Science Fiction and Adventure

The Hive, Red Moon, Star Pirates, and Das Bell

                 The SOUTH shall rise

 

                         

 

 

The South Shall Rise: An Alternate History

 

            “Look sharp Mister Morton; stand by to hoist the colors…ours and theirs.”

            Lieutenant Charles Morton squinted into the morning glare.” Aye sir…they actually look very impressive, especially their battleship.”

            “Yes they do Mister Morton but so do we.  Let’s show them our best.” 

            The morning air was a crisp thirty-eight degrees with a cloudless blue sky the color of sapphire.  The light chop on the Long Island Sound sparkled in the low sunlight like a million diamonds.  Slicing though the glittering waves were five vessels, flying their colors: two cruisers, a battleship, a destroyer and a submarine.  It was hard to believe, hard for anyone to believe, that this day had finally come after seventy-five years of an uneasy peace between the two nations.  Many had speculated that this day would never come, that war would again flare, that another million or so men would die. Others hoped for peace, even for unification some day, but they were the dreamers.  This was not quite unification, not quite yet an alliance, but it was moving in the right direction.  In the end it was not a political accommodation or the efforts of good men, honest men, but naive men, to reach across a border of barbed wire and guard towers to each other, but the rising specter of a mutual enemy.

            “Let’s make sure we give them a good hardy Yankee welcome!” It was the voice of Lieutenant Travers, shouting over a stiff breeze off of the water to the marine band. As he watched their colors being hoisted, Travers tapped his baton on his stand, raised it, and then snapped his wrist toward the brass section.  Instantly the strains of God Save the South, the Confederate National Anthem, filled the air, floating out to the approaching ships.  In answer to the greeting from their long entrenched adversaries, a cheer went up from the decks, the raised voices of sailors in their gray and white dress uniforms. 

December 2nd, 1942, three weeks after a devastating attack on the Pacific bases of both the navies of the United Union States of America and the Confederacy by the Empire of Japan, the chasm that had split America north and south was beginning to narrow.  Perhaps the American President that presided over the signing of a peace that forever divided what was once the United States between Maryland and Virginia was correct when he said that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  The Japanese were certain of that on the morning of November the 15th, 1942, a day that would live in infamy, when Japanese fighters and bombers devastated the Confederate Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, and that of the Union, eight hours later in San Francisco Bay, setting fire to much of the waterfront and the city with horrific military and civilian casualties.

Perhaps those planners of the Japanese admiralty felt certain that deep divide between the two nations that shared the North American continent could be exploited to their advantage but they failed to account for the fact that no matter how Confederates and Yankees might feel about each other, even seventy-five years after the war between them had ended, it was a mild annoyance compared to the hatred that was building on both north and south of the border to this Asian menace that struck without warning, slaughtering military men as well as women and children of both nations.  In meetings hastily convened between the presidents of the North and the South in Richmond and  then in Washington, it was the crushing blows to both navies and the losses of so many capital ships and men, both Confederate and Union, that is was decided the only way to halt the Japanese advance was to form an alliance. Already, Japanese forces were occupying Northern California. With the arrival of a Confederate task force at a Union naval base, the stars and bars of the South finally flew proudly alongside old glory of the North. Speeches would be made, Union Admiral Cruikshank would host his Confederate counterpart, Admiral Beauregard, at a no holds barred reception later this evening, and agreements would be signed. 

Over the next three weeks the two naval squadrons would feel each other out, train together and prepare to take back territory in North America that had fallen into Japanese hands that would include parts of Texas within the month.  The orders to the sailors, both blue and gray, were strict: the Japanese threat outweighed any simmering animosities.  Even the slightest altercation between crews north of the and south would not be tolerated.  This was especially drilled into the minds of the Confederate enlisted men.  Despite their natural cockiness at being the service responsible for the South’s victory in 1867 that established the Confederate States of America as a nation, the sailors were under strict orders not to boast of the brilliant achievement of their navy those many years ago.  It was an achievement made not by ironclad or surface ship but by their silent gray hunters that prowled below the waves and not upon them.

 

Charleston Harbor, February 17th 1864.

“Reverse, full speed Mister Collins!  Get us out of here now!”  Captain George Dixon, in spite of the freezing dampness inside of the submarine, was sweating.  Moments earlier, his ship, the Hunley, had jammed a long spar fitted with an explosive charge into the bottom of the Union blockage ship the Housatonic.  They were making good speed in reverse but they had been seen.  Thorough the observation cupola, Dixon could see the splashes where fifty-eight caliber Minie-balls struck the water along with hammer blows of more accurate fire that had found the submarine’s hull.  Sixty feet, then eighty feet, the charge was set to explode once the lanyard reached its full one hundred and fifty foot length. 

