For all who remain intrigued by the legacy of the Civil War reenactors, battlefield visitors, Confederate descendants and other Southerners, history fans, students of current racial conflicts, and more this ten-state adventure is part travelogue, part social commentary and always good-humored.
When prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitz leaves the battlefields of Bosnia and the Middle East for a peaceful corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he thinks he's put war zones behind him. But awakened one morning by the crackle of musket fire, Horwitz starts filing front-line dispatches again this time from a war close to home, and to his own heart.
Propelled by his boyhood passion for the Civil War, Horwitz embarks on a search for places and people still held in thrall by America's greatest conflict. The result is an adventure into the soul of the unvanquished South, where the ghosts of the Lost Cause are resurrected through ritual and remembrance.
In Virginia, Horwitz joins a band of 'hardcore' reenactors who crash-diet to achieve the hollow-eyed look of starved Confederates; in Kentucky, he witnesses Klan rallies and calls for race war sparked by the killing of a white man who brandishes a rebel flag; at Andersonville, he finds that the prison's commander, executed as a war criminal, is now exalted as a martyr and hero; and in the book's climax, Horwitz takes a marathon trek from Antietam to Gettysburg to Appomattox in the company of Robert Lee Hodge, an eccentric pilgrim who dubs their odyssey the 'Civil Wargasm.'
Written with Horwitz's signature blend of humor, history, and hard-nosed journalism, Confederates in the Attic brings alive old battlefields and new ones 'classrooms, courts, country bars' where the past and the present collide, often in explosive ways. Poignant and picaresque, haunting and hilarious, it speaks to anyone who has ever felt drawn to the mythic South and to the dark romance of the Civil War.
Tony Horwitz’s new book, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, is available now.
About the Author
Tony Horwitz is a native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. As a newspaper reporter he spent a decade overseas, mainly covering conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans for The Wall Street Journal. Returning to the U.S., he won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and wrote for The New Yorker before becoming a full-time author. In addition to Confederates in the Attic, his books include the national and New York Times bestsellers, Blue Latitudes, Baghdad Without a Map and A Voyage Long and Strange. His latest book, Midnight Rising, was named a New York Times Notable Book. Horwitz has also been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a history columnist for Smithsonian magazine. He is currently the president of the Society of American Historians. Horwitz lives in West Tisbury, Massachusetts with his wife Geraldine Brooks, their sons, dogs and alpacas.
Tony Horwitz’s new book, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, is available May 14th, 2019.
Date of Birth:1958
Date of Death:May 27, 2019
Place of Birth:Washington, D.C.
Place of Death:Washington, D.C.
Education:B.A., Brown University; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
There never will be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War never.
In 1965, a century after Appomattox, the Civil War began for me at a musty apartment in New Haven, Connecticut. My great-grandfather held a magnifying glass to his spectacles and studied an enormous book spread open on the rug. Peering over his shoulder, I saw pen-and-ink soldiers hurtling up at me with bayonets.
I was six, Poppa Isaac 101. Egg-bald, barely five feet tall, Poppa Isaac lived so frugally that he sliced cigarettes in half before smoking them. An elderly relative later told me that Poppa Isaac bought the book of Civil War sketches soon after emigrating to America in 1882. He often shared it with his children and grandchildren before I came along.
Years later, I realized what was odd about this one vivid memory of my great-grandfather. Isaac Moses Perski fled Czarist Russia as a teenaged draft dodgerin Yiddish, a shirkerand arrived at Ellis Island without money or English or family. He worked at a Lower East Side sweatshop and lived literally on peanuts, which were cheap, filling and nutritious. Why, I wondered, had this thrifty refugee chosen as one of his first purchases in America a book written in a language he could barely understand, about a war in a land he barely knew, a book that he kept poring over until his death at 102?
By the time Poppa Isaac died, my father had begun reading aloud to me each night from a ten-volume collection called The Photo-graphic History of the Civil War. Published in 1911, the volumes' ripe prose sounded as foreign to me as the captions of my great-grandfather's book must have seemed to him. So, like Poppa Isaac, I lost myself in the pictures: sepia men leading sepia horses across cornfields and creeks; jaunty volunteers, their faces framed by squished caps and fire-hazard beards; barefoot Confederates sprawled in trench mud, eyes open, limbs twisted like licorice. For me, the fantastical creatures of Maurice Sendak held little magic compared to the man-boys of Mathew Brady who stared back across the century separating their lives from mine.
Before long, I began to read aloud with my father, chanting the strange and wondrous riversShenandoah, Rappahannock, Chickahominyand wrapping my tongue around the risible names of rebel generals: Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, John Sappington Marmaduke, William "Extra Billy" Smith, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. I learned about palindromes from the Southern sea captain Raphael Semmes. And I began to match Brady's still-deaths with the curt stutter of farm roads and rocks that formed the photographer's backdrop: Mule Shoe, Slaughter Pen, Bloody Lane, Devil's Den.
In third grade, I penciled a highly derivative Civil War history of my own"The war was started when after all the states had sececed," it beganand embarked on an ambitious art project, painting the walls of our attic with a lurid narrative of the conflict. Preferring underdogs, I posted a life-sized Johnny Reb by the bathroom door. A pharaonic frieze of rebel soldiers at Antietam stretched from the stairs to the attic window. Albert Sidney Johnston's death at Shiloh splashed across an entire wall. General Pickett and his men charged bravely into the eaves.
I'd reached the summer of 1863 and run out of wall. But standing in the middle of the attic, I could whirl and whirl and make myself dizzy with my own cyclorama. The attic became my bedroom and the murals inhabited my boyhood dreaming. And each morning I woke to a comforting sound: my father bounding up the attic steps, blowing a mock bugle call through his fingers and shouting, "General, the troops await your command!"
Twenty-five years later, the murals were still there and so was my boyhood obsession. I'd just returned to America after nine years abroad and moved to an old house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My Australian wife chose the spot; the fields and cows and crooked fences fit Geraldine's image of outback America. For me, the place stirred something else. I stared at a brick church still bullet-scarred from a Civil War skirmish. In the lumpy village graveyard, I found Confederates and Yankees buried side by side, some of them kin to each other. Within an hour of our new home lay several of the battlegrounds I'd painted as a child, and to which I now dragged Geraldine on weekend drives.
