Stars and Stripes Forever




Stars and Stripes Forever is a piece of alternative history fantasy that tells the story of a British Invasion of the US in 1862. It was written by Harry Harrison and is generally poorly regarded, but this will not focus on the quality of the writing, the naval or political aspects.




The “Border Incident” that sparks the war occurs on the night of 1st – 2nd May 1862. The story jumps to Whitehall and an Ultimatum being sent to a telegram arriving on Lincoln desk stating that the Plattsburg Militia Volunteers are under attack.


The story seems to state that the first transatlantic cable didn’t work, like IRL, since Lincoln sends a message on a steamer, therefore it would seem likely that several months elapsed between the border dispute, and any conversation in Whitehall. However, arriving on his desk at the same time is a telegram stating that Farragut has taken New Orleans, which happened on 28th April 1862, several days before the border incident that sparked the war.


Note that at this time (1st May 1862) IRL the Army of the Potomac are engaged in the Peninsula Campaign.




By Plattsburg, we assume the author means Plattsburgh, NY (note the different spelling, otherwise the British are invading Mississippi!). This was the site of a War of 1812 battle: The reference to the nearby town of Keeseville confirms this was the authors intention.




The Plattsburgh (sic) Militia Volunteers are under the command of a Colonel, but are of company strength apparently. This is strange because IRL the Volunteer Militia of Plattsburgh became M company of the 2nd New York Cavalry, part of Buford’s Division of Cavalry. The 96th New York Regiment “Plattsburgh Regiment” (3rd Division, IV Corps, Army of the Potomac) was raised there too, but is away with its unit.


There is a recruiting depot in Plattsburgh (which may explain the Colonel’s presence).


The approaching regiment identifies itself as the “Seaforth Highlanders”, which we can assume means the 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own) Highlanders, which overruns the militia, although they fight using tactics that were considered antiquated in the 1840’s, using the typical Napoleonic War “Volley and Charge”, certainly not the tactics used in the Crimean or Mutiny.


The 72nd is in India in 1861/2 BTW…


Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico….


Admiral Milne is leading a fleet to assist the CSA. Onboard his flagship is the Duke of Cambridge and Major General Bullers, the Army and “Infantry” commanders. Some cryptic comments are made about them both serving in Ireland and the Crimea. This confirms the Crimean War did take place in the timeline. The Ireland comment is strange as Ireland hasn’t seen any trouble since the French invasion of 1798, and the Duke of Cambridge served as a junior officer in the 12th Lancers in Ireland in the 1840’s. Their invasion force includes the 45th, 58th, 67th, the “3rd Middlesex” and some cavalry. Suffice to say they attack the wrong target, and go on a rampage turning the CSA against the UK.


The “3rd Middlesex” is quite strange. The 3rd Regiment was the “Buffs” and was assigned East Kent as a recruiting area. It was the 57th, the “Die Hards” who were assigned Middlesex. Either the author has made a serious error (the probable explanation), or the 57th has tripled in size (at least) to create a 2nd and 3rd battalion.


(As an aside, all the Regiments mentioned, including both the 3rd and 57th are part of the modern Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment).


The counterattack is by the 53rd Ohio, (3rd Bde, 5th Div, Army of the Tennessee IRL), 23rd Indiana (2nd Bde, 3rd Div, AoT) commanded by General Lew Wallace and the 1st Minnesota Battery (2nd Bde, 6th Div, AoT). We can assume that the Army of the Tennessee is moving against the British beachhead. The South is so outraged the Civil War is immediately called off and the US and CS unite against the Brits. General Beauregard attacks the British immediately, having parlayed with the US General (IRL he commands the CS Army of the Tennessee, 44,000 strong in 2 Corps).


The fact that General Lew Wallace is commanding the 23rd Indiana is interesting. In reality he’d been removed from the Army of the Mississippi (5 Divisions, became XIII Corps IRL during the story timeline) for poor handling of his Division (7,000 strong) at Shiloh. He remained a General Officer and continued to command Division and Corps sized formations. The 23rd Indiana was part of XIII Corps.


