In The Civil War, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Claimed More Casualties Than Any Other War Before or Since
Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 4.03.21 PM

I came upon this story while researching my family history. While I was born and raised in New York, my family's southern roots go deep.

My great, great grandfather was one of the earliest lighthouse keepers along Florida's coast, the "graveyard of the sea." The Fresnel lens from the lighthouse which he manned stands on display in the Key West lighthouse museum.

My great grandfather was a Civil War soldier who settled in Key West after the war where he became one of the most prosperous businessmen on the island.

My grandmother spent most of her nine decades living in Key West in the family home, which she maintained as if it were a historical site. It remained just as it had been during the post-Civil War era when — thanks to many shipwrecks — the per capita income in Key West was among the highest in the country.

Today, I spend my winters on Florida's gulf coast near the scene of the climactic battle of my novel,
The Reckoning.

The seeds for the novel were planted years ago when my grandmother showed me a diary her father had kept during the War Between the States. A small, pocket journal written in a very precise hand, it very matter-of-factly revealed what he witnessed as a soldier, day after bloody day. I couldn't help wondering what he must have felt at the time and how he might have coped with the memories that he carried with him long after he answered the last call to arms. The diary gave no clue.

Then, a few years ago, I met a veteran of Desert Storm who opened up to me about his experience on the front lines and about the invisible wounds of war that he still bore. I immediately thought of my great grandfather and his soldiering in what historians have called the First Modern War.

The Civil War claimed more casualties than all other American wars combined; and, unlike other wars, the fighting took place on American soil. As a result, many civilians joined the ranks of the dead, wounded, imprisoned and mentally scarred. By the tens of thousands, people fell victim to what doctor's in that era called "soldier's heart." By some accounts, "soldier's heart" (PTSD) was the second most common diagnosis of the Civil War era.

Long before Desert Storm, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cast its cold, dark shadow across the hearthstones of millions of American homes.

The chance encounter with that Desert Storm vet and the steady drum beat of news about PTSD led me to take another look at my great grandfather's journal. That's when I began writing the untold story of one "soldier's heart." In Ed Canfield, I created a flawed fictional hero, who embodies the conflicted feelings that many southerners shared about slavery, the war and the draft. He is a man at war with himself. Just like his country.