Review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

pig-to-cw2H. W. Crocker, III wrote an interesting take on the bloodiest conflict in our history. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War attempted to present the war that is often left out of classrooms today. His book will resonate with those who have interests and sympathy to the Confederacy, but may make pro-Union persons a little uncomfortable. There were some things with this work that I liked and some things I did not like.

I enjoyed the chapters devoted to important battles of the war and leaders of the war, as they were relatively balanced between Union and Confederate sides. The book discussed several of the major battles and campaigns of the war and the important items to remember surrounding them, which is good for those unfamiliar with the war.

Despite being overwhelmingly pro-Southern, I found Crocker’s treatment of Grant and Sherman to be quite fair and loved his view of McClellan as the wrong leader for a field army. The biographical sketches were very good, albeit a little slanted towards the South.

That said, there were a number of things that troubled me about this work. Most significant is its heavy emphasis on supposed positive aspects of the South. The attempt at justifying secession is especially odd, as while one can legitimize secession through the Declaration of Independence, the fact is that the Southern states either ratified or entered into the Union under the terms of the Constitution, which trumps the Declaration as supreme law of the land. Searching through the Constitution, I could find no reference to secession. In fact, even if Southerners objected to Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the rebellion via Article IV, Section 4, they would have no ground to stand upon. That part of the Constitution states:

The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

This section clearly applied to states within the United States, which did not include the Confederacy, as they had left the Union, despite Lincoln’s government not recognizing the legitimacy of secession.

The second issue I had with this book was how Crocker viewed the Confederacy and their leaders. He characterized the South and its military and political leaders as the epitome of chivalry and honor, seeming to take the issue of slavery out of the equation. While there were some noble characteristics to the antebellum South, the sin of slavery completely negated the perceived good. He stressed the view of slavery and treatment towards African Americans held by generals like Jackson, Lee, and even Forrest, which while it may have been true, it seems to sugar coat that they fought for a country that retained slavery.

In continuation with his positive view of the Confederacy, Crocker went as far as to conjecture that the CSA would have eventually outlawed slavery, as had other Western nations. While some saw slavery fading away to extinction by 1900, a separate Confederacy established with slavery intact would have been less likely to abolish it, as the African American population was such a significant portion of its population that the risk of a Haitian-like insurrection would have been too great for many white Southerners to risk emancipation. Further, he claimed a few times that Southerners had and would have had better race relations than the North. Yes, because African Americans would have dropped the matter of slavery and gotten along with their fellow Southerners.

He continued his counter factual examination by offering the possibility of a Confederate Cuba and the two nations helping win World War I earlier, thanks to Southern eagerness to jump in with Britain. He argued that eventual reunification would have occurred after World War II.  This is too far-fetched even for me, who enjoys counter factual scenarios, as I would see such a sharp divide between the two nations, given the vast differences between the regions during the war, which would eventually create such a difference in culture that a reunification may have been likened to the German reunification, where the former East Germany has more economic problems than the West.

Another aspect of this book that I raise issue with was the sections in the book entitled “Books Yankees Don’t Want You to Read.” These sections include works by Richard Weaver and Jefferson Davis. The issue is that “Yankees” are not against such works, but want them placed within their context. Many of the works listed in these blurbs are of a more pro-Confederate sentiment and some reflect the Lost Cause mentality, which does not make them illegitimate, but merely means that the works must be both understood for what they are and balanced against other sources.

Crocker’s scholarship was another area of concern, as while he cited some hard hitting authors, including James McPherson, Shelby Foote, and Gary Gallagher, he did not analyze these scholars. Further, his notations were few and far between, which left the reader questioning where he came up with some of his conclusions. This is coupled with some dubious claims made against historians, which included that professors compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany and Lee to Erwin Rommel. I have sat in two Civil War courses with two different professors with vastly different world views and never heard this. Had Crocker cited examples of this in college classrooms, I would have been convinced, but since no such evidence was provided, I await examples.

Overall, the idea behind the book is a noble one, to present the Civil War that may be left out of the classroom today. However, the result was a book that is in need of some improvement. The positive of this book is that it hopefully will encourage people to do more reading on the war, as there are many wonderful books out there to provide a balanced look at the war without political correctness. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War is certainly politically incorrect, but it is not the Civil War that my father or I learned about.

