Gary W. Gallagher, ed. Chancellorsville, The Battle and Its Aftermath. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Gary Gallagher’s edited collection Chancellorsville is part of a larger series entitled “Military Campaigns of the Civil War.” The purpose of these texts is to collect essays that discuss less famous aspects of the campaigns under study. This particular volume holds a number of fine examples of this purpose, including a study of the “mood” and composition of the Army of the Potomac on the eve of the battle (John Hennessy), an investigation of Jubal Early’s leadership (Gary Gallagher), the impact of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s death (Robert Krick), medical treatment at Chancellorsville (James I. Robertson, Jr.), and the experiences of children connected to the battlefield (James Marten) among others. As Gallagher promises, almost all of the essays (with the possible exception of Krick’s), explore a little discussed point about the Chancellorsville campaign (ix-xv).
Full disclosure: I have a strong personal connection to this particular campaign as my great-great grandfather (Edward T. Sherlock, pictured above) was killed on May 3, 1863 during the fighting. Sherlock, a theater impresario, organized what became company A of the 5th Michigan volunteers. He and his neighbors and friends who made up company A were sometimes called Sherlock’s Guards of the Fighting Fifth. Sherlock rose to the top of regimental leadership like a lot of Civil War era soldiers on both sides – everybody ahead of him was either killed or severely wounded between 1861 and his ascension to lieutenant colonel. Sherlock and the 5th were part of the Army of Potomac that suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
It’s not hard to imagine Sherlock and his fellow Wolverines going through the experiences described by Hennessy who examines everything from political issues in the encampments to food supplies to the recent emancipation proclamation. The army as a whole is portrayed as needing leadership – I have to wonder whether Sherlock found himself questioning his decision to continue fighting. Given that he was wounded more than once prior to his death at Chancellorsville and kept coming back, I’ll assume that he fit into Hennessy’s notion of the strong recuperative powers of the army.
While the essays as a whole don’t quite join together beyond their common theme of Chancellorsville itself, each reads well on its own. The authors each find ways to make their tales exciting and the rich sources cited ensure authenticity. A final comment is reserved for James Marten’s essay “Stern Realities, Children of Chancellorsville and Beyond.” Marten, a professor at Marquette University, teaches courses on the American Civil War and childhood in America. He combines these two interests in this compelling essay, giving readers a strong sense of the experiences for two different types of children (a Virginian teenager and a young Union drummer boy), while also offering readers a glimpse of the rich types of sources extant to help authors pursue these types of questions. This essay, like many of the others in the collection, best exemplifies Gallagher’s promise to discuss the less commonly known aspects of the campaign. Historians, teachers, and Civil War aficionados alike would do well to examine this group of essays and its bibliographic essay for more information on Chancellorsville.