At a picnic soon after our arrival, I overheard a neighbor ask Geraldine how she liked Virginia. "Fine," she sighed. "Except that my husband's become a Civil War bore."
I'd always been one, of course, but my obsession had lain dormant for several decades. With adolescence had come other passions, and I'd stuffed my toy musket, plastic rebel soldiers and Lincoln Logs into a closet reserved for boyish things. A Day-Glo poster of Jimi Hendrix supplanted Johnny Reb. Pickett's Charge and Antietam Creek vanished behind dart boards, Star Trek posters and steep drifts of teenage clutter.
But a curious thing had happened while I'd lived abroad. Millions of Americans caught my childhood bug. Ken Burns's TV documentary on the Civil War riveted the nation for weeks. Glory and Gettysburg played to packed movie houses. The number of books on the Civil War passed 60,000; a bibliography of works on Gettysburg alone ran to 277 pages.
On the face of it, this fad seemed out of character for America. Like most returning expatriates, I found my native country new and strange, and few things felt stranger than America's amnesia about its past. During the previous decade, I'd worked as a foreign correspondent in lands where memories were elephantine: Bosnia, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Aboriginal Australia. Serbs spoke bitterly of their defeat by Muslim armies at Kosovo as though the battle had occurred yesterday, not in 1389. Protestants in Belfast referred fondly to "King Billy" as if he were a family friend rather than the English monarch who led Orangemen to victory in 1690.
Returning to America, I found the background I lacked wasn't historical, it was pop-cultural. People kept referring to TV shows I'd missed while abroad, or to athletes and music stars I'd never seen perform. In the newspaper, I read a government survey showing that 93 percent of American students couldn't identify "an important event" in Philadelphia in 1776. Most parents also flunked; 73 percent of adults didn't know what event "D-Day" referred to.
Yet Americans remained obsessed with the Civil War. Nor was this passion confined to books and movies. Fights kept erupting over displays of the rebel flag, over the relevancy of states' rights, over a statue of Arthur Ashe slated to go up beside Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Richmond. Soon after my return, the Walt Disney Company unveiled plans for a Civil War theme park beside the Manassas battlefield. This provoked howls of protest that Disney would vulgarize history and sully the nation's "hallowed ground." It seemed as though the black-and-white photographs I'd studied as a child had blurred together, forming a Rorschach blot in which Americans now saw all sorts of unresolved strife: over race, sovereignty, the sanctity of historic landscapes, and who should interpret the past.
Then, early one morning, the Civil War crashed into my bedroom. A loud popping noise crackled just outside our window. "Is that what I think it is?" Geraldine asked, bolting awake. We'd sometimes heard gunfire while working in the Middle East, but it was the last sound we expected here, in a hamlet of 250 where bleating sheep had been our reveille for the past six months.
I went to the window and saw men in gray uniforms firing muskets on the road in front of our house. Then a woman popped up from behind a stone wall and yelled "Cut!" The firing stopped and the Confederates collapsed in our yard. I brewed a pot of coffee, gathered some mugs and went outside. It turned out that our village had been chosen as the set for a TV documentary on Fredericksburg, an 1862 battle fought partly along eighteenth-century streets that resembled ours.
But the men weren't actors, at least not professionals, and they performed in the film shoot for little or no pay. "We do this sort of thing most weekends anyway," said a lean rebel with gunpowder smudges on his face and the felicitous name of Troy Cool.
In the local paper, I'd often read about Civil War reenactors who staged mock battles with smoke bombs and reproduction muskets. It was a popular hobby in our part of Virginia. But when I asked about this, Troy Cool frowned. "We're hardcores," he said.
Between gulps of coffeewhich the men insisted on drinking from their own tin cups rather than our ceramic mugsCool and his comrades explained the distinction. Hardcores didn't just dress up and shoot blanks. They sought absolute fidelity to the 1860s: its homespun clothing, antique speech patterns, sparse diet and simple utensils. Adhered to properly, this fundamentalism produced a time-travel high, or what hardcores called a "period rush."
"Look at these buttons," one soldier said, fingering his gray wool jacket. "I soaked them overnight in a saucer filled with urine." Uric acid oxidized the brass, giving it the patina of buttons from the 1860s. "My wife woke up this morning, sniffed the air and said, 'Tim, you've been peeing on your buttons again.'"
In the field, hardcores ate only foods that Civil War soldiers consumed, such as hardtack and salt pork. And they limited their speech to mid-nineteenth-century dialect and topics. "You don't talk about Monday Night football," Tim explained. "You curse Abe Lincoln or say things like, 'I wonder how Becky's getting on back at the farm.'"
One hardcore took this Method acting to a bizarre extreme. His name was Robert Lee Hodge and the soldiers pointed him out as he ambled toward us. Hodge looked as though he'd stepped from a Civil War tintype: tall, rail-thin, with a long pointed beard and a butternut uniform so frayed and filthy that it clung to his lank frame like rags to a scarecrow.
As he drew near, Troy Cool called out, "Rob, do the bloat!" Hodge clutched his stomach and crumpled to the ground. His belly swelled grotesquely, his hands curled, his cheeks puffed out, his mouth contorted in a rictus of pain and astonishment. It was a flawless counterfeit of the bloated corpses photographed at Antietam and Gettysburg that I'd so often stared at as a child.
Hodge leapt to his feet and smiled. "It's an ice-breaker at parties," he said.
For Robert Lee Hodge, it was also a way of life. As the Marlon Brando of battlefield bloating, he was often hired for Civil War movies. He also poseddead and alivefor painters and photographers who reproduced Civil War subjects and techniques. "I go to the National Archives a lot to look at their Civil War photographs," he said. "You can see much more detail in the original pictures than you can in books."
