Thursday , November 30 2023
This graphic novel is a beautifully illustrated and thought-provoking alternative history of the Civil War.

Book Review: ‘Southern Cross, Volume 1’ by Dorvall and Philip Renne

Annuit Coeptis: Southern Cross is the first volume of a series of graphic novels entitled CSA: Confederate States of America.

What happens when a Frenchman with a degree in the study of history and a fascination with the American Civil War (Dorvall) and an American from South Dakota (Renne) collaborate to create an alternative history of the Civil War in graphic novel form? They produce a  fascinating if sometimes hard to follow, (at least is this first volume), look at what might have happened if one battle had turned out differently and the South had won the war.

CSA1It all hinges on Gettysburg. In this history, the South wins that pivotal battle, McClellan takes over the White House in a coup d’etat, and everything turns out very, very differently.

Dorvall skillfully mixes real and fictional characters in his plot and succeeds very well in expressing the mixed feelings towards black people and slavery in both the North and the South as he begins his tale.  While I may have some serious doubts about some of the action in the book, particularly on the Southern side,  certainly the story is dramatic and thought-provoking. I particularly appreciate the mention of the difference in the strong abolitionist leanings among many Northerners as compared to the treatment of factory workers who worked in unsafe and nearly unbearable conditions and included even children.

According to the press release, later volumes will also consider the difference between the concern for the rights of slaves versus the rampant lack of concern for the Native Americans. While I feel that Southern soldiers under Nathan Forrest taking free black citizens to send back to the South is highly unlikely for practical reasons, certainly he was morally capable of doing so. He is countered to some degree by the fictional Confederate officer, Erwin, who is against slavery but loves his Southern homeland.

The art in this novel is beautiful, done not in comic book style but in the realistic painterly style of the 19th Century. The paper is very fine; the colors are dense; and for each of the four main characters, there are themed borders that reflect qualities of that character on the pages that feature each one. The book is worth owning for the art alone.

Certainly, the novel succeeds in engaging the reader completely and bringing forward many issues of the times that may be considered in a fresh way in the alternative history format. Was slavery inevitable in the South, if the South had won? Were there clearly defined good guys and bad guys in the war? Is war ever a simple proposition?

The second volume of this series is due for release in July 2014.  This first novel certainly leaves this reviewer with high hopes for the rest of the series. Those with an interest in alternate history or in Civil War history should find this novel both compelling and amazing to view.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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One comment

  1. Is this revisionist history? IMO, the Confederacy was not a noble cause, it was a desperate attempt to keep plantation profits from slavery by using political tricks and treason to keep slavery going. Then the confederates started the war by raiding a government armory, stealing the weapons and killing the soldiers therein.

    There was nothing noble about it. It was a dirty rotten war that served no purpose, and yet the civil war cost us more soldiers dead and wounded than any other war.

    The only purpose was to preserve slavery, as the secessionists made clear as they signed the “Ordnance of Secession” which praised slavery as gods greatest gift to mankind.