Back to the North, Ticonderoga and Saratoga


Apparently, General Halleck (who IRL is commanding the Armies of the West) formed a line of defence centred on Fort Ticonderoga, which included the 14th New York, which was with 2nd Bde, 1st Div, III Corps, Army of the Potomac. This defence was swiftly overrun by the advancing British.


Cut to Grant leading “his Divisions” north to Ticonderoga and is entrenched on top of a hill with a stonewall while Greenjacketed Britons (actually Canadian Militia who did wear Green Jackets) assault his position. This seems to be a deliberate attempt at a Fredericksburg/ Gettysburg situation. We later learn this is the Battle of Saratoga (or the Hudson Valley).


His position is near a railhead, and the 1st US Sharpshooters (3rd Bde, 1st Div, V Corps, AoP), 3rd New York (1st Div, VII Corps, Army of Virginia, but this may in fact be 3rd USCT), 1st, 2nd and 3rd US Colored Troops arrive as reinforcements. The presence of these latter three is a surprise as they aren’t raised until May-August 1863 and are not combat ready until the 1864 campaigning season. The Sharpshooters silence a battery 230 yards away by shooting the crew. They then silence an emplaced gun by shooting the sandbags around it until it clogs the barrel.


Now 230 yards is not very far away, it’s within the extreme range of a smoothbore, and this is not particularly impressive. The sandbag trick wouldn’t have worked though as the gunners swab out the barrel between every shot and would have cleared it.


Washington Raided


Meanwhile, a couple of RN Battleships sail straight through all the defences and raid Washington, and Kentucky troops are fighting them inside the White House. Apparently there are an “awful lot” of British troops, enough to take Washington (which IRL is defended by the entire XXII Corps and 9 Separate Brigades), but an American Ironclad, the Avenger appears and the Brits retreat.


Saratoga Again


The Battle is in its 3rd day, the British have just mounted another frontal attack and Cavalry is moving towards the US left flank. Grant estimates 16,000 US casualties so far.  Meanwhile JEB Stuart arrives with his cavalry, who’ve just been issued Spencer Repeaters which can hold “20 rounds” (7 in reality).


We learn the 16th is amongst the British forces (but not which battalion), and that some of the British have smoothbores rather than rifles. JEB Stuarts Spencer armed cavalry massacre the 16th.


Meanwhile Sherman and Lee have marched up the Hudson valley with their armies and have arrived at the battle. They hold a council of war with Grant and decide to mount a left flanking attack on the British


The attack goes in, lead by the 60th New York (Railroad Brigade of the AoP), and the 69th New York arrive and are slaughter in a cavalry attack (by the Canadian Irregular Cavalry) by forces three times their number despite to their new Spencer rifles. CS cavalry counterattack and drive the British Cavalry back.


The final actions of the “Battle of the Hudson Valley” (same battle) show the British retreating north covered by the 62nd (which had “recently come from India” despite since 1857 in reality, as the garrison battalion for Halifax) with Grant’s and Lee’s Armies pushing them while the American cavalry have cut them off.




Across the Atlantic there is a government debate about whether to replace old smoothbores with rifles, they decide on the Snider (which wasn’t yet invented). The British have moved Indian troops to the UK and are preparing a 2nd wave.


On the American side the US President meets with Louis-Joseph Papineau (misspelled Papinoeau in the book), the leader of a small rebellion in Quebec in 1837, who promises Quebec will rise and accept US statehood. Elsewhere, President Davies is shot by a CS Congressman on the floor of Congress.


Meanwhile the British are raiding the US coast at will, burning their towns and behaving generally as Vikings. The US in turn invade Jamaica. The British land 30,000 troops in Vera Cruz in Mexico.




Meanwhile, General Johnston has taken the 2nd and 13th Louisiana to Quebec, armed some Quebecois rebels with Spencers and they sabotage all the defences of Montreal, which falls with little fighting.


Quebec is surrounded, bombarded and stormed by CS troops while the British refuse battle. Finally, Halifax is taken in an amphibious hook. All this occurs in December of 1862.


Analysis of Unit Size


The size of units is very problematic. The 69th New York is at one point a company sized unit under Captain Meager, where IRL Brigadier General Meager by this time is commanding a whole Irish Brigade.