A crowd of blue-clad soldiers formed down the road. It was time for the battle to resume. Hodge reached in his haversack and handed me a business card. "You should come out with us sometime," he said, his brown eyes boring into mine with evangelical fervor, "and see what a period rush feels like." Then he loped off to join the other rebels crouched behind a stone wall.
I watched the men fight for a while, then went back inside and built a fire. I pulled down Poppa Isaac's book from the shelf. The tome was so creased with age that the title had rubbed off its spine and the pages discharged a puff of yellowed paper-dust each time I opened the massive cover. Searching for pictures of Fredericksburg, I quickly became lost in the Civil War, as I'd been so often since our return to America.
Geraldine came in with a cup of coffee. She'd chatted with a few of the men, too. "It's strange," she said, "but they seemed like ordinary guys." One worked as a Bell Atlantic salesman, another as a forklift operator. Even Robert Lee Hodge had seemed, well, normal. During the week, he waited on tables and sometimes freelanced articles for Civil War magazines. I'd once worked as a waiter, and at twenty-eight, which was Hodge's age, I'd been a freelancer, too, although writing about more recent wars.
Then again, I'd never spent weekends grubbing around the woods in urine-soaked clothes, gnawing on salt pork and bloating in the road. Not that my own behavior was altogether explicable, sitting here in a crooked house in the hills of Virginia, poring over sketches of long-dead Confederates. I was born seven years after the last rebel soldier, Pleasant Crump, died at home in Lincoln, Alabama. I was raised in Maryland, a border state in the Civil War that now belonged to the "Mid-Atlantic States," a sort of regionless buffer between North and South. Nor did I have blood ties to the War. My forebears were digging potatoes and studying Torah between Minsk and Pinsk when Pleasant Crump trudged through Virginia with the 10th Alabama.
I took out the card Robert Lee Hodge had given me. It was colored Confederate gray; the phone number ended in 1865.
Muskets crackled outside and shrieks of mock pain filled the air. Why did this war still obsess so many Americans 130 years after Appomattox? I returned to Poppa Isaac's book. What did that war have to do with him, or with me?
A few weeks later I gave Rob Hodge a call. He seemed unsurprised to hear from me and renewed his offer to take me out in the field. Hodge's unit, the Southern Guard, was about to hold a drill to keep its skills sharp during the long winter layoff (battle reenactments, like real Civil War combat, clustered between spring and fall). "It'll be forty-eight hours of hardcore marching," he said. "Wanna come?"
Hodge gave me the number for the Guardsman hosting the event, a Virginia farmer named Robert Young. I called for directions and also asked what to bring. "I've got a sleeping bag," I told him. The voice on the other end went silent. "Or some blankets," I added.
"You'll be issued a bedroll and other kit as needed," Young said. "Bring food, but nothing modern. Absolutely no plastic." He suggested I arrive early so he could check out my gear.
I donned an old-fashioned pair of one-piece long johns known as a union suit (which sounded Civil War-ish), a pair of faded button-fly jeans, muddy work boots, and a rough cotton shirt a hippie girlfriend had given me years before. Ignorant of nineteenth-century food packaging, I tossed a hunk of cheese and a few apples into a leather shoulder bag, along with a rusty canteen and camping knife. Surely the others would share their grub. I imagined the Guardsmen gathered round a crackling bonfire, talking about the homefront while slicing potatoes into a bubbling Irish stew.
Two young Confederates stood guard at the entrance to the drill site, a 400-acre farm in the bucolic horse country of the Virginia Piedmont. One was my host, Robert Young. He welcomed me with a curt nod and a full-body frisk for twentieth-century contraband. The apples had to go; they were shiny Granny Smiths, nothing like the mottled fruit of the 1860s. The knife and canteen and shoulder bag also were deemed too pristine, as was my entire wardrobe. Even the union suit was wrong; long johns in the 1860s were two-piece, not one.
In exchange, Young tossed me scratchy wool trousers, a filthy shirt, hobnailed boots, a jacket tailored for a Confederate midget, and wool socks that smelled as though they hadn't been washed since Second Manassas. Then he reached for my tortoiseshell glasses. "The frames are modern," he explained, handing me a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles with tiny, weak lenses. Finally, he slung a thin blanket over my shoulder. "We'll probably be spooning tonight," he said.
Spooning? His manner didn't invite questions. I was a soldier now; mine was not to question why. So half-blind and hobbled by the ill-fitting brogansboots weren't always molded to right and left in the Civil WarI trailed the two men to a cramped farm building behind the inviting antebellum mansion I'd seen from the road. We sat shivering inside, waiting for the others. Unsure about the ground rules for conversation, I asked my host, "How did you become a reenactor?"
He grimaced. I'd forgotten that the "R word" was distasteful to hardcores. "We're living historians," he said, "or historical interpreters if you like." The Southern Guard had formed the year before as a schismatic faction, breaking off from a unit that had too many "farbs," he said.
"Farb" was the worst insult in the hardcore vocabulary. It referred to reenactors who approached the past with a lack of verisimilitude. The word's etymology was obscure; Young guessed that "farb" was short for "far-be-it-from-authentic," or possibly a respelling of "barf." Violations serious enough to earn the slur included wearing a wristwatch, smoking cigarettes, smearing oneself with sunblock or insect repellentor, worst of all, fake blood. Farb was also a fungible word; it could become an adjective (farby), a verb (as in, "don't farb out on me"), an adverb (farbily) and a heretical school of thought (Farbism or Farbiness).
The Southern Guard remained vigilant against even accidental Farbiness; it had formed an "authenticity committee" to research subjects such as underwear buttons and 1860s dye to make sure that Guardsmen attired themselves exactly as soldiers did. "Sometimes after weekends like this, it takes me three or four days to come back to so-called reality," Young said. "That's the ultimate."
As we talked, other Guardsmen trickled in, announcing themselves with a clatter of hobnailed boots on the path outside. Rob Hodge arrived and greeted his comrades with a pained grin. A few days before, he'd been dragged by a horse while playing Nathan Bedford Forrest in a cable show about the rebel cavalryman. The accident had left Rob with three cracked ribs, a broken toe and a hematoma on his tibia. "I wanted to go on a march down in Louisiana," Rob told his mates, "but the doctor said it would mess up my leg so bad that it might even have to be amputated."
