on May 27, 2004
Although I don't know more than the average person about the Civil War, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that it is still with us somehow. Tony Horwitz's "Confederates in the Attic" confirmed that suspicion and in a most amusing, touching, and balanced way.
A War reenactor friend recommended I read the book. We were talking about the modern-day states rights concerns and he said that the debate had its origins at Fort Sumter. So, I picked up the book thinking it would simply be a survey of what I now know is called neo-Confederate thought. But I was more than a little bit thrilled to find that it was not just a sociological study, but also a travelogue-probably my favorite kind of book.
After returning to the States from an extended time abroad, Horwitz's childhood interest in the Civil War-and especially Rebels-was rekindled after a band of hardcore reenactors showed up in his yard on their way to a battlefield. Soon he began to tour the South visiting relevant War sites and interviewing the Confederate descendants that kept that cause's heritage alive. Horwitz's has an amazing gift for storytelling and it shines through in this book. He has an uncanny ability to come across mundanely interesting characters in his travels and to write their stories with an original verve.
The book is also balanced. Although he is a Yankee, Horwitz's affinity for the Rebels is evident. But he checks that affinity with a good dose of history and reality. He conveys the notion that the South's resentment of the North is not wholly unjustified, but actually often well placed. At the same time, though, he illustrates the willful naivete that makes Gods of Confederate generals and that forgets the Old South's uglier sides. Horwitz manages to do all this while highlighting not just the tragic, but also the fun and curious stories of the Civil War and its remnants today.
Every American should strive to learn a bit more about the War, and this is a great place to start. It's a fun, touching read that demonstrates why that chapter in our history is still important-and indeed still with us-today.
on June 16, 1998
Confederates in the Attic is a good read, but the subtitle, Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, needs to be understood. This is not an exhaustive study of an issue, but snapshots taken on a journey around the edges; and, it is important to keep in mind, that the one taking the pictures chooses the subjects. In this case, it is the fringe subjects he has chosen. If you do keep that in mind, you can enjoy each snapshot without trying to make it fit into a bigger picture. This is not easy to do since it seems Horwitz himself forgets the dispatch philosophy and tries to bring a continuity to the work by tying it together under the theme of simmering southern racism and the dissenting opinions over the meaning of the Rebel batttle flag. Horwitz is at his best when he simply tells the story and lets it speak for itself. When he tries to extrapolate some greater theme, he gets into trouble. In a work this size, he can not exhaust a subject to present needed objectivity. He reminds me of the blind man grabbing the tail of an elephant and declaring the elephant is like a rope. Read this book like you're looking at the tail of the elephant and enjoy it for what it is--good stories, well told. But don't for a minute think you're viewing the whole elephant.
on February 8, 2000
This book started strong, keeping me rapt, but dragged at the end. Unlike a lot of the previous reviewers, I thought the emphasis on reënactment was rather dull. More interesting were Horwitz's conversations with Shelby Foote and Lee Collins, the HPA president in Atlanta. Collins made a great point when he said the Stars and Stripes flew over slavery for 80 years, while the battle flag never did. I also disagree with other Southerners that this book was totally biased. Sure it was written by a bleeding-heart Yankee, but I thought he did a fairly good job of keeping his personal views quiet, with a few notable exceptions.
I must warn Yankees, however, that this book doesn't really give a great example of what you should expect to encounter when you come to the South. Yes, Southerners take pride in being Southern and honor their Confederate heroes, but it's not as immediate a concern to most people as Horwitz would have you believe. Southerners mainly just don't like always being portrayed by the Northern media as rednecks and racists, when the North has just as many of both. Often this is why we hold dear our Confederate heritage as a kind of fraternal solidarity-bloc to fend off Northern bias.
All in All, good read...in short, you won't put it down before you're done.
on December 19, 2004
When this book first came out, I was concerned that it would, like so many books, paint those who still memorialize the Confederacy as either rabid racists or slack-jawed yokels. However, the photograph of Robert Lee Hodge on the cover kept calling me. Once I took the plunge, I couldn't pull myself out. He critically examines Southrons and our obsession for the War Between The States, yet he does so with pathos, respect, objectivity, and a sense of humor. I haven't enjoyed a vicarious road trip this much since reading Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. The chronicle is worth reading, if for nothing else, the 'Gasm with Rob Hodge. He draws some interesting parallels between those re-enacting the 1860's and those attempting to re-enact the 1960's as well.
on February 27, 1999
The reviews of this odyssey (70+ at the time of this writing) are more telling than the book. With only a couple of exceptions, non-southerners believe that the book is 5 star, inciteful, revealing ,etc. (how would they know-is it beause the book mimics Hollywood sterotypes?), while the southerners believe that the book is at least dishonest and arrogant. Even though I rate it 3 stars, I must agree with the southerners (but I am one). I give it 3 stars because the subject deserves them despite Mr. Horowitz's sometimes sophmoric and often repetitious treatment. He is a good writer, but I was truly diappointed at his carefully chosen anectdotal snapshots, and wonder at the ones he must have omitted. I thought it was an interesting read and understand the 5 star ratings, but I found myself trying to figure out what was honestly reported and what was not. Its pretty bad when one S.C. reviewer writes (while giving 5 stars): "I live in S.C. and was not aware of all the characters down here." Exactly.
