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“I’ve always wanted to be the proprietor of my very own Gettysburg address,” Dr. Mark Snell writes in the introduction of My Gettysburg: Meditations on History and Place. “The truth is that since my childhood, I have been fascinated by the Civil War in general and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, and it had been my fantasy to one day own a house in or near Gettysburg that sported the little bronze plaque proclaiming the structure was a ‘Civil War House 1863’ ” (1). Readers are rewarded with the revelation that Snell made this fantasy manifest with the purchase of what he has dubbed “Crescent-Chapel Farm,” just south of the battlefield. This autobiographical revelation sets the tone for what will follow in My Gettysburg, a collection of mostly previously published articles that tell the reader almost as much about Snell as they do the battle and campaign around which the essays orbit.
For those deeply enmeshed in the Civil War community, Dr. Mark Snell is a known quantity. An experienced army officer and previous member of the faculty of the US Military Academy at West Point, Snell is perhaps best known for his role as the founding director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. My Gettysburg is a collection of essays and articles that not only highlight the work and fruits of a long and illustrious career, but also chronicle his own personal interest in the American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. The end result is a book that, at first reading, has a stream-of-consciousness quality. The individual essays are diverse and varied. Topics such as the experiences of the residents [End Page 83] of York County, Pennsylvania, during the campaign, a history of how the US Army has interacted with the battlefield, and a guest blog featured on the popular Civil War Memory website attest to the range of topics Snell has tackled.1
Each article is, in its own way, a kind of gem. Of particular note is Snell’s examination of the herculean efforts of the logisticians in the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign. The depth of his research here is emblematic of the rest of his work. In chronicling the enormous challenges faced by the quartermaster, subsistence, and ordinance departments of the Union Army, he has delved into source material the likes of which are not normally mined in a typical campaign study. The conclusions drawn shed new insight into not only the manner in which the campaign was conducted, but also the tactical decisions made by the Union high command during the battle itself.
The true strength of My Gettysburg is in the totality of the work. It is, in a certain way, a kind of deeply personal love letter, an ode to a lifelong obsession. Snell’s work reminds us that our understanding of America’s epic battle is, like the battlefield itself, constantly evolving, and that Snell’s own career, as highlighted by the work contained herein, can be seen as a kind of signpost along the way. Students of military history, legions of Civil War enthusiasts and battlefield buffs, and future military personal and staff-ride attendees will find essays that challenge and illuminate important aspects of the battle. Students of human nature and of memory will discover unique insights into why Americans continue to be fascinated by Gettysburg and the many ways in which Americans have engaged with this defining chapter of history.
1. Mark Snell, “Gettysburg and Battlefield Preservation: Another Perspective,” Civil War Memory, Sept. 12, 2010, http://cwmemory.com/2010/09/12/gettysburg-and-battlefield-preservation-another-perspective/.