"Super hardcore!" the others shouted in unison. If farb was the worst insult a Guardsman could bestow, super hardcore was the highest plaudit, signifying an unusually bold stab at recapturing the Civil War.
Many of the Guardsmen lived outside Virginia and hadn't seen their comrades since the previous year's campaign. As the room filled with twenty or so men, greeting each other with hugs and shouts, it became obvious that there would be little attempt to maintain period dialogue. Instead, the gathering took on a peculiar cast: part frat party, part fashion show, part Weight Watchers' meeting.
"Yo, look at Joel!" someone shouted as a tall, wasp-waisted Guardsman arrived. Joel Bohy twirled at the center of the room and slid off his gray jacket like a catwalk model. Then, reaching into his hip-hugging trousers, he raised his cotton shirt.
"Check out those abs!"
"Awesome jacket. What's the cut?"
"Type one, early to mid '62, with piping," Joel said. "Cotton and wool jean. Stitched it myself."
Rob Hodge inspected the needlework, obviously impressed. He turned to me and said, "We're all GQ fashion snobs when it comes to Civil War gear."
"CQ," Joel corrected. "Confederate Quarterly." The two men embraced, and Rob said approvingly, "You've dropped some weight." Joel smiled. "Fifteen pounds just in the last two months. I had a pizza yesterday but nothing at all today."
Losing weight was a hardcore obsession, part of the never-ending quest for authenticity. "If you look at pension records, you realize that very few Civil War soldiers weighed more than a hundred thirty-five pounds," Rob explained. Southern soldiers were especially lean. So it was every Guardsman's dream to drop a few pants' sizes and achieve the gaunt, hollow-eyed look of underfed Confederates.
Rob had lost thirty-five pounds over the past year, leaving little or no meat on his six-foot-two frame. Joel, a construction worker, had dropped eighty-five pounds, losing what he called his "keg legs" and slimming his beer-bellied waist from forty inches to thirty. "The Civil War's over, but the Battle of the Bulge never ends," he quipped, offering Rob a Pritikin recipe for skinless breast of chicken.
Unfortunately, there was no fooddiet or otherwisein sight. Instead, the Guardsmen puffed at corncob pipes or chewed tobacco, interspersed with swigs from antique jugs filled with Miller Lite and rimmed with bits of each other's burley. Eavesdropping on the chatabout grooming, sewing, hip size, honed bicepsI couldn't help wondering if I'd stumbled on a curious gay subculture in the Piedmont of Virginia.
"I've got a killer recipe for ratatouille. Hardly any oil. Got to drop another five pounds before posing for that painter again. He loves small waists on Confederates."
"Do you think we should recruit that newbie who came to the picket post? He looks real good, tall and slim."
"Ask him, 'Have you got a Richmond depot jacket? Do you sew?' A lot of guys look good at first but they don't know a thing about jackets and shoes."
The sleeping arrangements did little to allay my suspicions. As we hiked to our bivouac spot in a moonlit orchard, my breath clouded in the frigid night air. The thin wool blanket I'd been issued seemed woefully inadequate, and I wondered aloud how we'd avoid waking up resembling one of Rob Hodge's impressions of the Confederate dead. "Spooning," Joel said. "Same as they did in the War. "
The Guardsmen stacked their muskets and unfurled ground cloths. "Sardine time," Joel said, flopping to the ground and pulling his blanket and coat over his chest. One by one the others lay down as well, packed close, as if on a slave ship. Feeling awkward, I shuffled to the end of the clump, lying a few feet from the nearest man.
"Spoon right!" someone shouted. Each man rolled onto his side and clutched the man beside him. Following suit, I snuggled my neighbor. A few bodies down, a man wedged between Joel and Rob began griping. "You guys are so skinny you don't give off any heat. You're just sucking it out of me!"
After fifteen minutes, someone shouted "spoon left!" and the pack rolled over. Now my back was warm but my front was exposed to the chill air. I was in the "anchor" position, my neighbor explained, the coldest spot in a Civil War spoon.
Famished and half-frozen, I began fantasizing about the campfire stew I'd naively looked forward to. Somewhere in the distance a horse snorted. Then one of the soldiers let loose a titanic fart. "You farb," his neighbor shouted. "Gas didn't come in until World War One!"
This prompted a volley of off-color jokes, most of them aimed at girlfriends and spouses. "You married?" I asked my neighbor, a man about my own age.
"Uh huh. Two kids." I asked how his family felt about his hobby. "If it wasn't this, it'd be golf or something," he said. He propped on one elbow and lit a cigar butt from an archaic box labeled Friction Matches. "At least there's no room for jealousy with this hobby. You come home stinking of gunpowder and sweat and bad tobacco, so your wife knows you've just been out with the guys."
From a few mummies down, Joel joined in the conversation. "I just broke up with my girlfriend," he said. "It was a constant struggle between her and the Civil War. She got tired of competing with something that happened a hundred thirty years ago."
Joel worried he might never find another girlfriend. Now, when he met a woman he liked, he coyly let on that he was "into history." That way, he explained, "I don't scare her off by letting the whole cat out of the bag."
"What happens if you do tell her straight?" I asked him.
"She freaks." The issue wasn't just weekends spent away; it was also the money. Joel reckoned that a quarter of his income went to reenacting. "I try to put a positive spin on it," he said. "I tell women, 'I don't do drugs, I do the Civil War.'" He laughed. "Problem is, the Civil War's more addictive than crack, and almost as expensive."
The chat gradually died down. Someone got up to pee and walked into a tree branch, cursing. One man kept waking with a hacking cough. And I realized I should have taken off my wet boots before lying down; now, they'd become blocks of ice. My arm was caught awkwardly beneath my side, but liberating it was impossible. I'd disturb the whole spoon, and also risk shifting the precarious arrangement of blanket and coat that was my only protection from frostbite.
