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Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

By Tony Horwitz

Pub Date: March 18th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43978-1
Publisher: Pantheon

 Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Horwitz (Baghdad Without a Map, 1991, etc.) takes an eye-opening turn in the South, where his childhood obsession with the Confederacy collides with hard adult realities about race and culture in America. Growing up in Virginia, Horwitz painted rebel heroes on the walls of his attic bedroom. Returning home after a decade spent covering foreign wars, he launches a year-long ramble through the landscape of the Civil War, traveling from Virginia to Alabama in search of explanations for his (and America's) continuing interest in the conflict. Horwitz accompanies a hard-core reenactor obsessed with authenticity (and whose gruesome specialty--``bloating'' in imitation of a corpse--puts him in demand with artists and filmmakers) on ``the Civil Wargasm,'' a whirlwind seven-day tour of battlegrounds. He visits Shelby Foote and lesser known historians like Jimmy Olgers, an eccentric storekeeper whose folk museum sports a life-size statue of Robert E. Lee made from sheetrock. Trading notes with park rangers, Horwitz discovers that much of what he knows is more myth than fact and that historical misrepresentation at federally maintained battlefields is frequently abetted by local boosterism. Nowhere is the tension between past and present more raw and divisive than in Richmond, where proposals to honor Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue, the city's cavalcade of Confederate heroes, spur protests from whites and blacks alike. It's remarkable how much strong emotion the war still evokes (especially in the local taverns and gunshops Horwitz wisely seeks out) and how stubbornly it divides the country along racial lines--a division summed up bluntly by a redneck T-shirt that challenges blacks with a rebel battle flag over the caption ``You wear your X, I'll wear mine.'' Horwitz's reflective odyssey uncovers a profoundly disaffected nation, where battles over the Confederate flag, virulent antigovernment sentiment, and enduring ignorance and bigotry invite some dispiriting conclusions about the prospects for black/white rapprochement. (Author tour)