by Peter G. Tsouras

Greenhill Press


320pp/$29.95/June 1996

Gettysburg:  An Alternate History

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Peter G. Tsouras very obviously modelled his book Gettysburg: An Alternate History after the classic Robert Sobel work For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Both works are presented as serious scholarly works, including extensive footnote apparati. However, Sobel's examination of the multi-national North America works much better than Tsouras's examination of the three day battle of Gettysburg which ended the War Between the States.

Tsouras's expertise in regard to Gettysburg becomes apparent within the first few pages of his book. Unfortunately, Tsouras seems to believe that anyone who reads the book has as much knowledge of the battle as he does. Within pages he is freely mentioning Generals and Colonels, Regiments and Divisions, frequently with barely a mention of whether they are Confederate or Union. To someone with less than complete knowledge of the period or the battle, this technique can be confusing. The confusion brought about by this technique does nicely mirror the confusion of war in general.

Tsouras buys into the belief of the glory of war, in both the historical selections he chooses to quote, the fictitious sources he creates and the descriptions of both the battle and the men who took part. His cheer-leading, regardless of the side, tends to grate after a while, especially since it is frequently difficult to remember which side he is describing since he moves so effortlessly from North to South and back.

Tsouras's use of footnotes is not as well done as Sobel's, although the fact that Tsouras mixes real and imaginary footnotes is intriguing. Although Tsouras points out that he has retitled some existing works to reflect the world he has laid out, there are several footnotes which have not been so doctored and their inclusion is even more glaring since he pointed the doctoring out. The inclusion of several pages of photographs and drawings of the principals and battle is a very nice touch, allowing the reader to get a better handle on the personalities involved in the battle.

If there is only one place where Tsouras succeeds, and there are actually more than one, it is in his ability to make the reader wonder which specifics he has invented and which actually occur. A reader who is not an expert on Gettysburg, therefore, may be induced to discover what really happened to the men who fought in Pennsylvania.

In the end, Tsouras explains the immediate aftermath of the battle, permitting the reader to infer the remaining century plus of American history without giving any real indication of what course North America took after the Civil War ended (there are a few clues in some of the fictitious footnotes). A more detailed analysis of the results of the Battle of Gettysburg in his alternate world would have added more depth to the work.

Although interesting in concept and scope, this is a book which will appeal to Civil War fans more than the general run of alternate history fans. Tsouras goes a little too deep into the specifics of the Battle of Gettysburg and assumes a level of knowledge which is far beyond that of the average layperson.

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