The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

21 03 2009

pigIn the current issue of America’s Civil War magazine, I gave a rating of one-half can (not one full can, as has been reported) to H. W. Crocker III’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.  At least one blogger didn’t like the review (thanks for taking the time to prove my point about the EP thing.  By the way, the claim that the EP did not free a single slave is repeated on page 39, and in fact is not refuted anywhere in the book’s text so far as I could see.) 

My Six-Pack reviews are brief, informational reviews, 100-150 words for each book.  They are meant to give the reader an idea of whether or not the book in question is one they might be interested in reading.  The folks at the magazine asked me to provide some indication of whether or not I think the book is worth my time (the actual graphics were their idea).  At the same time, I try to give enough info to let the reader know if, regardless of my rating, the book is worth their time.  If any one of the six reviews in this column did that, it was the PIG book.  Whatever flavor tea you prefer, you should be able to tell from the review whether you want this book in your cup.

Book covers and blurbs are meant to attract readers, as well as to give them an idea of what they can expect to find between them.  The bullets on the front cover of this book do a fantastic job in both cases – I found them consistent with the content:

You think you know about the Civil War, but did you know:

  • That secession was legal
  • That the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave
  • That the South had the moral high ground in the war (and the editorial support of the Vatican’s own newspaper)
  • That Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis expected slavery to fade away naturally
  • That if the South had won, we might be able to enjoy holidays in the sunny Southern state of Cuba

What’s truly wonderful though are the praise quotes on the back cover (I don’t know who any of these people are, but my favorite is the one from Hays –  I’m not sure how the fairly neutral one at the end snuck in):

You can’t understand America until you understand the War of Northern Aggression, and Mr. Crocker tells the story in such a delightful, politically incorrect way that you can’t wait to get to the end of his book to see whether Marse Robert actually pulls out a stunning upset.  Great Scholarship, great story-telling, and great fun.

—Wesley Pruden, editor emeritus of the Washington Times and political columnist

In short order, Harry Crocker has lifted the modern veil of misinformation surrounding the major actors in the War.  In the process, he has rescued the character of Robert E. Lee and shown Union heroes such as Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln to be more human, complex, and in some cases loathsome than contemporary history texts suggest.  The South becomes more admirable and the North more contemptible.  Here is the war, warts and all, for everyone to see.

—Brion McClanahan, Ph.D. in American History, University of South Carolina

The only way this idiosyncratic take on the wa-wuh could be any better is if we’d won.  Even Harry Crocker couldn’t do that, but he has written a witty book full of history and insight.  If I’d ever gotten around to joining the United Daughters of the Confederacy, I bet my chapter would thank him.  Yankees will enjoy it too.

—Charlotte Hays, Southern gossip columnist and co-author (among other books) of Being Dead is No Excuse, The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral

I had supposed it wasn’t possible these days to talk reasonably, as well as informatively, about our great national cataclysm, the Civil War.  H. W. Crocker III brings off that extraordinary feat with style, verve, and wit.  Give that gentleman a medal for gallantry and public service.

—William Murchison, nationally syndicated columnist

OK, well there you have it.  I stand by my informational review.  The book isn’t necessarily chock full of misinformation.  But it has an agenda, for sure, and a slant, for sure.  It is bent on increasing the prestige of the Confederacy and its supporters, and on tearing down the Union cause and its proponents.  But it’s not like the author was acting surreptitiously – he is quite up front about it.  Such an agenda requires selectivity and nuance.

Bottom line – if this review pissed you off, buy this book.  It’s right up your alley.  I also recommend to you anything by James & Walter Kennedy or Thomas DiLorenzo.  And of course the original Confederate Catechism.

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17 responses

21 03 2009
Chris Evans

I dislike books with an agenda. As I said in a post on Kevin Levin’s board I enjoy studying the American Civil War. I don’t want to rip down either side. It has been a very long time and the Civil War should be looked at objectively ,especially today. I like reading and studying the various sides and people: Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Lee, Jackson, Davis, etc. The war was truly an epic event and putting out books like the above just splinters people and makes them mad one way or the other. I think most people are not hopelessly bias about the war. All the men that fought in the war had faults. And how they overcame or didn’t overcome there faults makes them interesting, worth studying and remembering.

