Period Rush: Why the South is still Living in the Past

Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic was by far the best reading we’ve been assigned the whole quarter. He has a way of writing that just allows the reader to get lost in the book. All the material was interesting and much of it was hilarious. The only slightly boring parts were when we were given the background of people that he was talking to on his trip. To be honest, I don’t care that Jamie Westendorff was an alligator wrestler or that he has a catering business. The only thing relevant to his story was that he also worked as a plumber and that this allows him to look in old privy holes for discarded historic treasures. On the other hand, I understand that Horwitz was attempting to give life to his characters and make them seem like real people with real lives, because they were, so it was still worth reading.

Throughout the first seven chapters of his book, and the last half which I have yet to read but am planning to get to, Horwitz travels throughout the South trying to figure out why the people who live there are still hung up on the Civil War 130 years after its conclusion,

civil-war
Photos like these make some people feel connected to the past, as if they were really there. Source: National Archives Civil War photos, http://www.archives.gov/reseach/military/civil-war/photos

the book was written in the 1990s so it would be about 150 years now. He visits multiple historical sites and monuments, which you can look further into here with a reading through the Imperiled Promise (see how the Organization of American Historians focuses on how Slavery and the Civil War are interpreted in the national Parks), that were part of the Civil War and the history of the South. He also speaks to many eccentric characters who give him insights about the happenings of the South both in the past and how that prevails into the present. He asks those that he encounters why they are hooked on the War and why it’s still so important to them. Many of those that he talks to have ancestors that fought in the War so they feel connected to that past like Mike Hawkins whose great-great-grandpa lost his leg in the War and claims that when he “looks at these pictures [from the War] it’s. . .like [he] was there way back when.” (30)

Horwitz made a detour in his journey when he looked into the recent death of 19-year-old Michael Westerman. Westerman was shot and killed by 3 black teenagers. His pickup truck

stars and bars
The Stars and Bars, or the Confederate battle flag, is very controversial even today and its display may have helped lead to the death of Westerman. Source: http://www.buyconfederateflag.org

sported a confederate flag and there had supposedly been some racial slurs called out by him or his wife, Hannah. This aggravated the three boys and a car chase ensued and shots were fired leading Westerman to be shot in the chest, dying in a hospital the next day. Throughout Horwitz travels he noticed how the South seems to be unchanged from the time after the war, as if reconstruction had never happened, or that most white southerners just wish that it never had. It seems that there are some places close to home like this as well as you can read about the many ‘whites only’ covenants that still exist here in Spokane here. Even if the covenants are not enforced the fact that they still exist as part of the deeds to some homes and properties is somewhat frightening.

Horwitz also took part in a Civil War reenactment with a few friends that he had met at the very beginning of his journey. This chapter was particularly entertaining to read as many of the reenactors do not take their parts as seriously as some of the others do. One man offered Horwitz some hardtack and presented him with some Ritz crackers while others that had ‘died’ in battle “lay propped on their elbows” (132) talking to those still in battle as well as their fellow ‘dead.’ Others take the battle seriously, such as Rob Hodge, who went as far as making his own clothes and eating only food that would have been eaten during the time period among other measures. When someone takes part in a reenactment seriously like this it is called a “period rush” (7) because it’s as if they are really going back in time. I

reenactment
From when I went to a Civil War reenactment last summer.

related well to this chapter because I went to a reenactment last summer at “the Battle of Deep Creek.” There I was able to see exactly what Horwitz described, from the ‘dead’ talking to each other to people being deeply in character with rebels referring to the war as the War of Northern Aggression.

Horwitz’s last stop with our readings was to visit Shelby Foote and hear his take about the Civil War, straight from his mouth. The question and answer that stood out the most to me was when Horwitz asked, “Why did the South in particular cling to remembrance of the War?” and Foote came back saying, “It was fought in our own backyard. . .you’re not apt to forget something that happened on your own property.” (146) It really made me understand just why the South isn’t keen to forget a century and a half later. Overall, Horwitz’s story is intriguing and I can’t wait to find the time to get back to finishing it and see the answers that others give to the same question.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s