My neighbor, Paul Carter, was still half-awake and I asked him what he did when he wasn't freezing to death in the Virginia hills. "Finishing my Ph.D. thesis," he muttered, "on Soviet history."
I finally lulled myself to sleep with drowsy images of Stalingrad and awoke to find my body molded tightly around Paul's, all awkwardness gone in the desperate search for warmth. He was doing the same to the man beside him. There must have been a "spoon right" in the night.
A moment later, someone banged on a pot and shouted reveille: "Wake the fuck up! It's late!" The sky was still gray. It was not yet six o'clock.
The pot, at least, was an encouraging prop. I hadn't eaten since lunch the day before, and then only lightly in anticipation of a hearty camp dinner. But no one gathered sticks or showed any signs of fixing breakfast. I saw one man furtively gnaw on a crust of bread, but that was all. Recalling the hunk of cheese I'd packed the day beforethe only item of mine that had escaped confiscationI frantically searched my jacket pocket. The cheese was still there, hairy with lint and nicely chilled.
The Guardsmen rolled up their bedrolls and formed tidy ranks, muskets perched on shoulders. As a first-timer I was told to watch rather than take part. One of the men, acting as drill sergeant, began barking orders. "Company right, wheel, march! Ranks thirteen inches apart!" The men wheeled and marched across the orchard, their cups and canteens clanking like cowbells. In the early morning light, their muskets and bayonets cast long, spirelike shadows across the frost-tinged grass. "Right oblique, march! Forward, march!"
The mood was sober and martial, nothing like the night before. Except for a hungover soldier who fell out of line and clutched a tree, vomiting.
"Super hardcore!" his comrades yelled.
I spent an hour watching the men march and wheel as the drill sergeant called out his monotonous orders. "Shoulder arms. Support arms. Carry arms." The field was skirted by a split-rail fence. Just beyond stood the plantation house, a handsome brick edifice ringed by stately oaks; I'd been told the night before that the Confederate guerrilla John Mosby had once climbed out a window of the house and down a tree to escape capture by Federal cavalry. To the west loomed the Blue Ridge, gentle and azure in the morning sun. There wasn't a single modern intrusion. Looking at the scene, I thought about Mathew Brady's black-and-white photographs, and the false impression they conveyed. The War's actual landscape was lush with color and beauty. The sky, always a featureless white in Brady's photographs, was a brilliant, cloud-tufted blue.
The sergeant broke my reverie, handing me his musket and suggesting I practice the drill steps behind the other men. At first, the maneuvers reminded me of learning to square-dance, with the sergeant acting as caller and soldiers taking turns as the lead dancer. The main difference was that a misstep here could result in a rifle butt to the chin instead of a step on the toe. The moves were also crisp and angular, lacking the fluid motion of a reel or do-si-do. "On the right by files, into line, march!"
Finally, after several hours of nonstop drilling, the Guardsmen stacked their weapons and sprawled under a tree. Reaching into their haversacks, they began wolfing down cornbread, unshelled peanuts, slabs of cooked bacon. One of the Guardsmen, a new recruit named Chris Daley, offered me what looked like a year-old piece of beef jerky. I asked him why he'd joined up.
"I work as a paralegal on Long Island," he said. "This is escapism. For forty-eight hours you eat and sleep and march when someone else tells you to. There's no responsibility."
Chris chomped into the jerky, adding, "I think there's a lot of people like me who want to get back to a simpler time. Sandlot baseball, cowboys and Indians, the Civil War."
Rob Hodge agreed. "When you get into the grim details of the War, you realize you've lived a soft life. I think we all have some guilt about that. Doing this is a way of making things a little hard for a change."
This prompted debate about just how hard a hardcore's life should be. Rob favored total immersion in soldierly misery: camping in the mud, marching barefoot on blisters, staying up all night on picket duty. If he caught ticks and lice, so be it. "If that happened, I'd feel like we'd elevated things to another level," he said. "It would suck, but at least I'd know what it was like to scratch my head all day long."
A Guardsman named Fred Rickard went Rob one better. "There's something in me that wishes we could really go the whole way," he said. "I'd take the chance of being killed just to see what it was really like to be under fire in the War." He paused, munching on salt pork and biscuits. "At least then we'd know for sure if we're doing it right."
Fred leaned over to spit out a bit of gristle and noticed something in the grass. "Rob's bloating," he announced. Rob lay splayed on his back, cheeks puffed and belly distended, eyes staring glassily at the sky. Joel walked over and poked a boot in his ribs. "Suck in your gut a bit," he said. "It looks like you sat on a bike pump." Fred rearranged Rob's hands. "They don't look rigor mortal enough," he said. Then the two men returned to their meal.
Rob sat up and wiggled his fingers. "Hands are a problem," he said. "It's hard to make them look bloated unless you've really been dead for a while."
I stuck out the drill until late afternoon. The temperature was dropping fast and another night of spooning loomed ahead. Better to farb out, I decided, than to freeze or perish from hunger. Rob urged me to come out with the Guard again when the battle season got under way, and I said I would. But there was something else I wanted to do in the meantime. Lying awake in the night, pondering Civil War obsession, I'd plotted a hardcore campaign of my own. Super hardcore.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. Mingling history, memoir and travelogue, this fresh, provocative, fast-paced adventure will leave many readers itching to travel in Horwitz's tracks.
1. Horwitz begins the book by wondering why his immigrant great-grandfather became obsessed by the Civil War. Does he ever answer this question? Why are so many Americans with no blood tie to the War nonetheless fascinated by it?
2. While Americans cling to the Civil War, they've forgotten most of the rest of their history. There is no comparable obsession with the Mexican War, the War of 1812, or even the American Revolution. What are some of the reasons for this?
3. Horwitz, though not a native Southerner, seems to enjoy the region and its people. What are some of the traits of the South he finds appealing in Charleston and elsewhere?
4. Horwitz meets many women who are as devoted as men to memory of the War: Sue Curtis, June Wells, Melly Meadows, Mauriel Joslyn. How does their approach to the War differ from that of men?