8 thoughts on “Review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

  1. This review reflect my opinion about the book although I would make stronger exception to Crocker’s sources in much of his most controversial statements. The need for a pro-southern corrective is questionable given the overwhelmingly positive spin on the Confederate ‘noble cause’ in virtual all the film and literature that constitutes our popular culture on the Civil War. Since most people get their history from these sources, perhaps a political incorrect book should present the Union perspective instead.

  2. HELLO – I HAVE A COPY OF THE POL. INCORRECT GUIDE TO THE CIVIL WAR. I AM A NORTHERNER LIVING IN MICH. WHO IS A RECENT MEMBER OF THE FRIENDS OF THE SONS OF CONFED. VETERENS. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I AM A DISLOYAL AMERICAN, JUST THE OPPOSITE. AS A CHILD I WAS TOUGHT THAT THE NORTH WAS RIGHT IN THE WAR BUT AS AN ADULT I FOUND OUT THROUGH SIMPLE STUDY THAT THE SOUTH WAS RIGHT IN ITS RIGHT TO LEAVE THE UNION AND STICK WITH THE CONSTITUTION OF THE USA. LINCOLN HIMSELFE STATED THIS IN 1848. HE ALSO SAID THAT IT WAS THE DUTY OF CITIZENS TO CAST OFF A GOVERNMENT IF NEEDED. THE STUDY OF LINCOLN AND HIS ACTIONS DURING THE WAR REGARDING THE CONSTITUTION IS NOT SOMETHING TOO PLEASANT TO SAY THE LEAST. TO KILL PEOPLE IN ORDER TO KEEP THEM FROM LEAVING IS INSANE. WE ONLY NEED TO SEE WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS COUNTRY AND ITS PRESENT SITIATION TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE SOUTHS POINT THAT A TOO POWEREFUL FED. GOVERNMENT IS A BAD IDEA. ANYONE INTERESTED IN THE CIVIL WAR AND ITS CAUSES SHOULD STUDY THE PRE CIVIL WAR TARRIFFS ENACTED THAT WOULD HAVE DESTROYED THE SOUTHS ECONOMY. WELL INTO THE WAR SLAVERY WAS GIVEN AS THE MAIN REASON FOR THE WAR, AS IF THE NORTHERN STATES AND ITS PEOPLES CARED SO MUCH ABOUT THE SLAVES THAT THEY WOULD LEAVE THEIR FAMILIES AND POSSIBLY DIE TO FREE THEM. PEOPLE BY THE THOUSAND WERE PUT IN PRISON FOR OPPOSING THE WAR INCLUDING EDITORS WHO PRINTED THE TRUTH ABOUT THE REASONS FOR THE WAR. IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT GEN. GRANT STATED THAT IF HE THOUGHT THE WAR WAS ABOUT SLAVERY HE WOULD TURN IN HIS SWORD. LINCOLN ORDERED THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE USA TO BE ARRESTED FOR OPPOSING THE WAR ON MANY GROUND INCUDUNG COSTITUTIONAL, THANK GOD THE LAW INFORCEMENT OFFICIAL REFUSED TO DO IT. MR. LINCOLN WANTED TO SEND BLACKS OUT OF THE COUNTRY WHEN THE WAR WAS OVER AND STATED THAT WHITES WERE A SUPERIOR RACE AND COULD NOT LIVE ALONGSIDE BLACKS. NORTHERN INDUSTRIALIST BENEFITTED FROM SLAVE LABOR JUST AS THE PLANTATION OWNERS DID AND MANY NORTHERNERS CAME SOUTH TO BE PLANTATION OWNERS. SLAVERY WAS WRONG WRONG WRONG, BUT SO WOULD LETTING THEM ALL GO AT ONCE TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES. THEY WERE PAID FOR THEIR LABOR WITH FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER AND SO FORTH. MANY PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY AT THAT TIME NEVER HAD MONEY AS PAYMENT FOR THEIR LABOR, IT WAS OFTEN A BARTER SYSTEM. IN FACT MOST SOUTHERNERS WERE SUBSISTANCE FARMERS LIVING OFF THE LAND AND HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH SLAVERY. THERE ERE THOUSANDS OF FREE BLACKS WHO OWNED THOUSANDS OF SLAVES, SOME AMERICAN INDIANS. HOW CONVENIENT IT IS TO TRANSFER THE STAIN OF SLAVERY FROM THE AMERICAN FLAG AND SLAVE OWNERS LIKE WASHINGTON AND THOMAS JEFFERSON ONTO THE CONFEDERATE FLAG AND SOUTHERN SLAVE OWNERS. IF THE CONFED. FLAG IS A FLAG OF SLAVERY THEN SO IS THE AMERICAN FLAG. STATES RIGHTS AS WELL AS STATES RESPONSIBILITY WAS THE ORIGINAL IDEA FOR THIS COUNTRY TO KEEP US FROM BECOMING LIKE OTHER FAILED COUNTRIES. AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA MANY PEOPLE BLAMED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR A SLOW RESPONSE, NOT EVEN REALIZING THE FAILED RESPONSE BY THE STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS. THIS WAS BECAUSE MAYOR NAGEN AND THE GOVERNOR JUST HAD TO BLAME WASHINGTON TO GET OFF THE HOOK. AGAIN, TOO MUCH DEPENDANCE ON A HUGE CENTALIZED GOVERNMENT THE CONFEDERACY WARNED AGAINSED. PERHAPS THE NEW MOTTO OF THE SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERENS SHOULD BE – WE TOLD YOU SO. THANKS FOR READING MY THOUGHTS ON THE SUBJECT, HOPE YOU ARE HAVING A GOOD YEAR. SINCERELY, THOMAS JANTZ, MICHIGAN.

