Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz validates the significance of the Civil War in that it stresses its lasting effect on the American psyche. Many people in the South glorify the war and romanticize history as though the Confederate battles were largely about states’ rights and the defense of the southern economy, rather than about slavery. Yet slavery and oppression drove the southern economy, and so the southern states fought to preserve the institution of slavery.
To write the book, Horowitz talked to Civil War enthusiasts whose obsession with the war compels them to reenact Civil War scenarios, and he found them to be a diverse group of people whose obsession with the war was usually an obsession with the culture war between Northern and Southern values—and in many cases this came down to the topic of race. In fact, Horowitz found that racism was a motivating factor behind much of the behavior, and Civil War reenactors romanticize the war and venerate a culture that enslaved millions of people. Their staunch defense of the Confederacy shows that the effects of the War are pervasive in society, particularly in southern society, as the sentiments that divided America during the conflict continue to divide America today.
Horwitz brings a personal angle to his reportage in Confederates in the Attic. The opening and closing chapters detail his own lifelong fascination with the Civil War. Like many of the contemporary Southerners he speaks to, his interest in the topic has been passed down through the generations. Horwitz’s great-grandfather and father were themselves enthusiasts of Civil War history, as Horwitz describes in the introduction. And in the final chapter, Horwitz describes reconnecting with his father’s passion for the Civil War. His father, a retired neurosurgeon, has become interested in the medical dimension of the war, and two men make a tradition of attending an annual Civil War medicine conference in Frederick, Maryland. As a result of his own passion for Civil War history, Horwitz is able to connect with the material—and with many of his interviewees—at a personal level, despite the numerous instances in which ideological differences intervene.
Indeed, Horwitz’s mode of first-person journalism—often known as gonzo journalism—is appropriate, given the author’s closeness to the material. This format sets the tone of the book, which is often humorous and free-wheeling. Horwitz’s journeys across the Southern states occasionally gives the book the character of a road-trip narrative. Each stop along the way offers a slice-of-life view of the local culture, a particular window into the lasting influence of the Confederacy and the Civil War on the contemporary South.
Last Updated on June 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1994
At the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, Tony Horwitz woke in his Virginia home to the sounds of the Civil War. This is the beginning point of Horwitz’s engaging and revealing examination of the significance presently attached to the “War Against Northern Aggression” in the American South. Like V. S. Naipaul’s A Turn in the South (1989) and Jonathan Raban’s Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America (1992), Confederates in the Attic gives an outsider’s view of this contradictory place called the South, a place of both geographical and mythological origins. Horwitz is the descendant of Russian Jews who came to America at the beginning of the century. He grew up in the industrial North, but, like his grandfather before him, Horwitz was fascinated by the Civil War and found himself drawn inexplicably to the Confederate side. He tells us that as a child he pored over Mathew Brady...
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