Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863

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Pub Date:
April 2013
Hardcover, 6 x 9
Images, maps, 433 pp
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About the Book

By May of 1863, the Stone Wall at the base of Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg loomed large over the Army of the Potomac, haunting its men with memories of slaughter from their crushing defeat there the previous December. They would assault it again with a very different result the following spring when General Joe Hooker, bogged down in bloody battle with the Army of Northern Virginia around the crossroads of Chancellorsville, ordered John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps to assault the heights and move to his assistance. This time the Union troops wrested the wall and high ground from the Confederates and drove west into the enemy’s rear. The inland drive stalled in heavy fighting at Salem Church. Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863 is the first book-length study of these overlooked engagements and the central roles they played in the final Southern victory.

Once Hooker opened the campaign with a brilliant march around General Lee’s left flank, the Confederate commander violated military principles by dividing his under-strength army in the face of superior numbers. He shuttled most of his men west from around Fredericksburg under Stonewall Jackson to meet Hooker in the tangles of the Wilderness, leaving behind a small portion to watch Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps. Jackson’s devastating attack against Hooker’s exposed right flank on May 2, however, convinced the Union army commander to order Sedgwick’s large, unused corps to break through and march against Lee’s rear. From that point on, Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front tightens the lens for a thorough examination of the decision-making, movements, and fighting that led to the breakthrough, inland thrust, and ultimate bloody stalemate at Salem Church.

Authors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White have long appreciated the pivotal roles Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church played in the campaign, and just how close the Southern army came to grief—and the Union army to stunning success. Together they seamlessly weave their extensive newspaper, archival, and firsthand research into a compelling narrative to better understand these combats, which usually garner little more than a footnote to the larger story of Jackson’s march and tragic fatal wounding.

The success at Second Fredericksburg was one of the Union army’s few bright spots in the campaign, while the setback at Salem Church stands as its most devastating lost opportunity. Instead of being trapped between the Sixth Corps’ hammer and “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s anvil, Lee overcame long odds to achieve what is widely recognized as his greatest victory. But Lee’s triumph played out as it did because of the pivotal events at Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church—Chancellorsville’s forgotten front—where Union soldiers once more faced the horror of an indomitable wall of stone, and an undersized Confederate division stood up to a Union juggernaut.

“Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front is sure to be among the best Civil War books published this year. Mackowski and White demonstrate the importance of this all-too-often neglected part of campaign with authenticity and eloquence. Their research is exhaustive, and their passion for the subject obvious. If you think you know all about Chancellorsville, think again. Professional historians and amateurs alike will gain new information and fresh insight by reading this book, and come away with a better appreciation for, and knowledge of, Lee’s greatest victory.” (Mike Stevens, President, Central Virginia Battlefields Trus)

“Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White’s Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front focuses on an overlooked and yet complex part of ‘Fighting Joe’ Hooker’s 1863 effort to defeat Robert E. Lee. Their study is simply first-rate, and should not and cannot be overlooked by anyone trying to understand the full importance of the Chancellorsville campaign.” (Lance J. Herdegen, award-winning author of The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory)

“Most studies of Chancellorsville focus on the fighting around the Chancellor house and on Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack and mortal wounding. Few remember the campaign’s ‘second front’ at Fredericksburg and the intense deadly combat at Salem Church, where nearly 30,000 Federal troops of Sedgwick’s VI Corps battled for their lives against Jubal Early’s division and elements of Longstreet’s First Corps. This stunning oversight has finally been corrected by historians Mackowski and White. Their readable, enjoyable, and deeply researched micro-tactical study is a must for anyone interested in Civil War battles in general, and Chancellorsville in particular.” (Eric J. Wittenberg, award-winning Civil War author)

“Mackowski’s and White’s Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front is not just a micro-study of a small portion of a large campaign, but a study of the campaign from the perspective of overlooked battles. Anyone who thinks Second Fredericksburg, Salem Church, and Banks’ Ford were insignificant engagements are about to discover that the Federals who fought and died in these actions were not left behind simply as decoys, and the fighting so wonderfully researched and described had a direct effect on the entire campaign.” (Greg Mertz, supervisory historian, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)

“Too often historians have treated the battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church as mere footnotes to the greater Chancellorsville campaign. In Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front, Mackowski and White bring the story to the forefront where it belongs, and they do so in a style at once entertaining and evocative.” (Donald Pfanz, award-winning author of Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life)




Chris Mackowski is a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York, and also works with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, which includes the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania battlefields. Kristopher D. White is a historian for the Penn-Trafford Recreation Board and a continuing education instructor for the Community College of Allegheny County near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He served for five years as a staff military historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, and is a former Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg. Mackowski and White have co-authored several books and numerous articles for various Civil War magazines. They also co-founded a popular blog, which can be read at