22 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

I think we need to keep in mind that most books are written with an agenda.

22 03 2009
Chris Evans

I thought about that after I typed that up that most books are written with a agenda. The book in question is just so one sided that it opens itself up to more criticism than an average more evenhanded book would. As someone else pointed out Crocker has some very decent books in print. I find it akin to the author Clint Johnson who wrote a very similar book on the South and the Civil War but has written fairly accurate other books on the war from the Southern perspective. But as you say they do know their target audience and want to make sure to hit it with a bullseye.

21 03 2009

As you point out, the slant in the praise says a great deal. I’m trying to think of praise worded in a similar manner (with such contempt) that goes after the Confederacy, but I can’t think of any. If they exist, perhaps they are just as lacking in credibility.

22 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

You’re just not looking at things from the proper angle, Robert. You need to get your mind right.

22 03 2009


22 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

You’re approaching this with the wrong attitude. Just about everything ever written goes after the Confederacy. Or so some claim.

22 03 2009

Ahhhh, ok. The “or so some claim” part puts it all into perspective.

21 03 2009
Will Hickox

I wouldn’t have thought that a person who still wants to buy this book after reading Mrs. Hays’ blurb would have the brainpower to count money. Luckily, we have credit cards for that type of situation.

22 03 2009
Jim Morgan

I haven’t read the Crocker book in question but, as a Catholic, it disappoints me because “Triumph,” Crocker’s history of the Catholic Church is excellent. It really is too bad, though understandable, that this neo-Confederate work is going to make people doubt Crocker’s other historical work.

You’re right, Harry, that the bulleted statements are misleading. Aside from the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation DID free some slaves (those living in areas of rebellious states which were under Union control), everyone knew that the EP could only work in the event of a Union victory. The Declaration of Independence didn’t actually give the United States its independence from Great Britain either. Absent winning the war, it would have meant nothing. Ditto the EP.

So to criticize it by saying that it didn’t really free any slaves and therefore was some kind of fraud, is to misstate the entire issue. Crocker and others who critize the EP that way really ought to know better.

22 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Hi, Jim. I have not read “Triumph”, but see that it was published by Random House. I have no reason to doubt the scholarship of that book or any of Crocker’s other books. He’s an executive editor at Regnery, which publishes the PIG series. He’s also written a number of articles on Lew Rockwell’s site. I suspect Mr. Crocker knows just who his target audience is, and he did a fine job marketing and writing this book to and for them.

22 03 2009
Tom Clemens

Well the other point to consider is that the guy on the website cited several “mainline” professional, academic historians that backed up his point, so how can the book be politically incorrect and agree with the politically correct acadamians???

23 03 2009


Years ago I picked up a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Elvis,” while visiting a bookstore a few blocks from Graceland no less!

Now I had no need to know more about Elvis than I do now. And if I did have such requirements, I’m certain my friends at Google could assist. I purchased it simply for the novelty. Makes a great conversation piece, keeping the topic away from the “whar” or politics for many a dinner guest.

I’d submit that this PIG would probably work fine for similar use, for an owner who is an Elvis enthusiast with no real interest in the Civil War. Of course the cover should be redone in either black velvet or blue suede for effect.


23 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Genius, Craig. Wish I had said it – “A Perfect Gift for Your Favorite Elvis Enthusiast”

23 03 2009

In my single foray into the publishing world, I was told my work was too thin for use as a book end, yet too thick for leveling a table. So I picked up carpentry as a hobby, so as to alleviate the need to use books in that manner.

29 04 2009
Top 10 Civil War Bestsellers: April 2009 | TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog

[…] There has been some interesting discussion lately on this one recently in the Civil War blogosphere.  The author appears to have a […]

5 01 2011
North & South Magazine January 2011 « Bull Runnings

[…] Correct Guide to the Civil War and noticed the absurdity of the front cover, which I wrote about here nearly two years ago.  He expands on exactly why the blurb “The Emancipation Proclamation […]

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