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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Furgurson's account of Chancellorsville is one of the best Civil War books I have read recently. His summary of the battle actions are crisp without being overly technical and dry, and he is able to maintain a fine balance of accounts from North and South, officer and enlisted. Although a descendant of Southern soldiers, he fairly criticizes both Northern and Southern leaders when appropriate.
The book flows smoothly - on more than more occasion I was so engrossed in the book that I did not realize just how pages I had read! As other reviewers have noted, the book flows like a novel and maintains your interest.
While everyone may not agree with Furgurson's analysis that Jackson's death in essence was the death knell of the Confederacy or the tactics of both sides, the book is a fine read.
The only reason I did not give the book 5 stars was because of the maps. While the maps were adequate (clearly showed terrain features and roads), in my humble opinion, they were too few and did not go to the regimental level. While Furgurson repeatedly refers to a particular regiment during the battle, only a few times was the regiment clearly labeled on a map. Unfortunately, the maps went down to only the brigade level. I am a big fan of Civil War books having ample maps with plenty of detail - doing so makes the battle and troop movements much easier to understand.
Complaint aside, I highly recommend the book as an interesting and moving account of Lee and Jackson's finest moment! Admittingly, I have yet to read Stephen Sears' book on Chancellorsville. Therefore, the jury is still out on which book is the definitive account of the battle.
Read and enjoy!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2002
Contemporary Civil War readers today are extremely fortunate to have an abundance of truly gifted writers who have contributed a wealth of modern studies. Writers such as Stephen Sears, James McPherson, Wiley Sword, Noah Trudeau, Gordon Rhea and (a recent addition to the club) Jay Winik have joined the "masters" Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote in writing recent comprehensive narratives while maintaining readability.
Now, having read "Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave", I must include Ernest Furguson as a new addition to my list. This extraordinary account of the complex battle at Chancellorsville ranks right up there with these other pantheons of Civil War history. Furgurson manages to convey both the personal side of the struggle as well as an in-depth analysis of the many tactical maneauvers that make Chancellorsville one of the most studied and debated Civil War battles.
Furgurson's story takes us from the bewildering post Fredericksburg period through Lee's monumental decision to again invade the North...a decision that led to the battle at Gettysburg and ultimate defeat for the Confederate army. The book starts at the failed "Mud March" and the Abraham Lincoln decision to remove Ambrose Burnside from command of the Federal army.
Enter "Fighting" Joe Hooker.
Furgurson delivers a compelling biography of the outwardly confident, but morally weak General and goes a long way in explaining his future actions. At this point we also get insightful, pre-battle studies of R.E. Lee and (Furgurson's obvious hero) T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
Hooker takes the demoralized "Army of the Potomac" and rebuilds it into a confident, offensive machine in his own image in only 4 months. His plan to flank attack Lee's entrenched troops at Fredericksburg is explained as near "brilliance" and gives Hooker the start that he needs. Lee then divides his army as he learns of Hooker's plans and sends most of his forces Westward to meet the on-coming Federals. The initial battle is immediately bloody and shows that the Union army is, in fact, newly confident as it drives the Confederates back towards Fredericksburg. Hooker then, mysteriously, pulls his troops back into a defensive position around the Chancellor house and "dares" Lee to attack him.
Lee, of course, takes this dare and battles the Federals at Catherine's Furnace before allowing Jackson to start his flanking maneauver. Furgurson deftly describes Jackson's march and troop setup in the Wilderness at the extreme right flank of the Union army (with all the accounts of ignored intelligence by Union commanders) and the ensuing battle is wonderfully accounted as wave after wave of Rebel forces drive the Federals back to entrenched positions around Chancellorsville. Jackson's frustration at failing to completely destroy the Union army is ultimately to blame for his overly agressive "reconnoitering" ride to the edge of the Federal lines and shooting by his own confused troops. Furgurson then goes on to explain the unfathomable Union decision to vacate Hazel Grove and the Rebel surprise at obtaining this key strategic position.
The taking of Fredericksburg by Sedgwick's Federal forces and their march towards Chancellorsville ends up in the battle at Salem Church which shows a completely motivated Confederate army repulsing the Union advance...Furgurson is able to take all this complex tactical action and make picturesque detail for the reader, while also keeping the human drama at the fore-front of the story with many first-hand anecdotes of these battles.
The story ends with Hooker retreating across the Rappahannock River, camping again at Falmouth (from where he started his flanking attack) and Lee as the hero of the Southern cause. Jackson's post shooting journey to Guiney Station and death at Chandler House gives a touching alternative to the sometimes gruesome battle descriptions. In the end, Furgurson convinces the reader that the war would have been very different had Jackson lived. In fact, this is my only critique of this magnificent book...Furgurson's obvious idolization of Jackson seems to have momentarily forgotten his lethargy and in-actions at the Peninsula Seven Days battles and his almost mortal mistakes at Cedar Mountain.
This "hero-worship" notwithstanding, this book is an important, colorful and moving human story as well as an extensive military history and should be read by all who have even a faint interest in the Civil War. Very highly recommended!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 1999
Reading about Chancellorsville can often be tangled and confusing due to all the differing leaders involved, but this book is extremely well written and clear. The book is crisply written and the chapters on Jackson's flanking maneuver and the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg were extremely good. Furguson writes in a way that makes one feel as if they are there along with the soldiers. Furguson captures both the human side and the tactics well. He uses first-hand accounts of the battle at good times and it really makes the book better. Simply put this is a terrific book and easy to read. I highly recommend it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2004
Furgurson's book about Chancellorsville reads much like a vintage Stephen Sears book. Meticulous detail is crafted with primary accounts and combined with author analysis, and the book has a detailed narrative with human elements.
Reading these types of accounts concerning Civil War battles is always enjoyable. Where Furgurson's book differs mostly from Sears's book is, of course, the analysis of Joe Hooker's management of the campaign.
While Sears blames subordinates, most notably Howard, and points to Hooker's concussion, Furgurson mentions the exploding pillar incident, adds soldier accounts of seeing Hooker looking drunk and unresponsive at headquarters and takes Hooker to task. Given Hooker's pre victory celebratory orders and his subsequent defeat, I think it's hard to let Hooker completely off the hook.
Furgurson also mentions near the end of the book that Jackson's death affected Gettysburg and ultimately the war. Had Jackson lived and taken Culp's Hill on July 1 in place of the inactive Ewell, the Union would have been forced to retreat, likely to the line of defense around Pipe Creek that Meade was aiming for in the first place. Would the Confederates have won the battle of Gettysburg in that case? Of course, but the battle of Gettysburg wouldn't have been the 3 day epic that actually happened, and July 1 wouldn't have won the war on its own.
I'd suggest reading both books as complements and forming one's own opinion regarding their analysis.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2000
Without a doubt this is the one work I would have in my library on the Battle of Chancellorsville. Furgurson, while being historically accurate, writes in such a way as to make the reader feel as if s/he is there. This book is much more than simply a listing of military units' movements and statistics. I came away feeling as if I had actually been in the ranks of Jackson's troops and their great flanking maneuver. Written much in the style of Burke Davis, this book held my attention throughout. For those who want to know not only what happened, but how it must have felt to be a part of this battle, this is the book to buy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2002
I found this to be a very good study, quite possibly better than Sears' book on the same topic. Both are worthwhile scholarship, and Sears gives more intricate tactical detail, but Furgurson excels in giving the battle a human face. His wonderful use of primary sources makes the book stand out, and gives it an appeal beyond the merely scholarly.
For the most part, despite Furgurson's apparent lack of credentials as a historian, I found analysis and use of sources here to be professionally done. I don't agree with Furgurson's conclusion: that Jackson's death was the cause of the loss at Gettysburg, and that that led inevitably to the loss of the war. I also found his implicit criticism of Stuart's decisions as interim commander somewhat out of place; not necessarily invalid, but different from other scholars' analysis, and not to be taken as gospel. In one or two places, Furgurson clearly relies heavily on Bruce Catton's study of the battle in Glory Road.
It's the vivid quotes that make this book. Just as Furgurson gives credit to the common soldiers for enabling Lee's victory, so they have enabled him to write a gripping book. He's combed the archives and come up with descriptive, eloquent and revealing quotes from soldiers on both sides.
I certainly recommend this, perhaps to be read in conjunction with Sears' book, and preferentially to it if one is an amateur.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 1998
Most historians can make an exciting battle seem as dull as watching paint dry. Not so this guy. Well researched and documented, this book flows. A fine book on the battle that was truly the Confederacy's high water mark. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2012
Very touching book that weaves in personal tales, as well as understandable details on the strategic and tactical planning and execution of the Battle of Chancellorsville. It's uncluttered, flows nicely, and, as noted by others, has several good maps.

