Buckhout Writer

My Life in the Civil War

A Memoir, Of Sorts

Ghost On The Hill: Culp's Hill, Gettysburg — July 2, 1993

I have been fascinated with the American Civil War my entire life. I cannot point to any single reason why this is so. I was not raised on stories of distant ancestors wading with honor through the carnage. There is no familial connection to speak of, really. I am not driven by ideology or the arcane sectional sparring that lingers, most of these dull spats picking over a century-plus mashup of half-truths and open throttle static that will distract any journey from its appointed rounds. I am urged on by historical archaeology that continues to expand the context of this long ago era having been long redacted, purposefully and with calculation. It is empowering to sight hidden angles into a very old subject around which I have wandered my entire life. But as vital as expanding my universe of knowing is, even that is not it. There is no single thing that I can point to as a root inspiration. There is only the visceral, often mystical reverberations of that long ago cataclysm flooding over me when I stand on the lands where it all went down.

This is not a work of Civil War history. It will run out fine detail on battles, campaigns, and the profiles of those who fought and led. It must, because this is very much a work about the Civil War. But ultimately, this is not a history of that war’s “Battles and Leaders.” Instead, it zeroes in on specific scenes from that war, the people embedded within those scenes, and my having lived this life with all of that floating around inside my head. This is about those people and settings and actions winding together to form taut transcendent themes that have come to define the war in my eyes, themes that guide and color my each and every day.

This is a documentary about living my life inside the Civil War. It is a work of nonfiction. It is a memoir, of sorts. It is not a work of history. Unapologetically philosophical, it tracks my journey wrangling and digesting history as something more than a staid collection of facts and artifacts, of my coming to see the past as a conscious entity charging the present atmosphere. It traces my getting wise to it being a trusted guide that clarifies the world as it is, dispels illusory realities persisting as myth, and verifies the continuum having ferried us all to this point. Before wide-awake eyes, history has performed all of these acrobatic feats, the swing of its searching lanterns illuminating my attempts to quantify the larger ideas and ideals embedded within.

To dive deep and parse the mysterious life-long fascination of living a life dominated by a subject, that was my challenge and my charge. For regardless of setting, the Civil War in all its myriad threads—a genetic electricity defining what it is to be American still—all of that is with me all of the time. That is odd, that is fascinating, and that is this story. Ghost On The Hill is history, but one leavened with the backstory of my making sense of the past in the present and forging, swing-by-swing, the presentation of an overdone subject at an angle no one else could: my own crackling experience living inside the resonant energy of the American Civil War.