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REVIEW ESSAY We've Got to Get Out ofThis Place Tony Horwitz Tours the CivilWar South by Grace Elizabeth Hale Andwhatpettyprensión to quibble aboutlocations in space orchronology, who to care orinsistNov? come, old man, teU the truth: did you see this? Were you reaUy there? . . . This Warain't over. Hitjuststartedgood. . . . A dream is not a very safe thing to be near. — William Faulkner, The Unvanquished s Tony Horwitz describes it in his new book, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatchesfrom the Unfinished Civil War, one day he simply woke up in the field. On a late winter morning, a group ofreenactors foUowed by a film crew fought their way up the road in front ofhis old house in the foothiUs ofthe Blue Ridge Mountains . Horwitz begins his ethnography of CivU War sites and remembrance communities barely out ofhis pajamas, drinking coffee with the self-named Soudiern Guard. The conversation turns into an invitation to join them, an offer the boyhood CivU War-buff turned Pulitzer Prize-winning journaHst cannot refuse. As the field broadens beyond die reenactors to include "the places and people who kept memory ofthe conflict aHve in the present day" (1 8), Horwitz takes us along for the tour.1 We visit meetings of the United Daughters, Sons, and Children of the Confederacy, Fort Sumter and AndersonviUe Prison, batdegrounds from ShUoh to the WUderness, members of the Councü of Conservative Citizens and die Heritage Preservation Association, cemeteries from SaHsbury, North Carolina , to Richmond, Virginia, and Confederate memorials from the "Confederate Yankee" in Kingstree, South CaroHna, to the mammoth-sized monument carved into the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia. The journey, however, is both hüarious and horrifying, as much for the assumptions Horwitz brings along as for the people he visits. THE PARADOX OF CIVIL WAR PASTS The reenactors, and to a large degree the rest of the CivU War rememberers portrayed here, in fact, practice a very strange kind ofhistory. And I do not mean "strange" as in these loonies must be southern whites, a characterization that runs deep in American popular culture. When the X-Files runs a story about a 54 Dustjacket ^Confederates in die Attic by Tony Horwit^ (Pantheon Books, 1998). freakish white incestuous famüy, they haul out an old tintype of a Confederate soldier to ground their identities. They are, they must be, they could not be anybody other than white southerners. Horwitz not only avoids such blatant condescension ; he offers empathy and compassion and a highly sophisticated ethnography instead. He does not even mention the birthplace of the guy peeing on his buttons to oxidize the brass down to that authentic 1 860s patina, and he is never guüty ofthis kind ofeasy caricature ofthe region's whites. No, by strange I do not mean the people themselves any more than Horwitz does. I mean their concept of the past. The CivU War remembrance Horwitz chronicles is a very ahistorical history indeed. That Horwitz does not tackle this problem direcdy damages what is often a compulsively engaging and insightful book. Yet his conversations with a wide array of reenactors as weU as his musings on his own boyhood fascination with the war provide a wealdi of suggestions for why people use the past as escape from the very present past actions have wrought. "I quickly became lost in the CivU War, as I'd been so often since our return to America" (8), he says near the beginning of Confederates. The Civil War becomes a way to escape his own culture shock, the doubled difference of returning, transformed by his travels, to an America that has changed gready in the nine years he has been away. He cannot We've Got to Get Out ofThis Place 5 5 deeply examine the conception ofhistory as a space ofinnocence, as our national chüdhood, that permeates present-day CivU War remembrance because he also practices it. Reenactors talk about the CivU War as a diversion, a kind ofvacation from the present. "This is escapism. For forty-eight hours you eat and sleep and march when someone else teUs you to. There is no responsibiHty" (16), claims one. Another man adds, "I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 54-66
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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