Confederates in the Attic

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

The title CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC: DISPATCHES FROM THE UNFINISHED CIVIL WAR carries two meanings in Tony Horwitz’s thoughtful and entertaining exploration of the role of the American Civil War in the modern world of the South. The first meaning alludes to Horwitz’s personal interest in the war. As the grandson of a Russian Jew, Horwitz was raised in the North but early in his childhood developed a fascination with the South’s myth and history. He tells readers that as a child he wrote about the war and even constructed a mural of significant battles in the attic of his own home. One purpose of this book is to reexamine this connection, to question why a liberal Northerner, one who later became a student political worker and then a Pulitzer prize-winning foreign correspondent, should still find himself drawn to stories and figures that represent much that he has worked against in his own life.

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The second meaning refers to regional memory, the importance or lack thereof yet attached to this momentous national event. As Horwitz visits the sites throughout the South, he encounters unreconstructed rebels who still hold to outdated beliefs. He also meets groups of “reenactors,” devotees who attempt to relive the experience of the soldier’s life and death. One of his most disheartening and yet unsurprising realizations is that attitudes towards the war divide along racial lines. Too many whites wrap the memory in nostalgia, refusing to look beneath the myth. Too many blacks dismiss the war as meaningless to them or to their present existence.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, February 1, 1998, p. 895.

The Economist. CCCXLVII, June 13, 1998, p. S15.

Historic Traveler. V, November, 1998, p. 64.

Library Journal. CXXIII, February 1, 1998, p. 99.

National Review. L, June 22, 1998, p. 61.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, April 5, 1998, p. 7.

Newsweek. CXXXI, April 13, 1998, p. 77.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 5, 1998, p. 48.

The Wall Street Journal. April 2, 1998, p. A20.

The Wilson Quarterly. XXII, Spring, 1998, p. 108.

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