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.