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Tue June 26, 2012
Good Read: Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
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. 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.
Kate Lochte says:
“If you weren’t raised in the South, you ought to read this book. Todd Hatton lent me Confederates in the Attic. It is an entertaining read but a disturbing one. The most striking chapters, probably because of their closeness to where we live, include Kentucky: Dying for Dixie and Tennessee: The Ghost Marks of Shiloh. The Kentucky chapter is about the 1995 Michael Westerman killing in Guthrie, the birthplace of one of my favorite authors, Robert Penn Warren, just down the road from Murray. The Shiloh chapter is about how some Civil War buffs show up at the Tennessee battlefield before dawn each April 6, the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody battle of 1862 won at tremendous cost by the USA. The modern-day folks try to retrace the battle through the journals of soldiers who fought there and wind up believing they’re seeing the ghosts of the real soldiers and hearing their musket fire as well. Shiloh’s an easy drive from Murray and worth the visit.
“Other interesting stuff in Confederates in the Attic… Horwitz travels with a hardcore Civil War re-enactor who specializes in “bloating” – that would be swelling himself up to look like a dead soldier for re-enactor photographic tableaux. Together Horwitz and the re-enactor complete what’s called a “Civil Wargasm” where they visit as many battlefields as they can in a weekend, dressed in smelly clothes and sleeping in ditches. They drive to each one, but while there use journals to reenact what the real soldiers experienced. It’s pretty miserable for the re-enactors, so they can fully imagine the plight and peril of the original soldiers. Another revealing chapter is Horwitz’ trip to the little town that hosts the remains of the notorious Andersonville Prison. Horwitz uncovers some pretty bizarre, lingering feelings about the war that are worth understanding – and he does so without malice or condescension even when anti-Semitism emerges.
“Again, if you’re new to South (and western Kentucky was the South in Civil War days), this is recommended background reading as you settle in your new home.”
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