Accidental Historian
Tales of Trash and Treasure
Monte Akers
(Texas Tech University Press)

    "The war we like the best of all is the Civil War (La Guerra Civil). It started because a man by the name of Dreadful Scott was not a person so the North invaded the South and a million or so people died. The most interesting battle was given at Gettysburg. Gettysburg has since been turned into a Theme Park and Civil War fans come to visit dressed up in 'Yankee' and 'Rebel' uniforms. Using genuine modern antique bayonets, muskets, and cannon balls, they battle it out with each other. Afterwards, they sicken with cholera, gangrene, and the pox, and die like flies."
--- Gringolandia
A Guide for Puzzled Mexicans

Monte Akers is a lawyer by trade, and, on the side, when he is not being Dickensian, he buys and sells artifacts of various wars, practices as an amateur historian (with emphasis on the American Civil War), and, with his sprightly wife, Patty, goes to "re-enactments."

It is perhaps a sign that Americans have too much time on their hands, too little to do, so they go off to act out the civil war all over again, as if once weren't enough. For instance, Akers and wife joined "The Millets" to re-enact the battle of Shiloh as the 27th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade. These re-enactments are not small potatoes: one at Gettysburg involved thousands of soldiers and even more observers.

Akers has a touch of the raconteur in his soul, along with the touch of a drummer ... in the Jazz Age sense of the word. By the end of the section marked "Just Pretending, But Seriously," I was ready to go out and buy a ramrod and some minie balls and kepsis, don my uniform, bone up on a few rebel songs, and join the party.

Among Akers' best stories are tales of the trouble that blew up with these characters when his wife volunteered to serve in their army. Evidently Civil War buffs don't take lightly to women volunteering to fight alongside the menfolk, although Akers, after doing some research, pointed out that there were at least four hundred documented cases of women donning appropriate concealing uniforms and fighting alongside the men during that other, more or less real war.

Although the captain of the Texans team was, according to the author, "too concerned about promotion up the line of command to worry about the plumbing of one of the rank-and-file soldiers," the troops, when asked to vote, chose to ignore history and voted her down and out. "We left in silence, feeling rather like victims of Civil Rights abuse or at least re-enacted abuse."

    That these modern, grown men, who liked to dress up and pretend to be long-ago men serving as soldiers in a previous century, could not tolerate the thought of a modern woman dressing up and pretending to be a long-ago woman who dressed up and pretended to be a man serving as a soldier from a previous century was almost too ironic to bear, at least with a straight face.

§     §     §

Some of Akers best recountings tell of his habit of collecting bits and pieces of the wreckage of the Civil War ... including hobnails, buttons, flags, coins, cannonballs, and, for the mini-collectors, grommets. In the process of becoming a collector, he reveals that he (a hard-nosed lawyer) got ripped off by some of the many doubtful dealers he met online at eBay.

Even better is his story of going off from his liberal change-the-world nest there in Austin, Texas, moving to the eastern part of the state to work for Dow Chemical (they were developing a stake in the lignite market). To his friends, "it meant going to work for the company famous for manufacturing Agent Orange, silicone breast implants, and dioxin."

    When I left Austin, my friends in the city hosted a going-away party, the invitation of which depicted me sitting in the open cockpit of a biplane and sprinkling carcinogenic PCBs onto the countryside below.

§     §     §

Akers is a writer of no small wit, and ended up getting this reader to root for him when he runs for district judge in Freestone and Limestone counties. (He lost by one vote.) The only place in Accidental Historian we could think of disputing his politics and worldview is his praise for Abraham Lincoln who got us involved in "the pivotal, catalytic event that decided that the United States would become the most powerful country in the world instead of a handful of bickering neighbor nations." Namely, the Civil War.

    Had the Confederacy been successful, it is unlikely that it would have been the last group of states to pack up its toys and go home. It is pretty unlikely, in fact, that the eleven states that made up the CSA [Confederate States of America] could have hung together for more than a few years before Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, or Florida decided it needed to strike out on its, or their, own.

Evidently Akers thinks that this overstuffed juggernaut that has evolved into the United States is the most wonderful thing in the universe, ignoring the fact that our hegemony not to say our jingoistic arrogance has given us not only Dow Chemical, troubles in Central America, Vietnam, and, too, fifty years of Cold War jitters ... along with our present imbroglios in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and now Libya.

Some of us would prefer greatly to be part of a Confederation of mini-states that might have taken root on this side of the ocean 150 years ago, a profusion of nation-states with the virtues and statesmanship like those of Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

This offers the further pleasant thought that if we had played our cards right and got the hell out of the USA in time, we could see the nation-states of Florida and Texas stuck off there by themselves with the likes of George and Jeb Bush running them (badly), leaving the rest of us blissfully alone with our freedom from them and their dratted sniveling arrogance.

It is a thought just too delicious to even contemplate, gives us shivers of delight just to imagine it.

--- Richard Saturday
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