Thursday, August 6, 2009

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

The Vicksburg siege produced other oddities. The Confederacy experimented with camels, and one colonel used a dromedary to carry his personal baggage until a Union sharpshooter killed the animal. There were also Vicksburg´s famed caves, dug by civilians as protection against the Union bombardment. Some of these burrows became elaborate affairs, furnished with carpets and beds and serviced by slaves. But most were crude, crowded dugouts that one resident described as ¨rat holes.¨Like the soldiers, civilians also saw food supplies dwindle to a meager daily ration. When beef ran out, they ate mule meat, frogs and rats.
Tony Horwitz´s book about the Confederacy´s lasting legacy makes for great reading. Horwitz has met some of the strangest people and relates some of the oddest facts I´ve never heard about a war we all studied in high school. Horwitz, posessing an interest in the War Between the States (I´m going to try and work in as many Civil War euphemisms into this article as possible) since childhood, sets off on what turns into a multi year mission to examine several aspects of the war and its effects on the South today.
Horwitz begins his journey with a troupe of Confederate reinactors led by Robert Lee Hodges (named after the South´s most famous general, and generally dismissive of ¨farbs,¨or those who only take their reinactments halfway). As he travels throughout most of the South, he happens upon the Sons, Daughters and Children of the Confederacy, a group that allows him to see just how reticent some Southerners are to let the War of Northern Aggression go unmemorialized. Horwitz´s travels turn into an exploration of anything and everything having to do with the war, including but not limited to the Confederate flag, Southern Jews, race relations in Southern Kentucky, and the Klan. He even relates a story from Vicksburg of a minie ball, a type of shot, that passed through a soldier´s genitals and into the abdomen (and presumably uterus) of a nearby woman, impregnating her. Or so her mother said when confronted with her unmarried daughter´s pregnancy.
This book was full of interesting facts and stories. My copy is completely dog eared from trying to pinpoint funny stories, and I´m leaving it here in Honduras with Wheeler, an 82 year old missionary who is interested in the War of Northern Aggression. It took me a while to read because while interesting, it was dense. And had the uncanny ability to put me to sleep after about 5 pages. Read it if you like historical nonfiction or the Civil War. Otherwise, it may not hold your attention. I thought Horwitz´s writing style was similar to Bill Bryson...this book is written travel log style.


Carlton Farmer said...

I had to read this for a class 4 or 5 years back. I seem remember an encounter with some man who kept quote from the Doors ("break on through to the other side") or something like that.
I remember really liking the book a lot. Very entertaining/engrossing.

Brent Waggoner said...

Yeah, this book is hilarious. It's amazing the lengths to which some of these guys go for accuracy.

Carlton Farmer said...

I didn't realize you had read this book, Brent.

Brent Waggoner said...

Yeah, I read it a couple years ago. Maybe for 50B when I was the only one doing it. It's probably one of the funniest nonfiction books I've read.

Christopher said...

Our proud Southern traditions are nothing to laugh at, Brent.