Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Five books on the Battle of Chancellorsville

On the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson's famous flanking attack on May 2, 1863, let's look at five books on the campaign and battle of Chancellorsville.

1. The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study (With Maps and Plans) by John Bigelow, Jr. (1910).
Published by Yale University Press in 1910, Bigelow's book is an enduring classic that's cast a long shadow over modern Civil War campaign history writing.  I haven't had the pleasure of seeing a copy with the fold-out maps in person, or even the well-regarded Morningside facsimile reprint of the original. Easton Press published a version, too, but I don't know how it handled the maps. Back in the 90s, I read that lame copy from a budget reprint series that was in all the bookstores at the time.
2. The Battle of Chancellorsville: The Attack of Stonewall Jackson and His Army Upon the Right Flank of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia, on Saturday Afternoon, May 2, 1863 by Augustus C. Hamlin (1896).
This is another classic. My familiarity with it is from the gray hardcover published by Sgt. Kirkland's in 1997, with a shortened title [The Attack of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville] and a lengthy introduction by Frank O'Reilly.
3. Chancellorsville by Stephen Sears (1996).
Bigelow must have intimidated a lot of prospective authors later in the century, because Chancellorsville languished behind other major Civil War military campaigns when it came to modern studies until both Ernest Furgurson and Sears gave it a go during the 1990s boom. If you prefer more recent fare, both are worth reading.
4. Chancellorsville's Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863 Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White (2013).
This is a wonderful microhistory of the "eastern front" of the Chancellorsville battle, from the Union victory at Second Fredericksburg through the successful Confederate blocking action at Salem Church and ultimate bottling up of Sedgwick's powerful wing of the Army of the Potomac.
5. Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Z. Conner, Jr. with Chris Mackowski (2016).
Technically pre-Chancellorsville, this insightful study is nevertheless essential to understanding the true magnitude of Hooker's transformation of a demoralized Army of the Potomac into the magnificent instrument of war that had no business losing at Chancellorsville.


  1. Drew: This is a solid list. I'd add the Gallagher-edited essay collection from the UNC series. Bigelow's book has always fit in a special category which includes Teddy Roosevelt's book on the naval war of 1812. You can't necessarily judge a book by its shelf life date.

    1. I miss that series. How the revival goes remains to be seen. The western-themed anthology series from SIUP has an ambitious schedule that they seem to be rolling out at a snail's pace.

    2. The new "Cold Harbor to the Crater" volume seems to be pretty good based mostly on a skim (I've only read the Krick entry which, as usual, is tightly-written and laser-focused). They promise both Bull Runs and a second Petersburg volume, but no projected schedule. The SIU series got off to a fairly well-paced start but seems to have skidded to a halt - with a slew of projected volumes.

    3. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Campaign_of_Chancellorsville.html?id=RElAAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button Here is the book

  2. Out of idle curiosity, this post caused me to look Bigelow up on abebooks.com. Someone has done a 2017 re-print, and the book price is very reasonable, but they are all in India! WTH?

    1. Unfortunately, many outfits that do dreadful photocopy-quality reprints of old books (defects, markings, and all) have popped up. It's been a problem of sorts on Amazon for quite a while, where they take over search rank and even attempt to co-opt existing listings.

    2. Interesting. There were several other "print on demand" options that were priced in the $30--$40 range, but information on the source edition was hard to find. Some of those were also from India, but several were from the UK, Canada, or even the USA.

      When I did get to the 1910 edition, holy ---the cheapest was north of $300, and one was nearly $1,000.


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