Calling Out the Ancestors Audio Piece

“Calling Out the Ancestors: My Family’s Lingering Civil War Ghosts”
 
Ask someone to conjure up an image of the Civil War, and they might think of grey and blue soldiers charging across vast battlefields. But for me, the first image that comes to mind is a silhouette of a woman hanging from a rafter of a barn. This image has been with me since childhood, when I heard family stories about Union-loyal ancestors who suffered murder at the hands of Confederate neighbors. “Calling Out the Ancestors” is an exercise in putting away my Civil War ghosts, more than 150 years after the end the war.

 “Calling Out…” is structured as a series of conversations with Southerners who remember the War– and their ancestor’s actions in the War– in very different ways. I begin the piece with a night time ghost hunting expedition with Confederate reenactors at the Petersburg National Battlefield. In succeeding scenes members of the Confederate unit, the 22nd NC Company K, describe the euphoria of reenacting battles on the grounds where their ancestors fought and died. Sheila Kay Adams, a Western North Carolina native, then dispels traditional images of battlefield heroics with her family story about the Shelton Laurel Massacre. I then ask reenactors about the more tragic, messy stories of the War, wanting to know if they could be reenacted. The answer is no. To a man, the reenactors fear the pain, and ironically, the pleasure, such reenactments might give them.Finally, I ask novelist Terry Roberts how he has come to terms with his own great-great grandfather’s actions during and after the War. As he sorts through the complexities of his own history, I am able to banish my family’s self-image as Unionist martyrs for a more complicated reality–a slave-owning family who fought for the North. Ultimately, “Calling Out the Ancestors” isn’t a piece about the Civil War. It’s a piece about the bias of memory and the ghosts we pursue and sometimes preserve in order to explain our nation’s complicated history.