For a century and a half, the battle of Gettysburg has been popularly known as the “High Tide of the Confederacy.” But a new book co-authored by St. Bonaventure journalism professor Dr. Chris Mackowski challenges that notion.
“That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy, May 1-4, 1863” is the latest release in publisher Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series. Mackowski co-authored the book with his longtime collaborator, historian Kristopher D. White.
“Chancellorsville is the largest battle of the war up to that point,” Mackowski says. “Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s army is outnumbered almost two-and-a-half to one, yet they overcome those long odds to win a decisive victory.”
The battle came at a high cost for the Army of Northern Virginia, though: Lee lost 22 percent of his men, totaling nearly 13,000 killed, wounded, and missing. In contrast, the Federal Army of the Potomac lost 13 percent of its men — more than 17,000 killed, wounded, or missing. The third day of the battle, May 3, was the second-bloodiest day of the Civil War. That morning, casualties came at a rate of one man every second for five hours.
“The most significant loss for the Confederates was Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson — Lee’s ‘right arm,’” Mackowski explains.
Nonetheless, Lee “felt my men were invincible,” he later explained. Building on the momentum of his victory at Chancellorsville, he launched his invasion of the North that ended with the battle of Gettysburg two months later.
“After Chancellorsville, Lee’s army never again scores another offensive battlefield victory, although the war would go on for another two years,” Mackowski says. “Chancellorsville is the peak. It’s all downhill for him from there.”
Postwar politics and the aggressive marketing of historian John Bachelder later turned Gettysburg into the so-called “High Water Mark.” “Gettysburg was a tourism destination because it was so close to the major population centers of the North and because it was a Northern victory,” Mackowski says, “so positioning the battle as the ‘High Tide’ or ‘Turning Point’—with capital letters—was a great hook for attracting tourists.”
In “That Furious Struggle,” Mackowski and White recount the story of Chancellorsville, explaining why it was the true high water mark of the war for the Confederacy. Along with the historical narrative, a portion of the book is structured like a battlefield tour, explaining features of the landscape and the development of the battlefield. The book also contains more than 200 photos — many of them taken by Mackowski — 10 maps, an Order of Battle, and a list of suggested readings for further exploration.
Mackowski and White have both worked at the Chancellorsville battlefield as park rangers and tour guides. The battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Mackowski lives on a part of the battlefield not protected by the Park Service.
In 2011, they cofounded Emerging Civil War (www.emergingcivilwar.com), a blog comprised of a dozen historians who collectively contribute. In 2012, with publisher Theodore Savas, they established the Emerging Civil War book series. “That Furious Struggle” is the eighth book in the series and the fourth by Mackowski and White.
“The Emerging Civil War books are intended as reader-friendly introductions to the war’s most important stories,” Mackowski says. “They’re a good starting point because we really focus on telling a good story in an engaging way for general audiences. My mission as a writer is to get people hooked.”
Mackowski, professor of journalism and mass communication, joined the faculty at St. Bonaventure in the fall of 2000. He splits his time between New York and Virginia.
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