In sum , please read the excellent reviews by Penn. 8-23-98, Wisc. 8-10-98, Miss. 7-6-98, Ala. 6-16-98, USA 5-26-98, and take the book with a grain of salt. Consider what could be written and embellished upon if a southerner (or even Mr. Horowitz)took a 2 year trip through D.C., Phil., Newark and NYC. Or the steel towns-what would the steel workers be?-hardworking, honest, blue collar Americans or ignorant, Labor Socialist, racists(black and white). It's easy to be prejudiced and myopic. I had hoped for more from him. Lastly, I question his eye. Has he been to the same Cold Harbor battlefield that I have? It's actually pretty well preseved, ground works and all, although in a low key fashion. It has a mixed grave yard. It even has a farm house that served as a Union field hosptital (and Lee's headquarters). A plaque notes that the family/owners were relocated to the basement where blood ran on them through the floor boards. I have similar gripes about his observations of important sites at Richmond and Lexington, Va.
on February 28, 2007
Tony Horwitz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, takes to the road yet again, traveling from state to state in the American south, delivering one of the best guides to contemporary American attitudes on a specialized subject that's ever been written. In large part the intelligently penned and entirely addictive Confederates in the Attic is a mythbusters for the Civil War crowd. I know Tony Horwitz, author of Baghdad Without A Map, didn't intend it that way, but how else can you see this enjoyable travelogue when every chapter dispels at least one nugget of falsely cherished American folklore?
Permit me to mention but a few:
General Robert E. Lee, that beloved "marble man" iconic hero of admirers the world over, someone oft-billed as a non-slave owning Virginian, actually owned slaves until the end of 1863.
The infamous Hornet's Nest at Shiloh was in reality not the centerpoint of the battle, and in fact was among the least hotly contested and bloody spots on the sprawling field.
The first shots of the war were, as everyone knows, fired in Charleston Harbor, but not at Fort Sumter in April 1861, rather in January of that year at a Northern steamer called Star of the West.
Henry Wirz, the infamous commandant of the Andersonville "concentration camp" in southern Georgia was executed as much for his refusal to implicate his superiors as for his supposed mismanagement of the Hell-ish camp.
Horwitz also refers to Traveller, Lee's most famous mount (more favored by the General than his secondary steed, Ajax) as a "she". Assuming this was not a typo, then how many knew General Lee rode through the war on a mare?
But this book is much more than a mere exercise in mythbusting. It stands as an exploration of how the Civil War still affects the culture in which we Americans live today. One thing Horowitz exposed was how ignorant of the conflict too many modern Americans are. In one of his final chapters he revealed that even in Alabama, heart of Dixie, only half of college-age individuals could name a single Civil War battle. Horwitz's meeting with an Georgia-based representative of a pro-Confederate heritage special interest lobby pointed out the thought-provoking fact that those who revile the supposed racism inherent in the flying of the Stars and Bars should bear in mind that our own national flag, Old Glory herself, flew over legalized slavery for nearly half its history as a symbol.
And those sorts of factoids are what makes Confederates in the Attic so compelling. It opens the mind even as it interests a reader on a more personal and broader level. It's a lot of fun to tag along through the pages of the longest chapter of the book, the winsomely named "Civil Wargasm" and be a party to stories of camping in the dead of night on Antietam's Bloody Lane or to pore over paragraphs concerning the final resting place of Thomas Jackson's amputated arm, but it's even more rewarding to wrestle with the philosophical challenges one encounters scores of times in Horwitz's four-hundred pages.
Something else I gleaned from the two days I spent reading this unique book. Those people most Americans would most readily accuse of racism---Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederate flag aficionados, Deep Southern figures with much regional pride---are often the most open-minded and least racist sorts out there. Consequently, as Horwitz's journey to a mostly black high school in southern Alabama demonstrates, racism and phobic misunderstanding of others' of divergent ethnicity is by no means confined to those of European heritage.
Confederates in the Attic might just be the best book I've read this year.
on May 1, 2000
let me begin this review by saying that I am somewhat of a Civil War aficionado. Having said that, no other book that I have read has bridged the ap between the Civil War and the present as well as Tony Horwitz's CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC.
Horwitz, whose national reporting and war correspondence I have admired in the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, is once again in top form. The urbanity and sophistication of those two periodicals contrasts nicely with the rural south he reports on in this book. After moving to Virginia and meeting local Civil War reenactors, be takes a two year-long Odyssey through fourteen southern states to explore the legacy of the Civil War. William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor combined could not have created such a menegerie of bizarre southern gothic characters.
On his voyage, he encounters Civil War reenactors so "hardcore" that their wives have left them. He encounters hate groups, explores the Confederate Flag controversey, investigates a racially motivated murder, ends up waist-deep in Confedeate kitch, and wanders into a meeting of the "children of the confederacy" eerily reminiscent of a Hitler-youth group.