Similarly, the 23rd Indiana under General Wallace would seem to be at least a Division in size. The 53rd Ohio by this point is led by General Sherman, who in reality is the commander of 5th Division, AoT.


It is clear that when the author talks of Regiments he means larger formations, usually brigade or divisional sized formations. In fact at one point he refers to the organisation of the armies as “Regiments and Divisions” missing the Brigade entirely.


Similarly, on the British side, Major General Buller (the infantry commander) leading the 67th from the front. As a Major General, Buller would command either a Division or even a Corps. This would seem to indicate the 67th is representative of a Division.


In all cases of mentioned units, this should be taken as representing two echelons higher. So a Company becomes a Brigade (and the artillery batteries mentioned become a Corps Artillery reserve), and a Battalion (or Regiment) becomes a Division or even a Corps (US Corps were generally very small).


Wargaming the Book


US/CS forces should be as history, but there is a much greater provision of Spencer Rifles, (although the Spencer in the book seems to be the SLR, which is used by the Irish Defence Force’s FCA unit in the town where the author lives). Also there are no smoothbore cannon, and the entire US/CS artillery is equipped with rifled artillery. By book 2 (not discussed here) they are universally armed with Spencers (aka SLR’s).


The British forces are much worse off than in history. They’re generally armed with “Tower Muskets”, essentially the Brown Bess, with only a very small proportion equipped with Enfield Rifles. By book 2 they’re supposed to be armed with Sneiders (although they’re not if you read it). Tactically the British act as the British of 1812 rather than like the Crimean or the Mutiny. There are no revolvers (as there historically were) and the cavalry are not equipped with Breachloading Rifles (as historically they were).


Also, while in reality Canadian units had Canadian officers, in the book Canadian units are treated as Indian Army units, and are British officered.


Wargaming The Battle of Biloxi


The British have 4 named regiments 45th, 58th, 67th, the “3rd Middlesex” (sic) which I’ll refer to as the 57th, and some cavalry. The combined US/CS forces are Beauregard’s CS Army of the Tennessee (>44,000 in 6 Divisions) and the 3rd and 5th Divisions of the US Army of the Tennessee (the 23rd Indiana and 53rd Ohio).


I’ll assume then that the British have 4 Infantry Divisions and 1 Cavalry Brigade, and a Royal Marine Brigade, which is approximately the size of the force landed in the first wave at the Crimea. This is a force is approximately 30,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry and would be supported by significant numbers of other arms.


The attacking combined US/CS forces number about 40,000 infantry and other arms.


Wargaming The Battle of the Hudson Valley (2nd Saratoga)


The 16th really was in Canada, both Battalions. The 1/16th, while the 2/16th was at Halifax. The other 2 Regiments mentioned, the 62nd and 72nd are in India during this period.


We can perhaps assume that the British buildup in Canada continued and the Americans are facing an Army of Canada with 42,000 British Infantry, 7,000 British Cavalry and 10,000 Artillery (plus supporting arms) (just the forces in Canada IRL and those available for deployment in the UK), along with 44,000 Canadians (mostly Infantry). The Army of the Maritimes or the Army of the West Indies are not addressed at all. Additionally major elements from India are present, but I’ll guess the forces recalled from the colonies and those sent south roughly match.


On the American side, we have portions of the Army of the Potomac fed in piecemeal. We can guess that Halleck’s defence at Ticonderoga was with III Corps and possibly other forces. “Grant’s Divisions” would seem to be a wing of the Army of the Potomac, with the other wing arriving later.


The march north is downright silly. While some are relocated using rail (and a rate which is extremely unrealistic), Sherman and Lee march several thousand miles in 3 days, with the US Army of the West, and the CS Army of Northern Virginia.


At this point I give up trying.




There is not one redeeming feature I can find in the book, it seems completely divorced from any military reality. It seems as though the radio and teleporter have been invented the speed these events unfold and the army moves.


I put it down to the author doing absolutely no research on the subject whatsoever.




The author has the gaul to claim that this is what would really have happened. One of his claims is that the American armies were larger and better armed than the whole of Europe. In fact, at six European states had more men under arms than the US in 1862 (Russia, France, Britain (excluding the Indian Army!), Prussia, Austria and the Ottomans), and Russia had more men under arms than both the US and CS combined.