Is the Civil War over?

Sophie SmithGrowing up in Maine, I felt pretty confident that what I learned about the Civil War was true. And I was totally confident that it was over.

I mean, we’ve made it as a nation for an additional 150 years, I think you can call that a done deal.

But last week I picked up Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, and learned just how misguided I may have been.

Confederates in the Attic

“Confederates in the Attic” by Tony Horwitz is available from the library in hardcover.

Unhealed fractures
Horwitz builds on his childhood fascination with the Civil War to explore its lasting effects in the southern United States. He meets up with hardcore Civil War reenactors, talks to members of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and traipses around battlefields with everyone from racist crackpots to foreign genealogists. Throughout his grand tour, he meets people who still feel the historical fracture between the economically sound, elitist North, and the agriculturally based, populist, states’ rights-focused South.

The book is written in long vignettes that focus on a particular group of people or an event within each of the southern states. While each part adds to the whole, each can also stand alone, making this an easy book to put down and return to if you don’t have time for a prolonged read. It also makes a surprisingly good beach read—it’s certainly not the dry Civil War history you may have been force fed in high school.

Not what I learned in school
What was remarkable to me about this book was how much the sentiments Horwitz uncovered differed from my own.

Towards the end of the book, he visits with some high school classrooms currently studying the Civil War and finds the way the information is taught to vary greatly—depending on, to a large extent, the racial composition of the classroom.

Which brings me back to my own question—did I learn the true history of the Civil War in Northern New England? Do students in the Deep South get the truth? What about Pennsylvania or Virginia or a state with communities who could land on either side of the debate?

We have hundreds of books on the Civil War in the library, and as the 150th anniversary of this event continues, you should check them out. I know I’ll be in the stacks, trying to find answers.

About Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is the supervisor of teen services at the Nashua Public Library and can also frequently be found at the reference desk. As a history and Spanish major at Kenyon College she spent a year in Salamanca, Spain. She earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

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