Saturday, March 15, 2003

The Unionist: Book Review

Reviewed by Mark H. Kelly
This article first appeared in the Morgan County Citizen, October 31, 2002

Every historical event has an inside angle or issue that isn’t recognized for its impact on individuals or communities. When the subject of the American Civil War is introduced into discussion, most people focus on the major battles and historical figures.

Perry, Georgia attorney W. Steven Harrell has reached into our nation’s and state’s past with the non-fiction work The Unionist, implementing pain-staking research to resurrect the life and Civil War adventures of Lt. David R. Snelling.

The literary angle readers will immediately be captured by the Milledgeville native’s decision to break against the tide of Southern History and emotions, joining the First Alabama Union Cavalry Regiment.

More than a retelling of battles and actions of historical figures, The Unionist provides readers with an accurate description of plantation life in Milledgeville in the days leading up to the conflict, along with the backroom legislative activities of fire-eaters Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens and many others.

However, where the book excels is on the home and battles fronts. Snelling’s decisions (as one can imagine) cost him dearly on personal and professional levels, profoundly presenting issues of the era to light.

Once the war begins for Lt. Snelling, Harrell’s skills as a writer jump into the saddle at full gallop with depiction of troop movements and battle capturing readers’ attention. Indeed, smoke often wafts from the pages and bullets zing through the air as soldiers from both sides fall and move from tree to boulder to streambed in search of cover.

There are equally compelling stories of soldier camaraderie, interaction with citizens and the forming of bonds lasting Snelling’s lifetime. Snelling’s adventure takes him to Stones River, Abel Streight’s Raid, Dallas, Monroe’s Cross Roads and Atlanta to Durham Station during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Civil War and history buffs will find the work engaging and can proudly place it in their collection.

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