I learned yesterday of the recent deaths of both Edmund Morris and Tony Horwitz. It is difficult to process the loss of not just one but two important writers at the same time. Morris’s greatest legacy of course was his three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, which will stand for some time as the source for those seeking a deep dive on the twenty-sixth president. To many people though he is best known as the author of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. For those who may not remember, Dutch was an authorized biography for which Morris had unfettered access to Reagan’s inner circle during the president’s second term. These were monumental years that today seem so far away, when the Cold War was winding down and so much seemed possible. As he did to most others however, Reagan proved inscrutable to Morris and the biographer ended up writing a semi-fictional account of Reagan’s life in which the author inserted himself into the text. That’s the “memoir” part of the title. Needless to say, there was great piling on when the book came out in 1999–twenty years ago. I always try to be charitable, and instead of joining the dog-pile have always regarded Dutch as an experiment gone wrong. For a good take on the thing, read Andrew Ferguson’s piece in The Atlantic.
Horwitz was only sixty years old when he collapsed the other day near his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Horwitz was a journalist and historian who often worked in the vein of travel writer, visiting people and places and then telling his readers how the weather was. His most famous work was Confederates in the Attic, his account of Civil War culture as it stood in the mid-1990s. The book can still be read today with great profit.
As I have written before, many people’s takeaway from this book was Horwitz’s accounts of reenactors and their quest to achieve a “period rush” when out in the field camping and marching in period garb. My own biggest takeaway was the need to examine Civil War historiography in greater depth. Reading Confederates in 1998 also led me to take my first trip to Shiloh that summer. I went again the following year and alas have not been back since. With my father now gone, there hasn’t been much opportunity to get down to the region. I do hope to take the Hayfoot on a Civil War journey sometime in the next few summers, starting at the Lincoln presidential library in Illinois, the Grant home in St. Louis, Forts Henry and Donelson, and then Shiloh.
(image by Adolph B. Rice Studio via The Library of Virginia)