My only criticism, and why I give this book 4 stars (although it aches for 5), is because I feel a rather important part of the battle is left untouched. On May 2nd, the day Jackson makes his famous move around Hooker's right flank and catches him off-guard, there is almost no mention of what General Lee did from the east to distract Hooker from reacting to Jackson's move. Furgurson mentions Jackson listening for Lee's battle, and that Jackson did in fact hear the battle, but that's about it. There is nothing that says what exactly Lee did that day, what his thoughts were, or even how pitched the fighting was. Of course, the main point of interest is what Jackson did that day, but Lee's part seems crucial in understanding why the move was effective and did not lead to disaster, seeing as how Lee was splitting his army for the second time in the face of a vastly superior enemy force.

If anyone points me to a part in the book where this part of the battle is satisfactorily addressed, I'll gladly give this book a 5 star rating. For now, however, this omission was rather glaring, considering it was the flip side of the most crucial part of the battle.

** Edit. I have been reading Douglas Freeman's work on Lee, and Freeman also has little to say about Lee's strategic thinking that afternoon, from the time Lee last parts from Jackson until he gets the news of Jackson's injury. Freeman mentions Lee's coolness and confidence in battle, of course, and his discussions with a German observer, but not much else. This is just an interesting aside, but perhaps gives circumstantial evidence explaining Furgurson's omission: maybe the record just doesn't give us those details. If they were there, I can't imagine that both Furgurson and Freeman would have omitted them. Also, don't let this criticism stop you from purchasing Furgurson's book. It really is very good.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 1998
A study in leadership when things are going well and time is plentyful vs. leadership when events press men to do the correct thing, NOW!
Read this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2013
I just finished reading "Chancellorsville 1863-The Souls Of The Brave" by Ernest Furguson. This book details the epic battle that almost destroyed The Union's Army of The Potomac. I highly recommend this book for any student of The Civil War. There is so much more to Chancellorsville than Jackson's flanking maneuver of May 2nd. Union General Hooker lost his nerve and retreated prematurely on May 3rd. As someone who has actually visited The Chancellorsville Battlefield, I learned so much more about what happened after May 2nd. The Confederates actually suffered the biggest loss at Chancellorsville with the wounding and eventual death of General Stonewall Jackson. With this battle, the circumstances that led to the battle at Gettysburg were set into motion. 2 thumbs up and 5 stars.
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