Ninety feet and . . . the blast lifted the Housatonic out of the water, splitting the ship in two, and hurling crewmen and debris into Charleston Harbor.  The lanyard had fouled on the spar with the ninety pound charge of black powder going off far to close to the Hunley. The pressure wave slammed into the forty-foot long vessel, driving it deep into the mud of the harbor, embedding the stern into the soft sea bottom. Inside the ship, it was pitch black, black as inside of a coal bin at midnight.  Men groaned, one shrieked while others cursed.  Crewman Arnold Becker had smashed the side of his jaw into the hand crank for the propeller.  It was numb for the moment.  Fishing around with his tongue, Becker spat out a broken tooth with the salty copper taste of blood filling his mouth. 

It was Captain Dixon with a dislocated shoulder and bleeding from a gash to his forehead that shouted in the darkness for order, calling the roll and finding one man who had been knocked unconscious by the blast. “Boys, we’re all still alive by the grace-a- God but we’re jammed into the bottom of the harbor.  I want you’ all to keep your wits about you.  We’re going to first try blowing the air tanks, and then we’ve all of us got to crank that propeller as if your lives depend upon it, because they surely do.  Right now we are stuck some forty feet under the water and it we don’t get free, we’ll be here for eternity.”

“Captain sir, I think the propeller must-a bent.  We struck mighty hard.”

Even in the dark, Dixon could recognize Augustus Miller’s voice. “You don’t pay that no never mind August, you just keep working the crank back and forth ‘till we get us free.”

It was a harrowing ninety-minutes, but finally, and after dropping the emergency weight, the Hunley bobbed to the surface.  After all that time submerged, Union lookouts on the other blockade ships had given up.  The air inside was thick with carbon dioxide and the stench of sweat and fear. Once Dixon felt he was far enough away from the Union ships, he opened the forward and aft hatches.  The February night air was freezing cold but to Dixon and his men it was as welcome as a sweet summer zephyr.  Slowly the damaged submarine crawled back into Charleston.  As Dixon and his men entered the shelter of the inner harbor, the late winter sun was rising through a thick blanket of clouds on the horizon.  George Dixon, his head wrapped in a white blood stained bandage, was halfway out of the forward hatch as they approached the dock.  On it was Admiral Franklin Buchanan and two of the Hunley’s creators, Baxter Watson and James McClintock. Ropes were thrown to the crew.  The injured men were helped out of the submarine and it was Admiral Buchanan who saluted Dixon, shook his hand, and congratulated him for a job well done.  

With Dixon wrapped in a heavy woolen blanket and heading to the infirmary Buchanan spoke to both Watson and McClintock. “I can see that your invention has succeeded beyond my most fervent expectations. The possibility of undersea warfare had never been considered anything more than the most wild of speculations: that is until last night. I understand that you two savants have ideas that go beyond this first endeavor of yours, it that so?”

Baxter Watson addressed the admiral. “That is so sir.  Consider the Hunley a test of the ability of a submersible torpedo boat to destroy a massive enemy warship.  Now consider the idea of a ship like the Hunley, only two or three times its length and not simply powered by men cranking a propeller by hand but powered by a steam engine.”

Buchanan nodded thoughtfully until he realized the flaw in the man’s idea. “But sir, once the torpedo boat is below the water, it will be impossible for a steam engine to function.”

“Ah but there is a way of doing this Admiral,” replied James McClintock.  Do you sir, have a pocket watch?”

“Why yes, I certainly do.”

“When you wind it, doesn’t the main spring power your watch for an entire day?”

“Why yes sir, it most certainly does…” and then it dawned on Buchanan. “Do you mean to say that you can use something like the workings of my watch to drive your undersea ship while it’s submerged?”

“That is exactly what I mean.  While my undersea torpedo boat is running on the surface, steam power will drive the propeller.  Some of that steam power will be used to wind a series of giant springs, like those in your watch, Admiral.  When the enemy is sighted, the crew will shut down their boiler, submerge, and use the stored power of the wound springs to propel their ship underwater.  The Union fleets will have no defense against a fleet of undersea warships.  The South will break the Yankee blockade, open our ports and I believe sir, that this demonstration of a new and deadly naval weapon will finally convince the British to give economic and military aid that the Confederacy so badly needs.”

