The film C.S.A.: Confederate States of America, purports to show what America might have become had the Confederacy won the Civil War, and the Union allowed itself to be annexed by the South. To reach its premise, however, the film is forced to do a great deal of historical contortionism, which tends to unnecessarily muddle the message of the film.
The filmmakers seem conveniently unaware of many basic facts about the actual Confederate States of America. For example, it was never a war aim of the Confederacy to conquer the United States. It is madness to suggest that a nation of six million (excluding slaves) could subjugate a nation of twenty-one million. By July of 1863, when the South achieves victory in the film, the number available for military service had been even further reduced, and would never again achieve the levels of the previous year. In contrast, the numbers enlisted in the armies of the United States reached its zenith in 1863, with the influx of colored regiments certainly having an impact.
In addition, states that joined the Confederacy produced less than 10% the total value of all manufactured goods in the United States before the Civil War. The south also lagged in the production of war materials, with a prewar figure of only 3% of U.S. firearm production and 1% of gunpowder production. By 1863, the southern economy had deteriorated to the point where women were rioting due to the price of bread.
In the north, the people never really suffered in the way that the southern people did, and many areas actually benefited from war contracts. To imagine that a nation that possessed major advantages in every measurable category, and whose comfort was yet to be seriously threatened by the war would simply surrender its sovereignty to its enemy is simply not credible.
The attitude of European leaders toward the Confederacy is mischaracterized as well. All European offers of mediation during the war’s early years were based upon separation alone. To suggest that Europe would have fought alongside the Confederacy in a war of conquest is dubious at best, especially with France focusing its attention on Mexico at that time, greatly straining its relationship with England, who opposed French intervention there.
The film further strains the imagination when it suggests that the northern people are persuaded to adopt slavery as a common practice, even though they have little use for chattel. As the film progresses, advances in agriculture that render mass labor unnecessary are ignored, and we are led to believe that slavery prospers throughout the twentieth century. A comical alliance with Hitler’s Germany is alluded to as the Confederacy is equated with Nazism.
The tragedy of these silly manipulations is there is a more plausible yet equally chilling outcome that might have been more seriously explored. Had the Confederacy achieved its actual goal of separation, a large nation of slaveholders would have existed in North America. Due to its agricultural exports, eventually other Western nations, including the United States, would likely have normalized relations with this “South Africa of the West”. How would this backwards nation have developed? Would a weakened United States have become a super power in the twentieth century? Would the allies have won the First World War? The Second? The possibilities are endless.
Rather than develop the more plausible scenarios, the film plumbs the sensationalist depths, preferring to focus entirely on slaveholding and its intelligence-defying expansion. Instead of a fascinating look at “what might have been”, C.S.A. settles for being a comic book account of the lunacy of a modern industrialized nation of slaveholders. How sad.