A couple years ago, I read an excerpt from this book in the New Yorker and I was fascinated by the author's half-admiring, half-incredulous account of "super hardcore" Civil War re-enactors who are obsessed with recreating the experience of a common Confederate foot soldier. For the sake of authenticity, and in the hopes of attaining a peak experience during which they feel time melting away, these guys will endure anything, including meagre rations authentic to the period; sleeping all night in the open, unprotected from insects, or in the rain or in freezing temperatures; and especially obsessed with getting their handmade, homespun clothing right, down to the grease spots, authentically oxidized buttons, etc. These guys do reenactment like it's a religious experience or at least performance art. Well, the book spends a lot of time with these guys, but it's about much, much more than that. It's a complex, fascinating look at why the Lost Cause continues to appeal to the American imagination. In parts, this book is hilarious, but it's also genuinely sympathetic in its exploration of why people remain invested in these old stories. And it's far too smart and morally complex to settle for easy nostalgia. Everywhere he goes, the author also asks Black Southerners how they feel about the whole Civil War obsession. In part, also, the book is an elegy for the rural, 19th-century south, fast giving way to the New South, as battlefields are hidden under subdivisions and the parking lots of Piggly Wigglys. All this somehow adds up to one of the best nonfiction portraits of America that I've read in a long time.
I'd love to take an adventure as Horwitz does to delve further into subjects like these (Confederate war re-enactors, post-Civil War south, etc.)
The dedication (?) page has a quote that sums up the book really well:
"Southerners are very strange about that war."
I don't think I could do better than that with a 2000 word review. Southerners (of which I'm kind of one) are very strange about that war, and it's scary.
Great read about some people in the South's view of "the war of northern aggression" - even today! Very entertaining book!
I really got a lot out of this book. I hesitate to say 'enjoy' because some of the experiences the author endured were less than enjoyable, but the book remains relevant and is very interesting. As a living historian, I can attest to the fact that there *are* people who live the way these guys do. To walk in their shoes for a little while was enlightening, to say the least. I recommend this book.