair as a causus belli to invade the United States.

Conroy tells his story through multiple points of view, some showing the war at first hand, others showing the war as it is perceived in Washington and some showing the British understanding of the war.  Perhaps the central point of view is that of Nathan Hunter, a retired US Captain and widower who has attached himself to General Winfield Scott.  In addition to becoming Scott's aide, Hunter allows Conroy to add a more human side to the story by becoming involved with Washington widow Rebecca Devon, whose husband died shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run.

Despite Hunter's dalliance with Devon, 1862 is really a military novel, focusing the majority of its attention on the movement of troops throughout North America, including Canada, and the interaction of ships.  This latter, especially, allows Conroy to look at the emerging iron-clad technology as the British come to terms with the fact that the Americans might actually be able to challenge British naval supremacy.

Just as important as the military strategy and tactics are the political machinations which are going on behind the scenes, both in Abraham Lincoln's Washington and Lord Palmerston's London.  It is clear that although war could have been avoided, as it was following the Trent Affair in our own timeline, once a certain point was reached in this world, war became inevitable.

Although the British are fighting the United States, it is clear that their support for the Confederacy is, at best, luke warm.  Slavery is a wedge issue between the British and the Confederacy, giving their relationship a strong sense of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. However, once the British are victorious, it seems reasonably clear that their support for the Confederate cause will ebb.

One of the important things Conroy does in 1862 is to remind his readers that although in the twentieth and twenty-first century the United States and Britain have a "special relationship," as Winston Churchill noted in 1946, in the the nineteenth century, the two countries were rivals, with Britain seeing the United States as breakaway colonies and potential economic rivals and the United States seeing Britain as a former colonial master and potential economic rivals.

In examining an alternate history, Conroy does an excellent job of extrapolation in 1862. He looks at the military and political situation and draws supportable conclusions.  This proves to be the strongest part of the book and its focus.  Conroy is less adept when it comes to depicting personal relationships, such as Hunter and Devon's courtship, and in some ways that aspect of the novel almost seems tacked on.


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