Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In this sparkling book Horwitz explores some of our culture's myths with the irreverent glee of a small boy hurling snowballs at a beaver hat....An important contribution to understanding how echoes of the Civil War have never stopped." USA Today
"[B]y turns amusing, chilling, poignant, and always fascinating....a wonderfully piquant tale of hard-core reenactors, Scarlett O'Hara look-alikes, and people who reshape Civil War history to suit the way they wish it had come out. If you want to know why the war isn't over yet in the South, read Confederates in the Attic to find out." James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"A book that begins as a thoughtful and entertaining investigation of the enduring Southern fascination with the Civil War becomes an extended, and not entirely friendly or fair, survey of the racial views of white Southerners.... He is right to argue that white Southerners must exorcise the legacy of slavery and racism that has troubled the history of the South. He goes too far when he suggests that they ought also to disavow their ancestors and repudiate their past." National Review, Mark G. Malvasi
"Confederates in the Attic is the freshest book about divisiveness in America that I have read in some time....A splendid commemoration of the war and its Legacy....This rattling good read is an eyes-open, humorously no-nonsense survey of complicated Americans." The New York Times Book Review, Roy Blount Jr.
"Hilariously funny." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"[A] personal, penetrating glimpse at a slice of America many of us didn't know existed or would rather believe did not....Horwitz explores the intense fascination of the 'hard cores' with all things Civil War while coming to grips with his own, with neither judgment nor ridicule." The Boston Globe, Douglas Bailey
About the Author
Tony Horwitz first wrote about the South and the Civil War as a third-grader in
Maryland when he pencilled a book that began: "The War was started when after all
the states had sececed (sic)." He went on to write about war full-time as a
foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal
, reporting on conflicts in
Bosnia, the Middle East, Africa, and Northern Ireland. After a decade abroad,
Horwitz moved to a crossroads in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where he
now works as a staff writer for The New Yorker.
Confederates in the Attic is Horwitz's third book, following the national
bestseller, Baghdad Without A Map and other Misadventures in Arabia, and One For
The Road: Hitchhiking Through the Australian Outback, to be reissued this year by
Vintage. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1995,
and the Overseas Press Club Award for best foreign news reporting in 1992, for
his coverage of the Gulf War. Before becoming a reporter, Horwitz lived and
worked in rural Kentucky and Mississippi and produced a PBS documentary about
Southern timber workers.
A graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism, Horwitz and his wife Geraldine Brooks, also a journalist and
author have a young son, Nathaniel. They live in Waterford, Virginia.
Q: Where did you get the idea to write a book about the South and the Civil War?
A: It really began in childhood. While other boys in the 1960s built spaceship models and dressed as John Glenn for Halloween, I was busy painting Civil War battles on the walls of my attic bedroom. My parents thought I was strange. As I got older, my obsession shifted to the South in general, where I lived and worked for several years during and after college. I was fascinated by the South's fierce sense of identity and history, and by its troubled racial history.
Then I fell in love with an Australian (now my wife) and ended up following her overseas for ten years, where we worked as war correspondents. When I finally dragged her home to America in 1993, to rural Virginia, I was struck by how alive--and controversial--the Civil War remained in the South, even though Americans have managed to pretty much forget the rest of their history. I wanted to explore this contradiction--and also wanted an excuse to indulge my lifelong passion for the region and the War.
Q: How would you describe Confederates in the Attic? History? Sociology? Travelogue?
A: A bit of each. At heart it's a travel adventure that uses the Civil War as a lens through which to look at the contemporary South. There's a lot of history in the book, but it's mostly about how we remember the past and what that says about us in the present. The book's also a portrait of the places I go--cities like Charleston, Richmond, and Vicksburg, and the backcountry South from the Carolinas to the Mississippi--and the often bizarre characters I meet.
Q: Speaking of bizarre, a lot of the attention given to Confederates has focused on your experiences as a "hardcore" Civil War reenactor. Did that surprise you? Any other striking responses to the book?
A: I was a little surprised that people talked so much about the handful of reenacting episodes. I intended them mainly as comic relief, a break from the more serious chapters, such as the one on a racially-motivated murder and trial in Kentucky.
The most pleasant surprise for me is that more than half those attending my readings, or writing to me about the book, have been women. People tend to think of the Civil War as a "guy thing." But many women are drawn to the War, too, particularly in recent years, with the Ken Burns series and books like Cold Mountain.
Perhaps it's also that some of the most colorful characters in Confederates are women: a salty-mouthed Confederate widow in Alabama, a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara, a black activist in Selma, Alabama. They bring a very different perspective to the subject than the men I meet, many of whom are obsessed with battlefield history.
Q: Do you find a regional variation in responses to your book?
A: Absolutely. Most Southerners, I think, read the book with some sense of recognition--and often with a degree of defensiveness. They're accustomed to talking openly about issues such as race and regional identity, which makes for very lively and occasionally fiery discussions (I was heckled at one reading). At the same time, I think Southerners have a better-developed sense of humor than other Americans and they really respond to the comic parts of the book.
A lot of Northern readers, on the other hand, seem stunned and a bit uneasy about what's in the book. They keep asking me, "Is it really like that down South?" They often can't believe that so many Southerners are still wrapped up in the Civil War and remain unapologetic supporters of the Confederacy.
All of which confirms for me one of the central themes of the book--that the Civil War is still being fought, and that the South remains a very distinct region.
Q: In many ways, this is a book about obsession--yours as well as the nation's--with the past. What's the psychological root of this?
A: There isn't one, easy answer to that. But I do think most of the people I met share a low-grade discontent with modern life. We're very lucky to live at a time in our history that's prosperous and secure. But it's also an era that seems to lack meaning and drama--at least compared to the 1860s, when people lived and died for grand causes.
I also think a lot of people, myself included, feel oppressed by America's TV culture and strip-mall sameness. The Civil War's a way to flee all that, to enter a landscape and way of life that seem somehow more romantic and more real than our own. I guess that's what I wanted to do with this book--escape for awhile and take readers along for the ride.