The World of Ricardo's Union Saloon
History is much the same here as it was in the "real" world, up through the battle of Gettysburg (July 2-4, 1863). At this battle, the Confederate drive north was stopped and turned back, at great loss of life on both sides. History diverges here as the Union does not follow up aggressively on their victory, but advances only cautiously in fits and starts. This allows the Confederacy time to shore up its own defenses, and a period of stalemate ensues.
It is not publicly known why this occurred; recurring rumor has it that, after the battle, the dead arose as one and set about attacking the survivors, but all official sources deny this. Still, the rumor persists, as well as other, more localized tales of people who supposedly died recently still walking the earth. Moreover, other, more guarded whispers tell of worse thingsunknown creatures dwelling in caves, monsters lurking in woods, nightmares made real hiding in the dark. During the light of day, these stories are disregarded as the natural side-effect of a populace living under the threat of war, or the unreasoning fears driving war refugees searching for safety. But once the sun goes down, nervous eyes look warily into the dark
During this part of the war, a voice spoke out against the violence. A respected southern scientist, Dr. Aristotle Lycos, became the foremost voice for an end to the violence. Despite widespread censorship, his essays gained considerable influence in both the Union and the Confederacy. Many claimed that his voice would be the determining factor in the 1864 elections until it suddenly and inexplicably fell silent that summer.
Both Davis and Lincoln were re-elected by wide margins. Tragedy struck the Union in 1865 when Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer and Andrew Johnson took office. Ulysses S. Grant ran for and won the Union election of 1868 while Jefferson Davis ran nearly unopposed.
Rumors and reports began to come out of the west in the mid-1860s of the discovery of a curious new flammable mineral. Experiments quickly showed that it was a fuel source superior in every way to coal. It was dubbed "Ghost Rock", due to the fact that when burned it emits an eerie wailing sound, and the white smoke it emits twists and turns in fantastic, disturbing shapes. Certain scientists and inventors, whose plans and devices had heretofore exceeded the limitations of reality, discovered that with this new incredible power source their dreams could be given functional form.
The Confederacy was the first government to start taking any of these previously known "mad scientists" (amazing how polite you can be to a man who builds a train engine 20 times more powerful than anything ever built) seriously. This was not publicly known until the spring campaign of 69, when the Confederacy launched an offensive towards Washington, backed by ghost-rock powered devices such as steam wagons, fire chuckers, and deadly accurate artillery that never left Richmond. The Union was driven out of Washington, but was able to recapture it shortly thereafter; it turned out that the Confederacy had moved too soon, as the devices built proved to be too unreliable and defect-ridden. Still, the world learned a valuable lesson: with ghost rock, weapons of undreamed of power could be constructedand all eyes turned towards the Great Maze..
In 1868, the most horrific Earthquake ever recorded strikes California, breaking the land into fragments that were quickly turned to islands by the flooding sea. However, this destruction revealed great veins of ore: gold, silver, and ghost rock riddled throughout the "Great Maze". With the offensive of 69, both the Union and the Confederacy had realized that the control and regular supply of ghost rock was going to be critical to their war efforts. Supply was easy: build a Trans-continental railroad to the great maze. Neither government had sufficient resources to do this on their own, so they made offers of astounding wealth to the company that built the first complete line. The Great Rail Wars were on!
Of particular interest in the Confederacy are two companies: The Bayou Vermilion, a company based out of New Orleans run by a mysterious gentleman known as "Baron LaCroix", and Dixie Rails, a company owned and managed by none other than General (retired) Robert E. Lee. Dixie Rails has a reputation of being a fairly honest company; Bayou Vermilion, when people dare to discuss such matters, is rumored to have employees that, while slow, never need rest breaks (others dismiss this as rumors spread as security, to scare away would-be saboteurs.)
While the issue of supply will fall to the winning railroad, the issue of control is not so easily settled. California, of course, had been made a state of the Union after the gold rush of 49. However, the Confederacy recently claimed it as a state of their own, pointing out that there wasnt much California left, and the Union was unable to defend it in any case. The issue became more troubled as the lure of ghost rock attracted the attentions of several powers of the orient (though the great distance makes their influence slight). Regardless, the inhabitants of the maze are, almost to a man, rugged individualists who owe allegiance to none save those who would pay them (and pay them well!) for their efforts. There might be other inhabitants of the maze, if you listen to rumors of sea monsters and fish-men, but those are just tales to scare off any competition. And then there is Mexico...
The country of Mexico existed in part due to large loans given it by certain European powers. In 1863, Mexico defaulted on those loans. Working together to recover their loan, several European powers landed troops and seized power, only to discover that no, Mexico really wasnt able to pay its debts. Everyone but France pulled out; France installed Maximilian as Emperor, and assigned him the duty of extracting suitable payment. Mexico has its own internal problems with the Juaristas, backers of the deposed Mexican President Benito Juarez. Despite this it has gained a reputation as a safe haven in the Western Hemisphere. The waves of immigrants and refugees coupled with its fragile finances have forced Mexico to close its borders yet many displaced Confederates still stream to the border hoping to find a way across. Maximilian has also claimed a part of the maze as sovereign territory, and is just as able to defend their claim as anyone elsethough his Pacific fleet is the strongest force in the area. It remains to be seen if he will succeed, and what may transpire should he suddenly be able to pay off the French debt
The Confederacy, of course, is not pleased with any of this, but is unable to pursue the matter. They cannot risk alienating France, a staunch ally without whose help the strangling Union blockade would never have been broken. Nominally, Mexico and the Confederacy are allies though relations between them are obviously strained.