The debacle of the past November at Chattanooga weighed heavily on Buchanan’s mind. Up until then the South had held its own, but now the Union blockade was strangling the Confederacy and aid from abroad was seriously in doubt.  The idea of a fleet of invincible, untouchable warships, able to strike unnoticed and invisibly began to glow like the sparks of a coal in the admiral’s imagination until it burst into flame within the man’s mind as he stood upon a dock in Charleston harbor on a bitterly cold February morning.  “Sirs, I intend to telegraph President Jefferson Davis himself as soon as possible.  I would like both of you to ready to travel with me today to Richmond.  We’ll take Captain Dixon as well if he’s up to it.  I plan to ask the Confederacy to give you two men all of the resources you need to create your fleet of undersea war craft.  Gentlemen, if you can produce the kinds of ships you have described to me, then you have turned the tide for the Confederacy.  I can say that thanks to you two savants, victory is at hand.

 

July 14th 1864

Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War for the Confederacy, stood on a sweltering metal platform overlooking the immense ship yard that had been built on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida.  Along with Benjamin was Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy and Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the driving force behind a secret project that in five months had consumed a substantial amount of Confederate treasure.  Just joining them were Baxter Watson and James McClintock, with Watson’s wearing an oil soaked apron.

Judah Benjamin addressed the two savants first. “A most impressive effort sirs, but one that has sorely taxed our resources.  Forty cents of every dollar within the Confederacy has been poured into building your fleet of undersea war craft. There are spies everywhere and both myself and the secretary of the treasury have had to endure much from General Lee and even those close to Jefferson Davis in hiding the true purpose of a diversion of such a significant sum of money.  I most fervently hope that the results are worth the expense.”

By the summer of 1864, the South’s resources had been stretched to the breaking point. Union General Sherman was on the move, cutting a swath of destruction across Georgia with Atlanta about to fall.  The Union blockade of the Confederacy was slowly strangling the upstart nation and the vast amount of money drained from Richmond’s dwindling treasury was being felt along the battle lines leaving gray coats with deficits of arms and ammunition. Still, after the success of the Hunley and the plans of Watson and McClintock that had been convincingly laid out in front of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, it was decided that the undersea warship program was the only hope of saving the Confederacy.

McClintock continued the presentation with the five men walking down the gangway to one of the submersibles. “Gentlemen, this is one of the sixteen vessels that will be ready to sortie by tomorrow night.  If you all would care to step aboard, I can explain the mechanisms and their purpose.”

Judah Benjamin looked back toward the fabrication yards.   “What of the others under construction Mister McClintock?”

“Another twenty sir, to be ready before the end of the year and, if God willing, we shall have a full compliment of one-hundred ships by the summer of 1865.

“God willing, a statement never so true as now sir.” Said Stephen Mallory. “Our young nation is in the strangle hold of Lincoln and the North.  Lead on sirs, I am anxious to see the fruits hewn from so much of our treasure.” 

The submersible struck Mallory as the most unconventional vessel he had ever seen, even stranger than the ironclads that had changed naval warfare, putting a quick end to any engagment with a wooden hulled ship.  The submersible was 120 feet long, looking much like an enormous boiler from a steam locomotive.  It grew fatter along the sides of the hull to accommodate what McClintock had said were ballast tanks for submerging and surfacing the ship.  The prow came to a point and a hump, a third of the way along the ship, provided observation.  Near the stern of the boat was a single slim smokestack.  To the secretary of the navy it appeared to be some other worldly creature, a strange and deadly predator of the sea.

“And what sir are those?” Mallory was pointing to the two tubes attached to either side of the ship.”

“Those are her weapons Mister Secretary,” answered Baxter Watson. “We call them mechanical fish.  They operate on the same principal as our submersibles.  They are spring powered sir, with a range of 120 yards.  Our submersibles can stand off, just below the surface and fire our mechanical fish.  They will strike the enemy with a one-hundred pound charge of gunpowder.  Each uses a contact detonator.  All our tests of these weapons to date have been successful save for one.”

Baxter Watson then led the admiral and the two cabinet heads down an open hatchway and into the bowels of the ship.  The air inside held the scent of metal and lubricating oil. Watson held up an oil lamp. “It is not usual to have lamps lit when a ship is submerged.  The flame consumes far too much of the oxygen inside.  That’s why, when you tour the training base this afternoon, you’ll see our aquanauts, as we call crews, training on equipment wearing blindfolds.  In battle, all operations need to made in total darkness.”

