Buster Kilrain is the only fictional character in Michael Shaara's 1974 novel about the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. His surname is a portmanteau of the title "The Killer Angels". In the 1993 movie based on the book, Gettysburg, and the sequel Gods and Generals, he was played by actor Kevin Conway.

According to the novel Gods and Generals written by Shaara's son Jeff, Kilrain was born in 1812 in Belfast. He was originally a sergeant before being demoted to private for assaulting a superior officer while drunk. According to the The Killer Angels and Gettysburg, he died on the morning of July 3, 1863, after being wounded twice while helping to defend Little Round Top the day before.

The novel's usage of the name "Buster" is an anachronism. Although the word is an Americanism that dates to at least the 1830s, it is not known to have been used as a first name at the time of the American Civil War. The popularization of the word as a first name or nickname did not come about until the early twentieth century because of its usage by Buster Keaton.

It is likely that Michael Shaara based the character of Kilrain partly on the 20th Maine's Sergeant George Buck. One day Buck was ill and stayed behind at camp. When a quartermaster ordered him to chop wood, Buck struck the officer. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was ordered to demote Buck to the rank of private. At Gettysburg, Buck was critically wounded and just before he died, Chamberlain promoted him back to his previous rank of sergeant.[1]

The character of Kilrain also appears as the subject of a song about the Civil War by Steve Earle called "Dixieland."[2]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Desjardin, p. 60.
  2. Steve Earle - Dixieland
  • Desjardin, Thomas A., Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign, Thomas Publications, 1995, ISBN 1-57747-034-6.
  • Eishen, Thomas, Courage on Little Round Top, Skyward Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-881554-38-4.


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