Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War
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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.
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 Photographic 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
even more romantic. “It was like visiting another planet,” Peggy said. “And to think our ancestors lived like that. The only one of ours we’d heard about was a grandfather who went broke and lost his mind over the Civil War. He papered his living room with Confederate dollars.” She went quiet for a moment. “I was a good student, the first woman in my family to finish high school. Sometimes I wonder if there hadn’t been a Civil War, maybe I could have been a Margaret Mitchell.” Instead, Peggy had
suggested: Jubal, Mosby, Ashby, Armistead. We opted instead for another romantic figure from an earlier time: James Fenimore Cooper’s adventurer, Natty Bumppo. All summer, Geraldine nursed Natty while listening to the sound track from Last of the Mohicans, dreaming of the day he might run through the woods in moccasins and leather breeches, as his namesake had done. Me, I harbored a different fantasy. The upstairs bedroom we’d set aside for our son had old wooden beams and a sloping ceiling.
her schnauzer. I STAYED TWO WEEKS at the Holiday Motel, enduring its lumpy beds and stained carpet and threadbare covers, which forced me to deploy my ripped jacket as an extra blanket. Each morning, I breakfasted on a Styrofoam cup of watery coffee and a scratch-off lotto ticket from the convenience store across the road. I visited Robert Penn Warren’s childhood home, a Victorian bungalow at the corner of Third and Cherry, now a well-kept but forgotten shrine open only a few hours each week. I
(who lost an arm here, but still navigated the Colorado River and Grand Canyon after the War), William Le Baron Jenney (a future Chicago architect and “father of the skyscraper”), and a young soldier named Ambrose Bierce, whose morbid short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” would become a staple of junior high reading lists. Bierce also wrote a nonfiction essay called “What I Saw at Shiloh.” What he saw, through his Midwest farmboy’s eyes, was a forest so primeval that “I should not