Although this work of non-fiction was written in the 1990’s, it’s especially pertinent today. Journalist and Civil War enthusiast Tony Horwitz took a journey through the South, following the path of the great Civil War battles. Sometimes he went as a reenactor, and sometimes as a journalist, interviewing various Southerners about their view of the Civil War and civil rights.
I think it helped that Horwitz had a penchant for Civil War history himself, because throughout his interviews, he was able to remain objective and allow the reader to see the human side of the subjects he interviewed. I greatly enjoyed hearing the stories and learning why many Southerners hold on to their Confederate past.
My family didn’t emigrate to the United States until after the Civil War, and they settled in the North, so all this is relatively new to me. But I have a love of history and spent many years researching the family genealogy, so I felt a kinship to these people who identify with their family’s history. From the grunt soldier re-enactor to the Scarlet O’Hara impersonator, they have an intrinsic understanding that the past has made them who they are today.
Recent events in Charlottesville have placed anyone who cherishes Southern history in the limelight, and not in a good way. That’s unfortunate, because these people generally take the good with the bad. They don’t claim that slavery was virtuous or that their heroes of the war were saints. But it is THEIR past, and they don’t want it erased. In today’s politically correct society, there is little tolerance for middle ground. If you own a rebel battle flag, you must be a racist.
Towards the end of his journey, he visited a high school history class in Selma, Alabama. The teacher, a black woman, told Horwitz that the US Civil War was not even part of the curriculum, but she chose to spend a little time teaching it anyway. The views of these teenagers was shocking, but it helped me to understand how we got to where we are today. Segregation may not be enforced anymore, but it’s freely chosen. The racial divide is greater than ever, and the ideology of race has become a mainstay of identity politics.
In August 2017, Horwitz wrote of piece for the Wall Street Journal, revisiting some of the subjects he interviewed for this book. I detected a drift away from the author’s warm, non-judging tone to one that is more fitting with today’s subjective journalism. It made me sad.
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1999
Amazon Book Preview of Confederates In The Attic