Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
American Civil War

In sf, the American Civil War is a central focus for alternate-history texts (> Alternate Worlds); most of these posit various linchpin moments when – if things had gone differently – the South might have won. Because fantasy texts written in the 20th century tend to use Timeslip devices – which frequently impose a degree of constraint upon the traveller – to get their protagonists into venues like this, stories set during the ACW often differ from sf in that they tend to be tales of Bondage, like Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams (1987), where the timeslip connection between a contemporary woman and General Robert E Lee evokes hypnotically distressing images of the seemingly unending war. The elderly ex-soldier protagonist of Dan Simmons's "Iverson's Pits" (1988) timeslips from 1913 to the Battle of Gettysberg in a doomed attempt to revenge himself on a destructively incompetent colonel. And, although not in a timeslip tale, the horse protagonist of Richard Adams's Traveler (1988) is a creature inherently bound to General Lee, and to the ensuing horrors.

But the pre-eminent author of ACW fantasies was himself a survivor of the conflict. Several volumes by Ambrose BierceTales of Soldiers and Civilians (coll 1891), Can Such Things Be? (coll 1893) and volume 3 of The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (coll 1909) – contain stories of great note, the single most famous being "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (> Posthumous Fantasy); others include "A Tough Tussle", "A Cold Night" – in which a laid-out corpse is found, after a bitterly cold night, to have assumed a foetal position (a strikingly powerful presentation of the image of Bondage) – "The Other Lodgers" and "Two Military Executions".

Some of Bierce's stories involve Ghosts, and there are many tales by other hands that attempt to capture the horrific nature of the ACW through the devices of Supernatural Fiction. In Manly Wade Wellman's "His Name on a Bullet" (1940) a bullet charmed by a Witch keeps a soldier from harm, but causes the deaths of his mates. Among the best ACW Ghost Stories is "Stonewall Jackson's Wife" from Herself in Love (coll 1987) by Marianne Wiggins (1947-    ). The eponymous black ghost in Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison (1931-    ) haunts her mother, who has killed her to prevent her being returned to slavery. An anthology of this material is Confederacy of the Dead (anth 1993) ed Richard Gilliam, Martin H Greenberg and Edward E Kramer. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.