Admiral Buchanan added, “These men are the brightest and most educated in the navy.  All are literate and all can do their sums.  This is a highly complicated machine that requires intelligent men to operate it.”

To Mallory and Benjamin it was claustrophobic inside of the ship.  Judah Benjamin had a question. “How deep will this vessel go, sir?” 

“Fifty to sixty feet without incident,” replied Watson, Our ships have an absolute depth of ninety feet before the hull seals rupture under the pressure of the water.  You can see over here, we have a depth gauge.  This is the only area permitted to have use of a lantern under battle conditions.”

Mallory peered about the cramped confines of the control bridge in the dim light. “And how sir, if the ship is submerged, does the captain sight his target?”

Watson smiled patting the long tube that extended up though the ship’s cupola. “By this means sir, a simple spotting device used by the artillery.  An adaptation by a young engineer we have by the name Michael Galway.  He’d been in the army building breastworks and defenses. The device used on land is called a periscope.  He’s adapted it for use on our submersibles.”

The later afternoon was spent on a tour of the aquanauts training base, half a mile west of the ship yard.  Mallory and Benjamin were both impressed by the young men, most from well to do families by their education.  All were willing to climb inside these iron coffins to do battle from beneath the waves.  In twenty-four hours the first twelve of the sixteen submersibles, cloaked in the darkness of midnight, would approach the Union blockade ships at the mouth of the St. Johns River, slip beneath the waves and begin their mission.  Although it would have been easy to sink the blockaders, it would not do for the Confederacy to play their hand too soon.  

The twelve submersibles would make way for Mobile Bay to engage the Union fleet commanded by Admiral Farragut, while the other four would sortie for the Port of Richmond to relieve the Confederate capital. On their way toward the tip of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, Captain Dixon’s squadron sighted a Union warship that had intercepted a British merchantman, carrying goods to a Confederate port.  Dixon’s boat broke away from the formation, submerged at sunset and within forty minutes the wooden hulled Yankee warship had been reduced smoldering timbers, floating on the water.  When Dixon surfaced his ship he was greeted at first by hushed silence from the British crew and then rousing cheers.  Captain Dixon had a hand written message in his possession from President Davis for just such an eventuality.  With the Union survivors taken aboard the merchantman, Dixon arranged for her captain to sail back to England with news of the new submarine weapons and deliver the letters and documents to the British Parliament in a bid for military aid.  

 

Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864

            Dixon’s squadron of submersibles lay waiting for Admiral Franklin Buchanan’s flotilla of surface ships.  It was decided that the first attack against Union forces would be carried out by the submersibles with Dixon’s ship the South, leading the way in a night assault. 

            Admiral Farragut’s lookouts spotted the Confederate forces near sunset.  Through telescopes and binoculars, it was determined that a small force of three gunboats and an ironclad had formed up several miles offshore.  It was one of the lookouts in crow’s nest of the Hartford noticed an unusual amount of black coal smoke drifting low over the water.  The man, though curious, mistakenly chalked his observation up to smoke pots in an attempt to hide the Confederate ships and decided not to report it. It was later that night his assumption was proven woefully wrong.

 

            At forty five minutes after midnight, in three spectacular blasts the Hartford, the Richmond and the Oneida disintegrated in massive explosions.  The crew of the Brooklyn scanned the water in vain for the source of the attack only to be blasted to matchwood moments latter.  Aboard the submersible Stonewall Jackson, her captain sighted the Union Monitor class gunboat the Manhattan.  Before the armored ship got underway one of the Jackson’s mechanical fish slammed into the unprotected bottom of the ship, blasting a hole in it and sending it to the bottom. Within twenty minutes three quarters of Farragut’s fleet was either on the bottom or sinking.  It was a disaster made all the worse by the heavy concentration of Union newspaper reporters covering the battle, who had expected a decisive victory by the North.

            Running thirty feet below the surface, Dixon and his squadron of hunters had savaged the Union fleet.  Since all of the submersibles sortied at the same time, all had run down two of their four huge coiled steel mainsprings.  It was time to turn around and head back to safety where Dixon’s sharks could surface, blow out the stale air within and relight their boilers.  The quick work done by Dixon and his squadron left little for Admiral Buchanan to do save for a mopping up operation.  The result was the back of the Union blockade of the Alabama coast was broken and a spectacular victory for the South.