  3. I believe that your review is written from the point of view that has been hammered deeply into our conscious, that of the South being the “bad guys” and the North being the “good guys”. As was mentioned by another reviewer many Notherners cared nothing about slavery and would have revolted if they were told that’s what they were fighting for (in fact once the focus of the war shifted to ending slavery, anti-black violence in the North prove this point). This book may go a bit over the top in painting a positive picture of the South but I believe that people need to learn about the Civil War from other than the common sources and question what they are taught. This was not a simple matter of pro versus anti-slavery and a saying that the stain of a minority of Southerners (those who actually had slaves) negates anything decent or noble about their society is nonsense.

  4. Greetings! On marrch 13, 2010 I posted a comment on the Civil War and the book “The Politically InCorrect guide to the Civil War” In my comments I stated that Gen. Grant stated that if he thought the war was about freeing the slaves ” He would turn in his sword” Although I believe Gen. Grant fealt this way along with all or most Northern Generals and Northern troops I am not sure if he made this comment and/or wrote it. I have tried to determine the truth about this but have found articles indicating yes or no. Any help on this question I have would be appretiated.. So often comments attributed to people turn out not to be true. Many comments/writings attributed to Abe Lincoln have turned out to be false and his views on slavery and blacks have turned out to be largely myth to put him in a better light. Something interesting I came across. Gen. McLellan wrote to Pres. Lincoln, more than once I believe, complaining about the treatment of southern civilians by the Northern troops. He asked him to order the troops to stop burning down homes, businesses and farms, stop burning crops, stop abusing the people and so on. I have studied the orders of Lincoln and it is obvious he had a “scorched earth” policy. This is very disturbing to me to say the least. I cannot dismiss the info. Any comments from anyone on this? It should be noted that Pres. Truman was a member of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and Lincoln was not his favorite President to say the least. In fact when Trumans mother visited the White House she refused to stay in the Lincoln bedroom because of the abuses by Northern troops on her relatives, notably a boy who had a noose put around his neck in a mock hanging that he thought was real. The soldiers thought he knew info about the location of Confederate troops or other info. He never talked. The War between the States, interesting reading but so, so unnecesarry. States rights was the last thing the worlds bankers wanted as they would have to pull the wool over the eyes of all the individual states instead of one central power in Washington. The Federal reserve in 1913 would have had a rough time of it convincing the southern states to borrow money from them [money made out of thin air] as the southern states knew it was prohibited by the constitution and the founding fathers warned the American people about it. Anyway, any comments are welcome to my email address or this site. Hope all is well with everyone! Sincerely, Tom in Mich.

