Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1996. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 168 pages, illustrated, index. The dust jacket shows very light edge wear. A tear in the spine area of the dust jacket has been repaired on the inside with archival tape. The book is in brand new condition.
This book is by and of the soldiers and civilians who experienced the Chancellorsville campaign. Through their words and images you can relieve the emotions, the terrifying rush of events, the horrors- and even the human comedy- of one of the Civil War's major campaigns. Thus you hold in your hands an album of personal recollections, from letters, diaries, photographs, sketches, and artifacts.
To compile this special volume, we combed hundreds of sources, both published and unpublished. We had invaluable help from a network of consultants. Using our own diverse resources and historical materials in libraries and archives around the United States, we were able to assemble a dramatic narrative told from many perspectives: manuscript letters and journals- some previously unpublished- regimental histories and privately printed memoirs, articles in little known historical society publications, and more. Then we set about the painstaking task of locating photographs of these soldiers and townsfolk to accompany their personal accounts.
That so many firsthand accounts survived is due to a few accidents of history. Soldiers could mail a letter home for only three cents. And the mail systems set up by the opposing armies were amazingly reliable. Mail packets were even exchanged across enemy lines. A surprising number of recruits could write, and write vividly. Corporal Nicholas Weeks of the 3d Alabama described the fray at Chancellorsville: "What a din. What a variety of hideous noises. The ping of the Minnie ball, the splutter of canister, the whistling of grape, the where are you, where are you of screaming shells and the cannon's roar from a hundred mouths went to make up the music for the great opera of death."
Field sketches abound, too. Before photoengraving was developed to reproduce photographs in newspapers and magazines, periodicals such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly employed artists who traveled with the army to depict events for readers. These correspondents, or specials, drew virtually everything of possible interest: pitched battles, lounging soldiers, the odd piece of military equipment. Sketches dashed off in a few minutes during a battle- often at great personal peril- were taken by courier to the publication, where they were transformed into woodblock engravings suitable for printing.
Another element that adds to the unique texture of this album is the photographs. Technical innovations during the 1850's brought the fledgling craft into its own, and the Civil War was the first in history to be extensively recorded by the camera. In the blockaded South, photographers lacked supplies and equipment and rarely covered the action. The North's activities, by contrast, are well chronicled, thanks to the efforts of men who endured great hardship. Travel was tedious with cumbersome equipment and portable darkrooms mounted on wagon beds. But photographers like Captain Andrew J. Russell, who captured images of the Chancellorsville campaign, spent months following the army, etching with light the brave faces of the soldiers, as well as the bodies stiffened on the field. When Mathew Brady's stark photographs of the dead were first exhibited in New York City in 1862, the public thought, albeit briefly, that such horrific images could actually bring the war to an end.
So here you find living testimony from the fighting fields of Chancellorsville. As you look into the eyes of these husbands and wives, sons and daughters, as you read the words of soldiers and civilians dazed by the violence or by the grief that follows the fighting, perhaps it will be possible to perceive more clearly the shattering experience that was the Chancellorsville campaign.
Cover Photograph: In a photograph by Andrew J. Russell taken on May 1 or 2, 1863, two Union officers standing just beyond enemy musket range survey Rebel positions southwest of Fredericksburg while their infantrymen take cover in captured rifle pits. On May 3 these troops of William T.H. Brooks' division would advance toward Chancellorsville and suffer a bloody repulse at nearby Salem Church.
Cover quotation: "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees." Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.