“I came here for the history department and the conservatory, but I didn’t know much about the Civil War,” admitted CWI fellow Gabby Hornbeck. Four years later, Hornbeck has interned at two National Military Parks on Civil War battlefields, has reenacted in battles as a civilian and soldier with the Pennsylvania College Guard, and is actively involved with other Civil War groups on campus including the Civil War Club, the Civil War Theme House, and the Civil War Institute.
A Pohanka Fellowship at the Civil War Institute led Hornbeck to an internship at Gettysburg National Military Park and then to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. At Gettysburg, Hornbeck’s duties included working at the visitor’s desk, running children’s programs, roving the battlefields, and touring groups about two times a week. The “Join the Army” kids program allowed young visitors to learn about the life of a soldier. “We would dress the smallest visitor in the soldier’s clothing to give parents a photo opportunity, but this program did more than just amuse families. It allowed me the opening to help kids connect to history so that they could explore it further themselves,” said Hornbeck.
At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Hornbeck spent more time touring, taking groups out on parts of the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields, sometimes three times a day, in addition to working at the visitor’s desk. As a National Park Service intern, Hornbeck personally constructed her tours using research and primary documents available at park sites. By the end of her research at both parks, Hornbeck had written five different tours. Out of all the battlefields Hornbeck researched, Spotsylvania was her favorite. “The battle of Spotsylvania was part of Grant’s Overland campaign. It was extremely bloody fighting, but what you find here are many human interest stories. You have the power of place as an interpretive historian,” said Hornbeck.
In addition to majoring in history with a minor in Civil War Era Studies, Hornbeck has a minor in both French and music. She studied abroad last year in Nantes, France through the IES program. Hornbeck described how American military history and historical memory transcends national borders: “The American Battle Monuments Commission has a main European field office in Paris. I would love to work for the Commission in France because I’d be able to combine my interests of military history and French language.” As a conservatory student, Hornbeck was able to incorporate her interest in music and the Civil War by writing a paper on inspirational music for Union and Confederate soldiers for a musicology class.
This summer, Hornbeck will again return to the National Park Service, but this time as a seasonal employee for Governor’s Island National Monument in New York City. Governor’s Island served as a military post and headquarters for the U.S. Army and Coast Guard from the eighteenth century until the mid-1990s. After thus summer, Hornbeck will begin a master’s degree program in public history at West Virginia University. Hornbeck said, “I hope to study historical memory through monumentation. The memory of war has psychological effects, and monuments can be artistic displays of these emotions. Contemporary society is often a reflection of historical memory, rendering it an important part of public history.” In the future, Hornbeck would love to return to the National Park Service, or even work on an internationally for UNESCO.