5. Horwitz devotes more space to Robert Lee Hodge than to any other character. Why? What drives Rob? Do you find him heroic, appealing, repellent, or just plain nuts?
6. Horwitz suggests that reenactors are motivated by an urge to escape their own time zone and experience the "period rush" of entering another era. What is it about the 1860s that seems more appealing than our own time period? Does Horwitz ever experience a period rush?
7. At one point, Horwitz, clad as a Confederate reenactor, walks into a shop full of black shoppers and feels ashamed. Is it possible to play-act the Civil War as spectacle, or does reenacting the War inevitably raise troubling questions? Horwitz often asks himself a difficult question: what is the appropriate way to remember the Confederacy and those who fought for it? Can you honor your Confederate ancestors without insulting others? What do you think?
8. Horwitz visits most of the War's major battlefields, including Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Manassas. What draws him, and other people, to these parks? In what ways are they a sanctuary from modern society?
9. Many Southern whites revere the rebel battle flag as a symbol of the valor and sacrifice of their ancestors. To many African-Americans, the same flag is a hated symbol of segregation and white supremacy. Is there any middle ground? Which of the states in the South have navigated this minefield most successfully?
10. As he tours the Civil War landscape, Horwitz often finds battlefields and other sites threatened by strip malls and tract housing. What value is there in saving these sites, which are often just empty fields?
11. Throughout his journey, Horwitz encounters a profound sense of Southern grievance, a feeling that the region is still looked down on. Is this Southern paranoia or a justifiable response to the way the region is regarded by the North and by Hollywood?
12. Horwitz writes about the killing of Michael Westerman while flying a Confederate flag from his truck, in Todd County, Kentucky. What are the social and emotional reasons why Westerman's killing becomes such a flashpoint for Southern anger, both black and white?
13. In Richmond, Horwitz listens to a debate over whether a statue of Arthur Ashe belongs on Monument Avenue. He finds his own views shifting. Do you think the statue should have been put there?
14. In Alabama, Horwitz visits classrooms to see how the Civil War is being taught today. How are black and white students approaching the War differently? Is there any sense of a common American history?
15. Across the South, Horwitz implies that the dream of the Civil Rights era is embattled. In what ways does he show progress in race relations, and in what ways retreat?
16. At Andersonville Prison, Horwitz finds that there are two irreconcilable views of who was responsible for the tragedy there. Who wrote these histories and why? Which view do you think is more accurate?
17. The South's population is changing dramatically as the region fills with Northerners, Latin Americans, Asians and others. If this trend continues, can Confederate remembrance endure in the 21st century?
18. Since the book's publication, Horwitz has been attacked by both right-wing and left-wing Southerners who think he is either an apologist for Confederate heritage or a sworn enemy of it. Overall, do you think he is fair? Too fair?
19. Every year, it seems, there is a new book or movie, such as Cold Mountain or Gettysburg, that reignites passion for the Civil War. What literature, film or television series has brought the War alive for you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Easily one of the best books detailing contemporary views of both north and south black and white. This book details how the civil war polarizes even re-enactors who proclaim they are keeping history alive. There are parts in this book that will give you goose bumps and there are parts thst will leave you shaking your head im disbelief. Personally I would jump at an opportunity to follow the same route that the author did. Still however at the last page you will feel as though you have come to the end of a long journey that you are not just ready to have end. This is a must read for every civil war buff. It will change what you thought you knew about the civil war.
Yep, Horwitz is a good writer. This book is alternately funny and insightful in many places. Unfortunately, Horwitz takes too many disturbing tangets into racial stereotyping. Too many white southerners are painted as hick,racist rubes and he seems to do this for no other reason than to maintain an edge of cynical elitism (if you read his other books, he cops a similar attitude towards the Iraquis and the Australians). Especially disturbing is Horwitz's character asassination of a young white father of two who was gunned down by a black man for no other reason than having a rebel flag in the window of his truck. Horwitz comes dangerously close to declaring that flying the rebel flag is grounds for justifiable homicide. Scary. Sad too, for this agenda spoiled what otherwise was a great book.
Confederates in the Attic is the second book by American journalist and author, Tony Horwitz. Whilst much Civil War literature is likely to have the eyes of anyone but the most enthusiastic fan glazing over before too long, anyone who has read Pulitzer Prizewinning Horwitz’s work may be interested enough to see what he can do with this much-written-about subject. Perhaps what he has created is not so much a book about the Civil War as a travelogue of places and people who are still affected by it. From a deep-seated childhood interest in the Civil War, Horwitz got the idea to tour the core Confederate Southern states, revisiting sites of interest and talking to people involved in commemorations and re-enactments. He meets hard-core (almost fundamentalist) enthusiasts who go to extremes for authenticity in re-enactment; he peruses collections of memorabilia and paraphernalia; he attends commemorative gatherings where he listens to Children of the Confederacy reciting the Confederate Catechism under the loving eye of Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of whom even administers Cats of the Confederacy; he visits prison camps, cemeteries and tombs; he learns that his subject is often known as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression; he talks to historians, collectors, students and everyday folk, both black and white, about what the Civil War means to them and the significance of the rebel flag; he goes on a week-long Civil Wargasm; he finds a truly integrated town; he talks to the last real Confederate widow; he dips into Gone With The Wind; and he uncovers a surprising depth of ongoing racial divide. As this book was written in the 1990s, it would be interesting to canvass these attitudes and opinions in the wake of a black president’s term. This book is interesting, thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious.
Despite the fact that 13 years have passed since the first printing, this book is just as timely as our country recognizes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It makes one ponder the past and the role of its memories on the present.
So interesting and well-written!
When I lived in South Carolina for nearly three years in the mid-60's, I was fascinated by the lingering hatred of the North, the racial justification of our peculiar United States form of apartheid, and the seemingly endless stream of legends-become-facts concerning the War Between the States, The Occupation, Emancipation and Reconstruction. This book more than any I've seen takes the reader inside the South, in all its glory and weakness. Using a simple door (Civil War Re-enactors and their gatherings) to enter this realm of historical fact and fiction, the author pulls the reader into an understanding of "why", without foisting judgment in a pedantic manner. While he leads you with his point of view, he leaves the doors open to at least understanding what the South was becoming in the 1980's, what it had been prior to that, and why all the monuments do, indeed, face North.