  5. For crying out loud, look at Sauerwein’s photo! The fact that he is photographed wearing a Union Army uniform might make me question his objectivity just a little bit! The fact that he is getting a PhD in History from a clear Northern, i.e. “Frontier” college also brings his objectivity into question! I think most of criticism of the Politically Incorrect volume stems from his political correctness and his Yankee bias!

    • Gerrick,

      If you are basing your opinion of my review on my reenacting photos and where I am getting my Ph.D, you need to step outside for a moment and get some fresh air. If you looked at some of my recent posts, you would see that I have portrayed both Confederate and Union soldiers. Where I am getting my Ph.D. does not matter either, as I could be attending a Southern university and would probably write the same review.

      Further, what you fail to see is that most academic historians would have ripped this book apart due to political correctness. I made an attempt to be fair to the book, but did find things that concerned me. If mentioning issues with scholarship and interpretation is wrong, then you do not understand history. You accuse me of “Yankee bias” and political correctness, yet I can not stand political correctness, and while from southern Illinois, I try to be as fair to the other side as possible, which is more than can be said of other scholars. The fact that you resorted to personal attacks based on one of my reenacting photos and where I am taking my education, as opposed to the content, indicate that you have a weak argument against my review.

      When you are prepared to discuss the merits of the book, I encourage you to return and discuss, as I would be interested to hear your thoughts, but calling my objectivity into question is not the right way to go about it, as I am an anomaly among historians, as I am a conservative and engage in reenacting, which is not necessarily held in high regard in some circles in the scholarly community. I thank you for your comment, but ask that you provide better examples of where my review might be wrong.

      Have a great day.

      Daniel

  6. Soon-to-be-Doctor Sauerwein has written an insightful and reasonably objective review. But I respectfully urge him to re-think four points:
    1. He says the Constitution trumps the Declaration of Independence as the supreme law of the land. In fact, the Constitution incorporates the Declaration by reference in the ratification clause of Article VII. The Declaration may be found in the U.S. Code Annotated along with the Articles, the Constitution, and the NW Ordinance as the organic laws of the United States. The Declaration and the Constitution are two sides of the same coin: the Declaration establishes the nation, the Constitution establishes the government; the Declaration sets forth the nation’s ideals, the Constitution establishes a practical mechanism to realize these ideals. The preamble to the Constitution is very short because the Declaration is the true preamble to the Constitution.
    2. He says he has searched the Constitution and found no mention of secession. That itself is a strong argument that the states had a right to secede. The Tenth Amendment provides that the powers not delegated to the United States (federal government) by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. Nothing in the Constitution delegates power over secession to the federal government. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the states from seceding. The power over secession, therefore, is reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.

    3. His use of Art. IV § 4 of the Constitution has no application to the Southern states, as they had left the Union.

    4. Sauerwein dismisses the virtues of the South, saying that “While there were some noble characteristics to the antebellum South, the sin of slavery completely negated the perceived good.” By this reason, we should not find any “perceived good” in Greece, Rome, Egypt, many African nations, many Native American nations, and many if not most nations of the world throughout most of history, including the North which, while it practiced slavery to a far lesser extent that did the South, was primarily responsible for the slave trade. In no way does this justify slavery. I am only saying the fact of slavery should not blind us to virtues of the South, or the virtues of the other above-mentioned societies.

    That said, I think Sauerwein has genuinely tried to be fair and, for the most part, has succeeded. I wish him well has he pursues his Ph.D. in history and perhaps launches a history-related career. No one should judge him for re-enacting in a Union uniform; here in Alabama most re-enactors have both blue and gray uniforms and play whatever side is needed. Nor should we judge him for studying at the U of North Dakota. North Dakotans are fine people. I know; I’ve been married to one for 41 years.

    Godspeed,

    John Eidsmoe

  7. Actually, the Constitution is specific: Article 1 section 8 – The Congress SHALL – along with the reinforcement found in the 10th.

    Also, Mr. Eidsmoe, Mr Sauerwein says exactly the same thing about article 4 section 4 as you do.

    Lewis Guignard

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