Sunday, October 26, 2014


A review of Tony Horwitz’s Confederate’s in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998)

(Rating 5 of 5)

I should begin with a simple disclaimer.  I have absolutely no sympathy or respect for “the Lost Cause of the South.”  I do not see the entire event as “complicated.” It is actually very simple.  In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.  He was first president who would not pay lip service to the institution of slavery as all of his fifteen predecessors had done, regardless of whatever their personal feelings on the matter.  He even dared to suggest that slavery in the territories of the United States should no longer be permitted and all new states admitted needed to be Free states.  This was so offensive to the leaders of the South that they went forth and committed treason by breaking up the nation and attempting to form their own where slavery could be practiced without challenge.  If you do not believe that go and read all the secession documents of the Southern legislatures, the Confederate Constitution, and speeches by Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stevens. 

            Nevertheless, the book is fascinating as Horwitz explores the South in the 1990s amongst those who care about the Civil War.  He comes across a diverse group of people from armature to hardcore reenactors, modern-day secessionists, and a famous historian in the now late Shelby Foote.

Confederate Reenactors
            Despite my disdain for the Lost Cause, I came to like many of the Southern characters that I came to know reading the book.  People like Rob Hodge one of the hardcore reenactors who distinguish themselves from those lesser reenactors they call “farbs.”  I do not have anything against the average Confederate soldier who took up arms for what he saw was an invader.  These reenactors also seem quite harmless.  They just excessive history buffs who want to know more about their ancestors and how they use to live, fight, and die.  I even felt very close to one of them, Mike Hawkins, who seemed the real world just disappointed him and he felt down about his life.  Hawkins finds his escapism following his own ancestor’s trials in the Civil War.  I can imprecated that.  As someone who has often felt let down by life, I often find an escape into the past but I do not take it to the same extremes that he does. 

            I also find some of the old Southern generals interesting, such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  I think if I was from the South, I might view those men the same way a German might view Erwin Rommel, I would appreciate genius while still despising the cause that they served.  One of the scenes that I thought was interesting was the comparison to Jackson’s early death to that of famous musicians.
            “The analogy wasn’t airtight.  Morrison and Hendrix were sex-crazed hippies who OD’d on drugs; Stonewall was a Bible-thumping teetotaler who sucked on lemons and sipped warm water because he thought the human body should avoid extremes.  But Rob was onto something.  If Jackson had survived and failed to change the course of the War, his luster might have dulled by the South’s eventual defeat.  ‘Better to burn out than to fade away,’ Rob wailed, echoing Neil Young.” (p.229)
            One of things I appreciated about this book is that it does not shy away from controversy.  It could have just as easily focused on small groups of hardcore reenactors but instead Horwitz chose to take on some of the more difficult questions, such as “Is there any real way to remember the Confederacy when the driving cause behind it was slavery?”  Should schools be named after men such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, who in my mind was nothing but a war criminal and hatemonger who founded the Ku Klux Klan.

            In the end I must say that this a great book that I would highly recommend to people who are interested in people who are interested in the U.S. Civil War.

{Video was created by DontcallmeMikey72 on YouTube}

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