            Two days later, the heavily armed Union ships that had closed off Richmond harbor vanished in titanic explosions, one after the other, freeing the Confederate capital from the grip of the North.  Over the following months, in port after port and upon the open sea, Union vessels were struck by the untouchable Confederate submersibles.  Even when the submersibles were sighted in the clear waters of the Gulf and the Caribbean, there was no way to depress the deck guns on the Union ships enough to even attempt to strike their attackers.  The Confederate submarines became an invincible weapon that no ship could defend against.

            By the summer of 1865, one-hundred of Watson and McClintock’s deadly metal predators stalked the coastline of the Union states, sinking both merchant ships and warships at will.  On the political front, Great Britain and in particular, the Royal Navy clamored for the submersibles.  In return, economic and military aid flowed into the Confederacy unopposed, with the aquanauts having cleared the sea lanes of Union opposition.  By early 1866 a reinvigorated Army of the Confederacy sporting breach loading British made Snider-Enfield rifles wreaked havoc on the Union troops that opposed them.

Soldiers of the North were shocked to see so many black faces in gray uniforms. In 1863, British insistence that aid depended upon the ending of slavery had been too bitter a pill to swallow. Now, however, with millions in gold flowing into Confederate coffers, the money paid to the treasury of Jefferson Davis for the designs of the submersibles afforded the South with nearly unlimited resources. Slave holders could be compensated twice or three times over for their losses. Former slaves were guaranteed their freedom and compensation if they took up arms for the Confederacy, blunting Lincoln’s earlier proclamation. In the end, some 230,000 former slaves took the places of those who had fallen at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Chancellorsville.  After much political wrangling the “Bahamas Emancipation” was adopted in which men and women, once considered property, would now become employees of their former masters for the next five years. During which time a portion of their earnings would be held aside until their fifth year. They could then choose to stay with the work they knew or strike out on their own, with five years of savings to buy land or start a business with.  

 

 By the summer of 1867, The Confederate States of America and their British allies dominated the seas.  On land, the rebel armies continued to force the Union back, re-conquering territory right to the Potomac.  It was June the 28th 1867, that a beleaguered Abraham Lincoln and a triumphant Jefferson Davis sat down to finalize a peace accord that would grant the southern states the independence they had so desperately fought for.  In looking back, those many years later, it was the aquanauts, the South’s silent service that had tipped the balance and turned certain defeat into victory.  Today, seventy-five years later, it would be both nations, Union and Confederate who would finally stand together to face the Asian onslaught from Japan.

 

New London, Connecticut: December 2nd, 1942

            The dinner served in the New London, Connecticut, headquarters of the Union fleet was of course magnificent.  The air was full of good cheer and toasts to victory over the Japanese.  Later that evening, Admiral Thomas Cruikshank and Admiral Beauregard stood on a balcony overlooking the harbor crammed with heretofore enemy ships. Both men, one in Yankee blue and the other in Confederate gray, enjoyed their cigars.

            “I say, Admiral Cruikshank, I must complement you sir on a most auspicious beginning to our mutual cooperation.”

            “Why thank you Admiral, and I must say, you have a fine fleet.  Damned unfortunate for you to have lost so many ships at Pearl Harbor.”

            “As it was for you sir in San Francisco, and the atrocities committed by our mutual foe against your forces and your civilians in the Aleutians, most reprehensible, sir, most reprehensible! Their deaths will be avenged.” The Confederate admiral’s eyes scanned the moonlit waters of the harbor, gathering his thoughts before he continued. “It would seem our budding alliance has been forced upon us by the menace of the Empire of Japan.  With more than half of each of our fleets having been lost, it is our only option to stand together in order to turn back this onslaught from across the Pacific.”

            “Your submarine fleet, Admiral Beauregard, I trust it is still intact?”

            “Indeed it is sir, though I know this is a sore subject for the North.”

            “Not so admiral.  With your submarine fleet and our combined surface ships, including my aircraft carriers, we can turn back and defeat the Japanese.  They may have their run of the Pacific and even hold territory captive in both of our nations but I swear sir that within six months we shall push them back.”

“And then what admiral, after we are victorious?”

I think, Admiral Beauregard that it will be time for a new beginning.  I’d love to visit Savannah one day.”

A wide smile crossed Beauregard’s face.  “One day when the war with this treacherous Asian foe is won, you shall sir, as my guest. You have my word upon it.”  

 

 

 

 

 

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