Having lived in both the North and South in the 60's - 70's it's not surprising to see SOME of the same characters and attitudes as written. I found this book to be very interesting and at times, yes funny, but what I came away with is that in fact the attitudes have shifted to different targets so to speak. The most interesting part of the book towards the end is the author's discussion with a black educator. The reenactors are QUITE the characters and are themselves worth the read alone.
Tony's witty writing style and jovial observations made this book enjoyable. I especially like the fact that he actually visited various places in the South before passing judgement. At least he TRIED to be objective and unbiased! This is more than most outsiders afford our beloved homeland.
Tony Horowitz doesn't seem to grasp the enormity of the tragedy that was the War Between The States. This is most evident in my opinion by the racial divisions that haunt us to this day that are described in the book. It really struck me how divided people are on the causes and results of the conflict but at the same time it was reassuring that for the most part people with polar opposite views could coexist. He also doesn't seem to understand or make the point that it was all unnecessary. The romance of it all and the collective memory gloss over the horror of what actually happened. He clings to the idea that the northern cause was just and the elimination of slavery as an endeavor worth the destruction of constitutional limited government. I was hoping for some kind of epiphany at the end but was disappointed.
The Civil War never ended for most of the people in this book. Even in 1998 (when the book was written) there exists a sub-culture of die hard supporters of the Confederate States of America (CSA). Now, we're not just talking about hardcore weirdos,although they populate a lot of the book. North Carolina brings us the Cats of the Confederacy (yes, cats!); South Carolina , where artist Manning Williams toils on a painting that he'll says he'll never complete. The title? "Lincoln in Hell". But there are also people for whom the war may have ended but they do their best to keep its ideals alive. Racial prejudice often going hand in hand with religious intolerance (blacks and Jews mainly) are an accepted cultural reality. A young white man is shot down in cold blood by a carload of black teenagers. Why? He drove his truck, proudly displaying the rebel flag flying in the rear, through a predominantly black neighborhood. Certainly not a reason for murder, but was it an intentional provocation? A favorite character in the book for me was hardcore re-enactor Robert Lee Hodge, who will do almost anything to experience life as a soldier during the Civil War. Rail thin, unkempt, eating only what the soldiers ate, wearing clothes as close as possibly authentic to reality, he travels the Civil War trails and battlefields experiencing the war, but also answering questions and even recruiting others to the re-enactor cause. The author accompanies him on a "Civil Wargasm", a week long warp speed trek of the war, from Gettysburg to Antietam to the Shenandoah Valley and dozens of battlefields in between ! I loved the book (although it deeply disturbed me as well), it's filled with Civil War trivia, the correction of many long held war myths, and for the most part a fairly unbiased look at the people who live in the places the war was fought in. It helps to have some idea of the historical context of the war, but the author makes it clear what's going on (now and then). If you are a history buff or just someone interested in southern culture and beliefs, this is just the book for you.
This is my favorite Tony Horwitz book. It explores the question of why the South remains so nostalgic about a war that it lost. A southerner by birth and inclination, Tony Horwitz provides an answer that is honest and entertaining--laugh out loud funny at times, but honest at others. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about the effect of the Civil War on modern times.
Written during the late 1990's, this book shows a side of the Southeastern United States that is not very often mentioned, the surviving memory of 'the war of northern aggression', or the Civil War. Tony Horwitz explores the often not so pretty distaste that many Southerners still have for the North. He travels across the South, visiting many of the old battle sites. His stories provide striking insights into just how unwilling some of the more rural areas of the South are to forget the Civil War. Specifically, his experiences with Civil War re-enactors are very interesting. This is a very well written book on a topic that very little is written about.
If you are a Civil War buff or a history buff this is a must read. I am reading it for the third time. It is one of those books you must have in your Civil War library.
A great read if you have an interest in the American South. However, parts of it are sort of disturbing. For interest the author has chosen some of the most colorful southerners he could find. Read, enjoy, take it for what it is. I found it hard to put down.
This was a great book written at a time when most Americans assume (incorrectly, as it turns out) the Civil War was long settled. Horwitz takes a serious, though many times laugh-out-loud funny, look at how the American Civil War is viewed today in the states in which it was fought. A great read, and the readewr feels as if he is right alongside the author during this investigative journey.
This book is wonderful. It is a nonfiction written by Tony Horwitz. During this book, Horwitz travels to several cities in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Horwitz spends most of the time talking to random people he meets about the Civil War and what they think about the events of the Civil War. Some of the time, however, Horwitz spends becoming familiar with Civil War reenacting. The thing that i did not like about the book was that he only talked to Southern people about the War. All in all this was a FANTASTIC book, and i give it 4 stars for exellence. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a great book about the Civil War/The Civil War Aftermath.
This book was assigned in one of my history classes as a text book and although the writing was easy and descriptive, I stopped reading the book halfway through. Personally, I found it repetitive and not entirely representative of the South or southerners. It gives the impression that the auther was purposely seeking out strange and outrageous individuals and cicrumstances in order to sell an interesting book, (as opposed to showing different points of view in the south relating to the Civil War). For someone who claims to be a journalist, this book is definately lacking in objectivity.
Every American should read this book. I never new how little I knew, not just about the Civil War, but about the reasons and realities of relations between northerners and southerners, blacks and whites, farbs and hardcores. I originally picked it up because I figured it'd be worth a laugh or two, but I, like the author, had no idea what I was getting into. It's just a terrific piece of work, and easily the most important thing I've read since Breakpoint and Beyond.
