The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson

There’s an old saying about how the last shall be first. That’s kind of the story of how the Emerging Civil War Series (ECWS) got started. The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson wasn’t the first book in the ECWS, but it was the book that kicked all of this off.

Flash all the way back to YEAR. Kris White and I were working together at what was then called the Stonewall Jackson Shrine (now called the Stonewall Jackson Death Site, for reasons I agree with, although I’ll probably always think of it as “the Shrine”). An antique bookcase held shelves of reference books for the historians on site. Among them was a slim paperback written by former park historian Ralph Happel, The Last Days of Jackson. A spectral image of Jackson hung in the air over an image of the building he died in. The book had been out of print for years.

“Why hasn’t the park reprinted it?” I asked.

Kris picked up the phone and called our mentor and friend, Frank O’Reilly, the Keeper of All Things Jackson in the park. As Frank explained it, Happel’s book needed updated, so the park didn’t want to reprint it. The task fell to Frank and, he admitted, he just hadn’t gotten to it yet.

“We’ll do it,” we told him.

And Frank said yes.

That conversation set into motion what eventually became Emerging Civil War. The road took several twists and turns along the way, though. Kris and I wrote a new version of the book, which the park used to launch a new series of publications thanks to the financial support of a now-defunct group called Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields (FOFAB). John Hennessy, the chief historian and chief of interpretation, was instrumental in making the deal happen, and John Cummings, president of FOFAB, played an important role, as well. Frank worked closely with Kris and me as we crafted the narrative and figured out what appendices we wanted to include.

There are three things I love most about The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson. The first is this: Every question any visitor ever asked me or Kris is answered in that book. No lie. We wanted to write a compelling narrative, but we also wanted the book to serve as THE ultimate resource book for anyone who ever worked at the Shrine ever again.

Secondly, the book let me explore not just Jackson’s personal history but the memory of Jackson, too. The “Statues of Stonewall” appendix (based on this blog series) is a great example. I tried to track down histories of every Jackson statue ever erected (a fraught topic these days, but it’s fascinating stuff nonetheless). There’s also an appendix about Jackson’s quirks and eccentricities. Jackson is often remembered as a caricature, and these appendices let me (as a Jackson fanboy) explore that a bit. To remember him as such is actually a grave disservice to Jackson, who was a fascinating individual in his own right without any mythological embellishment.

Finally, the book includes an appendix written by my daughter, Stephanie. Steph is the one who first got me interested in Jackson, which in turn led to my interest in the Civil War. (If you think I’m a fanboy, when Steph was a kid, every year on Jackson’s birthday she would set up a small shrine in our house and light candles to him!) Steph is the one who first became friends with Frank O’Reilly, who would go on to play such an important role in my own development as a writer and historian. It was cool for me, as a dad, to collaborate with my daughter on a project so meaningful to both of us.

Kris is most definitely NOT a Stonewall Jackson fanboy. That’s one of the strengths of the book, I think. We balanced each other well as we wrote the narrative, Kris with the skeptical eye and me with the sympathetic one. Jackson’s no one I’d want to sit down and have a beer with (not that he drank), so that made it easier for me to temper my fanboy-ness with a healthy dose of realism, too.

As relayed in the first part of this series, Kris pitched the idea to Ted Savas, who jumped on it right away. We got Simply Murder to press in time for the Fredericksburg 150th, and then we turned our attention to getting The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson refitted from its original iteration. Kris and I retained the rights to the book, so we could easily adapt it to fit the new template we’d created for the series. Simply Murder came out in December 2012, and we eyed a release of Last Days to coincide with the 150th of Chancellorsville. That gave us five months to get everything prepped and printed.

One last little oddball story popped up along the way. As we worked to finalize the cover, Sarah Keeney, our liaison at Savas Beatie, told us we needed a subtitle. “Why?” I asked. “The title already says it all.” In ordered to take better advantage of internet search engines, we needed a subtitle so we had a greater chance of showing up. I suggested “The Wounding and death of Thomas Jonathan Jackson.” Unfortunately, a book Savas Beatie was publishing simultaneous to ours had a subtitle that was nearly identical. We settled on “The Mortal Wounding of the Confederacy’s Greatest Icon,” although as Kris rightly argued, Lee was probably more iconic than Jackson.

We hit our deadline and, after all these years, the book remains a consistent seller to Jackson fanboys just like me. The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson became our second book in the ECW Series, but as the book that really kicked things off, it’ll always be our first.

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The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson: The Mortal Wounding of the Confederacy’s Greatest Icon
Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White
Savas Beatie, 2013

Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and author bios.

Click here for ordering information.

Click here to listen to an audiobook excerpt, read by Chris Mackowski.

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