Friday, August 15, 2008

Confederates in the Attic (Book #75)

I enjoyed Tony Horwitz's most recent book, A Voyage Long and Strange, so I sought out Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998). I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I preferred Confederates, possibly because I already knew so much about the culture and history Horwitz delves into. There's plenty of new insights, but, unlike Voyage's explorers and conquistadors, I didn't have to learn who Nathan Bedford Forrest or Ulysses Grant was.

Horwitz has had a lifelong fascination with the Civil War, despite the fact his ancestors arrived in America after it ended. (Which, I suppose isn't all that different from me being a Napoleonic War geek although the nearly 3/4 of my ancestors who were British or French left Europe early in the 18th century.) After a chance encounter with some reenactors, he decided to go exploring the Civil War landscape and its ongoing impact on the people who live around it. In a rambling series of essays we see a heartbreaking modern murder trial fueled by racism and the Confederate flag, visit the stuffed remains of Stonewall Jackson's horse, wander the Shiloh battlefield at dawn, etc. We meet a lot of obnoxious racists and purveyors or revisionist history--if nothing else, this book confirmed my decision to never, ever join the Daughters of the Confederacy. (Yes, I'm eligible. My family has been in Alabama since the 1840's and in the South since the early 18th century. As far as I know none of my ancestors owned slaves--though I'm sure that was hillbilly poverty rather than abolitionist virtue. So it's not surprising that my great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier.) But we also meet some endearingly geeky reenactors and get to wallow in Horwitz's history geekery for 400 pages or so.

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