Re-enactors Unite

Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic

Tony Horwitz’s book is hilarious. Horwitz travels the South in search of Civil War remembrance, interviewing and participating in reenactments. He begins his journey in the Blue Ridge Mountains, meeting a “civil war bore” and many other “hardcore reenactors” who starve and lose weight in order to portray the real nineteenth century soldiers. (5) The reenactors describe their hobby as “escapism from the daily grind.” (16) In North Carolina Horwitz met with Daughters of the Confederacy who explained how they could not forget the war because they have lost so much.  One woman had lost her great great grandfather, Caleb Senter and although they never met, she remembers him like it was yesterday. Doug Tarlton, a man Horwitz met at the Lee-Jackson birthday party, says the Civil War days were a time when men were “fighting for their honor as men.” (35)

Civil War Reenactment 


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While looking through a catalogue of Confederate organizations in Salisbury, Horwitz found a children’s guide from 1854. The text showed feelings of slaves toward their masters which was “faithful and devoted”. (37) In South Carolina, he saw Civil War remembrance as a “four-year blip in Charleston’s long history.” (47) Charleston had been ravaged by fire and the union and remade into “a poor, proud ghost of the deflated South,” rather than into an image of a northern city. (50) At the market, however, rebel flags and Dixie shot glasses were found. Manning Williams, college professor and reenactor, is the leading secessionist in Charleston and explained to Horwitz that the Civil War is not the proper name because the war was actually a “war between two independent nations.” (68)

William Carter, a man Horwitz met in South Carolina and a group leader in the Council of Conservative Citizens, expressed his concerns of “the ethnic cleansing of Southern whites.” (79) Horwitz was discovering that the rebel flag meant different things to different people.  In North Carolina the symbolism of the rebel flag meant sacrifice and heritage toward their ancestors. Until traveling to Kentucky, Horwitz had not realized “the nineteenth-century conflict was still a shooting war.” (90) In Guthrie he was almost beaten up by a Lynyrd Skynyrd-clad KKK member. Horwitz escaped and then began following the trial of Freddie Morrow, where the last Confederate hero was shot to death in his truck in 1995. Morrow received a life sentence.

In Virginia reenactments were less about starving and offered Honeybuckets. One Butch McLaren was allowed to light “a posthumous cigarette” while explain how the Civil War was a simpler time, in a way. (133) Once the reenactment was finished, Horwitz, dressed in Confederate uniform, felt ashamed as he stood in front of African Americans at a grocery store. He realized how the war was not a game and the weapons were not toys. To some people, the reenactments meant “glorifying the battlefield valor and stoicism of civilians.” (144) In Shiloh, Stacy Allen, the park historian, explained how the Civil War could never die because the interest will never die.

In the best chapter title, “The Civil Wargasm,” hardcore reenactors traveled from Gettysburg to Antietam to the Shenandoah battlefields in a “dreamy, religious, holy trek.” (210) In Andersonville, where many soldiers “wasted away from diarrhea” Horwitz visited a Southernized version of the Civil War battle at the Prisoner of War museum. (322) Horwitz explains how the Civil War “had formed a vivid fantasy world” and although adult questions kept coming up, this journey was a “an attempt to rediscover that boyhood rapture.” (387)

Doonesbury’s Civil War Reenactor Series


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One thought on “Re-enactors Unite

  1. I also thought this book was hilarious, particularly Robert Lee Hodge. But Horwitz style started to bother me toward the end. He never really draws any conclusions or any lessons. He just presents a bunch of facts and leaves it at that. I think the book could have benefitted from some more analysis on his part.

    Liked by 1 person

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