What If?—Coming Soon!

photo by Chris Heisey

Who among us has not, in the course of his or her Civil War adventures, wondered, “What if…?” It’s a favorite angle of conversation among armchair generals: grab a beer, light up a cigar, and refight the war! I’ve spent many an entertaining evening swapping theories and stories and suppositions with my Civil War buddies, all sparked by a curious question or wild hypothetical.

What if….

The question can lead to serious discussion and insight, though. When done seriously, it demands critical thinking, rigid adherence to fact, and realism. It also requires a serious examination of the assumptions that underlie the questions themselves—which this book aims to do.

I love “What if” questions, and that’s why I’m especially excited about an upcoming project we have coming up this fall: The Great What Ifs of the American Civil War: Historians Tackle the Conflict’s Most Intriguing Possibilities, published by Savas Beatie and co-edited by me and award-winning historian Brian Matthew Jordan. Popular alternate historian Peter G. Tsouras was kind enough to write the book’s foreword.

For a peek at our cover and a run-down of our possibilities, take a look:

The cover photo, taken by ECW’s Chris Heisey, captures Oliver Otis Howard in a March blizzard on East Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg. (Howard was a Mainer–he should be used to such weather!)

Here’s a look at our table of contents:

  • Foreword: “Paths Not Taken: Thoughts of an Alternate Historian” by Peter G. Tsouras
  • Introduction by Chris Mackowski
  • Chapter One: “‘Persistently Misunderstood’: The What-Ifs of Shiloh” by Timothy B. Smith
  • Chapter Two: “The What Ifs of Antietam” by Kevin Pawlak
  • Chapter Three: “What If Great Britain Had Intervened in the American Civil War?” by Dwight Hughes
  • Chapter Four: “What If Joe Johnston Had Not Been Wounded? Would Richmond have fallen and slavery survived?” by Doug Crenshaw
  • Chapter Five: “What If Stonewall Jackson Had Not Been Shot?” by Kristopher D. White
  • Chapter Six: “To Go Around to the Right? Longstreet at Gettysburg” by Dan Welch 
  • Chapter Seven: “What If Jefferson Davis Hadn’t Been So Loyal to Braxton Bragg?” by Cecily Nelson Zander
  • Chapter Eight: “What If Robert E. Lee had Struck a Blow at the North Anna River?” by Chris Mackowski
  • Chapter Nine: “‘Rally the Loyal Men of Missouri’: What If the 1864 Missouri Expedition Had Been Successful?” by Kristen Trout
  • Chapter Ten: “Why Didn’t General Robert E. Lee Wage a Guerrilla War with his Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865?” by Barton A. Myers
  • Chapter Eleven: “‘What If Lincoln lived? The Civil War’s Perennial Counterfactual Question” by Brian Matthew Jordan and Evan C. Rothera

These are NOT works of counterfactual history. Rather, we try to unpack the “What if” questions themselves. For instance, when someone asks “What if Stonewall Jackson hadn’t gotten shot?” they immediately put him in front of East Cemetery Hill on July 1, 1863. Kris White’s essay explains why that would’ve never happened.

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11 Responses to What If?—Coming Soon!

  1. John B. Sinclair says:

    Chris:

    Great news. Years ago, Robert Cowley and MHQ did several “What If?” books on a wide range of military history events (including some Civil War topics), which I found fascinating. Your line-up of authors and topics encourages me to believe it will be a lively book to read. What Civil War aficionado doesn’t have a “What if?” moment after reading a battle/campaign book or biography of a Civil War figure?

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      This has been a fun book to work on, with some great writers and interesting topics. I equate it to a long beer-and-cigars history discussion!

      I like the Coley books. Good stuff in there.

  2. grego says:

    I have pondered some of these questions myself…. looking forward to this one!

  3. John Foskett says:

    As somebody who has spent a lot of effort tearing apart the (ridiculous) good old Sandie Pendleton hypothetical about Stonewall and Cemetery Hill, I look forward to Kris White’s entry.

  4. Dan Hurley says:

    Interesting premise. What if AP Hill lingered a little too long at Harpers Ferry and was late to Antietam. Make a good book of essays.

  5. Donald Smith says:

    Excellent! This is exactly the kind of stuff that ECW should excel at. Smart people who really understand the Civil War give us their best takes on what alternate outcomes to major war events were actually plausible, instead of just wishful thinking. Can’t wait to see the book.

  6. nygiant1952 says:

    So….One chapter is listed as….”Chapter Eleven: “‘What If Lincoln lived? The Civil War’s Perennial Counterfactual Question””

    And the next line states…..”These are NOT works of counterfactual history.”

    Which is it?

  7. Stefan says:

    What if Grant had lossed the battle of Champion Hill? I hope someone is going tackle this one in a second volume…

  8. Ed Flanagan says:

    OH NO! Another book for my library!

  9. Ed Flanagan says:

    How about Stonewall replacing Marse Robert and becoming the second coming of Braxton Bragg!

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