The Smithsonian has been referred to as ¿America¿s attic¿, but down in the Old South in the mid-1990¿s, Tony Horwitz found some artifacts that a lot of people might wish had not been hauled out into the light. Prowling around the sites of Civil War battles, consorting with "hard core living historians", and interviewing ordinary folks from many walks of life, Horwitz discovered that much of what he thought he knew about the Civil War was mythic, that in many small towns and rural communities a sense of separatism is still very strong, and that the "lost cause" maintains a grip on the hearts of many citizens of the former Confederacy. Despite his northern liberal upbringing, Horwitz was able to mingle gently with conservative southerners, some of whom were openly racist or anti-Semitic, and get them talking. I do wonder what might have changed in the last couple decades since the book was written, given that it predates 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the election of an African American President, and such. I would be glad of an update, but nevertheless I give this book an unequivocal thumbs up.
Tony Horwitz fully embraces the search for the Southern historical memory of the Civil War in this funny and witty page turner. Loved it.
This is one of my favorite non-fiction books. You'll come away with an enhanced knowledge of Civil War history, and a variety of perspectives on southern culture. Well-written and touching.
I LOVE this book, and not just because I lived in Virginia where people are still fighting this war. Tony Horwitz can flat out write. I felt like I was traveling with him as he made his way through the Civil War locales.
I started reading this when I flew out to CA in January, but somehow I've never managed to finish it. I think I know why. At the very beginning I enjoyed it for the memories of Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, etc in SUmmer of 1996 but then with a current class project it tied into Gettysburg.Some thoughts:"There never will be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War never" - Gertrude SteinIt's how he opens the book and I don't think it could be more true. Between his encounters with those passionate about the issue and the huge interest in the Civil War, I don't think anything has surpassed it even 150+ years later. It's still fresh and while it might be more 'alive' in the South, there is still a large interest here in the north. In Gettysburg, this was reinforced when one of the guides referred to "Serious Season" as the Fall when the historians returned and the large family groups left."Like many returning expatriates, I found my native country new and strange"While I didn't resurrect a childhood interest in the civil war, I think this applied to my own return to the US as well. There was so much I wanted to learn more about, yet it was all *just* out of reach."The South is a place. East, west and north are nothing but directions" - Letter to the Editor..."Poke a pin in a map of the South and you're likely to prod loose some battle or skirmish or other tuft of Civil War history"This was an issue brought up by several guides when talking about the issues and circumstances surrounding Gettysburg. Until that point, no battles had been fought in the north and it has been said that northerners were somewhat aloof to the war. It has been said that Lee had hoped for a quick win and a march on DC, which would have ended the war. I think this concentration of sites in the south is part of what keeps the war alive for so many southerners. It would be interesting to compare school classes of the same age in the north and south and see how CW knowledge ranges.At one point, the author is listening to a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and comparing its meaning to Dixie. There's something about hearing it live, and in the midst of a study on the Civil War, that brings both to life. I'm not certain I've ever heard Dixie but it comes up in Horwitz' book like "Khe Sanh" comes up in Brian Thacker's-almost an anthem to the trip."Charleston--Tourist Industry Chatleston--preferred to forget the War altogether"This was probably what surprised me the most since if I think South Carolina and the Civil War, it's Charleston that comes to mind. Had I not done the trip in 1996 and the recent trip to Gettysburg, I think CW alone might bring up thoughts of Charleston.Hair.Bits of wood. Blood-stained clothing. The kindergarten was beginning to feel less like a museum than a saints' reliquaryRather than anything CW related, this brought to mind Hiroshima and the Peace Museum. It's done in a tasteful manner but you can't help but think of the poor children who'd been drafted into service or who were at school when the bomb hit and all that's left are hair, nails or a shadow.His discussion about the falseness of history in the context of Shiloh is an interesting one. While most would hope that the accounts passed on to future generations are accurate, it's impossible to ignore that they're most often told the loudest by the victors. A similar truth is in place in Gettysburg, where it was first decreed that only union soldiers were to be buried while many Confederate soldiers' bodies were sent south, unknown. It's sad, but it's something we can't judge today. It's the same issue as was discussed on the Battlefield tour where the guide mentioned people's fears that the large statues were glorifying the Confederacy. They're telling history, and history is comprised of both sides, or it should be.Later in his discussion on Shiloh, he mentioned how it was within the grasp of pilgrims, but not so much the accidental
This is an account of Tony Horwitz's year-long exploration through the places where the U.S. Civil War was fought, starting in North Carolina and working his way downward. The book is not a history of the Civil War so much as a look at what the Civil War means in the minds of Southerners today.Though he admits to having a fascination with the Civil War as a child, he brings to this an outsider's perspective: not well-informed about the events and, since his ancestors were post-war immigrants, with no familial ties to the conflict. Yet, this outsider status does not confer impartiality, nor does he attempt to conceal his personal views¿he examines the people he meets through eyes that are clearly those of a liberal Northerner, one shaped and informed by the Civil Rights Movement.The result works well. Though he rejects, even implicitly derides, some of the extreme Southern stances and revisionisms, you can sense that he comes to feel a certain sympathy for other aspects of the Southern cause, for the people who, as Shelby Foote said to him, put "one's people before one's principles."Other discussions have made much of the time he spent with the hardcore re-enactors, the individuals who attempt to replicate, in every detail (except killing), the experiences of the soldiers. These discussions have said such things as, "you cannot help but find them absurd." Actually, I didn't find them absurd. While admitting that they derive their enjoyment from an extremism that I find unthinkable, their desire to understand what their ancestors endured, to come to grips with this quintessentially American conflict that created the modern United States is easily understood.While there are many funny moments in the book, it is not one of unadulterated pleasure. We catch a glimpse of the fact that, despite the century from the Civil War to Civil Rights, the conflict is still being fought in many places, sometimes with guns. In fact, the book implies that it is getting worse and that, once again, the country is starting to consider whether it is really a single nation.Pleasant at times, funny at times, thought-provoking at times, I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Civil War. Look at it as one piece of a jigsaw puzzle of opinions that are still very important to who we are.
Tony Horwitz travels through the South meeting with people who have a devotion to the Confederacy that borders on insanity at times ("Cats of the Confederacy" is the best). Yet, Horwitz patiently and sympathetically lets the people he meets speak their peace and really allows their humanity to shine through. This is a very insightful, funny, and sometimes frightening book about America today.