This book appeals to both northerners and southerners, because it accomplishes te seemingly contradictory tasks of appreciating southern heritage while satirizing the southerners who have not yet forgiven the "Yankees" for destroying their newly formed Confederacy. The names of the chapters "At the Foote of the master," "The Civil Wargasm," and "Gone With the Window" show how the author keeps a satirical tone while appreciating the legacy of the Civil War. This book is an incredible piece of scholarship and journalism.
on June 9, 2011
When I bought the book, I had not heard anything about it and figured it would be an homage to the old South and to those who value their Southern roots and heritage.
Once I sat down to read it, I was a bit startled to find that it was written by some fellow named Horowitz who was born in DC and went to Brown and Columbia Universities. In the beginning, it appeared that the author was going to trash practically every quirky Southern character and every aspect of Southern heritage he came across. It didn't help me to find that he is married to Geraldine Brookes, the decidedly Confed-aphobic author of "March", about the abolitionist father who is away from home during the entire story told in "Little Women".
Things didn't look good for the South as Horowitz started telling his tale. And that's pretty much how it went ... up until he met Robert Lee Hodge, that is.
Robert Lee Hodge is not only the subject of the cover photo on the book, he is also probably the most dedicated hardcore reenactor alive. Once Horowitz got together with Rob Hodge, his his research ... and for that matter, his education ... really began. During their hilarious first meeting, Hodge's boys introduce Horowitz to their primitive cold camp and a diet of hardtack and coffee, as well as the quaint practice of "spooning" to keep warm on a frigid night in the field. Soon they embark together on what Hodge affectionately calls a "Civil War-gasm" ... a mile-a-minute attempt to see and experience the greatest amount of Civil War history in the shortest amount of time possible.
Along the way, through Hodge's dedication and knowledge, Horowitz develops a greater awareness, respect, and appreciation of what he is really writing about. Benefiting from Hodge's contribution, he redirects his narrative and thus produces something I doubt he actually had in mind when he began.
Some readers have offered reviews without completing the entire book, while others accept the biased and negative preconceptions of those who read the book hoping Horowitz would lean one way or the other idealistically. That's a shame.
"Confederates in the Attic" presents a wonderful overall exposure to almost every aspect of the heritage of the Civil War as it manifests itself in our world today. It is at once, humorous, enlightening, disturbing, educational, and thought-provoking.
Read the book with an open mind and see if you don't agree.
on April 29, 1998
After recently reading Confederates, I found myself between 2 strong emotions. One being the amazement of how well the story flowed from one point to another and the other being the feeling of a connection with other reenactors.
Yes, I am a CW Reenactor in the East. I have had the pleasure of knowing about the Southern Guard and have even heard of Rob Hodge before. Some of the stories in the book are right in with what I have been fortunate enough to experience in this hobby, but some seem to be Mr.s Horwitz's interpretation and slanted on Mr. Hodge's impression. Don't take everything you read as fact about the hobby.
Another point that seems to be a underlying tone through out the book is the reliance on racism to drive most of the story. Mr. Horwitz tries to tie most stories together with some angle regarding slavery or the Civil Rights movements of the '60s or with racism of today. Granted there are those on the fringe of society that seem to garner some sort of pleasure from making others feel bad about themselves or by by trying to elevate themselves above others. This is on both sides of the problem and is not just part of the Southern Culture, but part of the larger American Culture.
As to the book, I found it a good read and saw that there were good points and stories, but I can not recommend the book due to what I feel is a bias against people who live in the South who choose to live differently and choose to take the time to remember and honor their ancestors.
on December 13, 2012
Just from the number of reviews it is obvious that this book has had a big impact. I come to it at the end of 2012 and could rate in 1 star or 5 stars depending on which of the many emotions it stirred in me is foremost at the moment. So the 3 star rating is a compromise. First, let me explain that I am a Yankee born and raised, but have lived in the South for almost 2 decades now. My sister also has lived just outside of Savannah, GA for over 20 years and before that Little Rock and so on. She is an avid student of the war and an ardent admirer of Sherman with a huge portrait of the General in the two story foyer of her home. That says something right there don't you think? A Sherman admirer living unperturbed in Georgia for over 20 years. Neither of us would be able to say that we find the kind of vituperation or racism that Horwitz described as so densely woven into the fabric of modern Southern culture. I am sure it exists among a small minority, but it is hardly the norm. So on accuracy, which I will define as a true picture of the mores of Southern Society in the late 20th and into the early 21st Century, this book rates only one star. On the other hand, it is a fun book to read and the shear energy and effort that the author put into it are commendable. 5 stars. Certainly the book could stand an update in the aftermath of Southern support for President Obama. States like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida seem to belie most of Horwitz's final assessment. But the facts and conclusions reached by Horwitz himself are not really important. The main contribution of this book is the adventure itself. If others followed the same path he took, they could have a rollicking good time. Read this book for the shear fun of it.