The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H.W. Crocker III

Kevin asked whether I wanted to read and review H.W. Crocker’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.  I said I would, but I was not quite sure what I was getting myself into.

Let me get the basics over with first.  The book is 337 pages.  It is divided into five parts that are entitled: Why the South Was Right; The History of the War in Sixteen Battles You Should Know; Eminent Civil War Generals; Call in the Cavalry; and Beating Retreat.  These parts are then further divided into various chapters.

Obviously, based upon the title of the first part (Why the South Was Right), Crocker is a Southern apologist.  Being a Yankee, this does not bother me because I at least know where he is coming from.  He brings forth some of the same worn out reasons for defending the South – mainly that the war was for state’s rights and not slavery.  Initially, that may have been the case for most people on both sides, but that was quickly changed once Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (it was not a matter of how the Proclamation was to be enforced, but how it was perceived – this was the main reason why the French and British shied away from supporting the Confederacy).

I won’t spend any more time on that worn out discussion, but I will spend some time on another of Crocker’s arguments – that the South was well within their Constitutional rights to secede from the union.  To get his point across, I will quote him verbatim:

What the Confederate Constitution sought to do was preserve what Southerners believed was the original intent of the Constitution, which the North had tried to overturn.  To the framers of the Confederate Constitution, sovereignty resided in the people of the states.  That’s how it had been in the colonial period, and how it was under the Articles of Confederation and under the Constitution of the United States.  The North, however, had adopted a view not of sovereign states affiliated within a union, but of a sovereign majority of an American people, represented in the federal government.

This is a fascinating argument.  Although I think he is wrong, he puts forth a an interesting argument.  Now I am not a Constitutional scholar (and I hope never to be confused for one), but I do think that some of the framers (particularly the Federalists) wanted a stronger central government over the states and, thus they would probably agree with the North’s argument.

The second part of the book (The History of the War in Sixteen Battles You Should Know) is an excellent summary of the most pivotal battles in the Civil War.  Each battle discussion is split into background of the battle, a brief description of the battle, and (most important in my opinion) what you need to know about the battle.  This last section is a short summary of the significance of a battle.  For instance, Crocker states that the loss of Atlanta (more so than Vicksburg) – severing Virginia and the Carolinas from the rest of the Confederacy – made defeat of the Confederacy virtually inevitable.

Crocker spends the meat of his time on the third and fourth sections (Eminent Civil War Generals and Call in the Cavalry).  He covers all of the normal subjects – Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Grant, and Sherman.  But, he also covers Union Generals George Thomas, George McClellan, and Philip Sheridan and George Custer (both are discussed in a shorter chapter) and Confederate Generals Nathan Bedford Forest, A.P. Hill, and Wade Hampton and J.E.B. Stuart (both are discussed in a shorter chapter).  These sections are excellent mini-biographies of the men.  Cocker includes many details that the average Civil War buff would not know – such as, Wade Hampton never had any military training, but he was one of the best cavalry commanders in the war.

I do not agree with some of his conclusions about the men.  For example, I do not agree with his raising up of the Southern gentlemen over the Northern cavemen.  Let me explain – he compliments Lee and others for taking the high road toward civilian destruction (he avoids the fact that when Lee invaded the North in the Gettysburg Campaign, Lee’s men did not act like angels – yes they sometimes paid for their theft, but it was in Confederate currency which was worthless).  But, he is highly critical of Sherman for living off the land on his march to the Sea (I do not necessarily agree with the scorched earth policy, but it did help break the back of Southern resistance).  Which begs the question – what is better, to lose with honor or to win at any cost?

I do agree with some of his other conclusions  – including, that McClellan was an absolute idiot on the battlefield and that the South initially had the best generals.  McClellan was an ego maniac who blamed everyone around him when things went wrong – which they normally did when he was in command.  Yes, God did bless the South with extraordinary military leaders – but this advantage weakened as the war went along due to attrition and the best Union men rising to the top.

I won’t even bother to express my opinions on the last section (Beating Retreat) which highlights what might have happened if the South won – they didn’t, so why waste time on this.

The Southern bias aside, I enjoyed this book.  Crocker brings forth many thought-provoking points.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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4 Comments

  • I have been reading this book and there are several points that I completely and utterly disagree with.

    Crocker seems to get his historical documents mixed up. He mentions the Constitution when I think that he means the Declaration of Independence. This country tried having a weak central government it was called the Articles of the Confederation, and that failed miserably. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the states have the right of secession.
    He seems to use justification for slavery (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington although George left a couple to Martha until her death) he also failed to mention that at their deaths, both freed their slaves.
    Crocker also suggests that one read Margret Mitchell’s, “Gone with the Wind” for an acurate portrayal of Southern Life, where women were beautiful, men were gallant and the slaves knew their place.
    I would suggest instead that one read Fredrick Douglas instead.
    I too, agree that McClellan was an ass, however Longstreet does not deserve the hatred that most of the South directs towards him. At the time, guns had become more acurate. He was already thinking of trench warfare before WWI. I believe that was Lee’s fault in not listening to Longstreet’s concerns.
    I have at one time or another read a couple of the books in the, “Politically Incorrect” series and I have to wonder if Crocker et.al went to Bob Jones U.

  • Re. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

    If the revolution against England had failed . . . , if the south had won the Civil War . . . , if a frog had wings, it wouldn’t fall on its butt every time it jumped up into the air.

    Crocker should give it a rest.

  • I don’t think that Crocker is looking to pine over the fact that the South lost or the bathe in remorse over what could have been. I think he highlights some fundamentals that were originally intended. And that were still embodied by the South 80 yrs after the country’s inception and for whatever reason was not by the North. Many of the cases of “if the South had won” seem like they would have been preventative of many problems that we have today. Also, the South is easily made to look bad because they were the ones who seceeded and became the ‘rebels’. I believe they did the only thing they could do to protect their constitution. They fought a war for a constitution that by name they were not representing and it seems so because the country who claimed it as their own wasn’t as clear on how to use it.

  • Crocker is just another dime-a-dozen Confederate apologist jackass. If anyone wants a real definitive snapshot of Southern reasons for secession, one has to go no further than the Declarations of Secession published by their respective states. One reason eclipsed all others- the “right of property in the negro” and the imperative to perpetuate it.

    I love his absurd assertion that the South would have abolished slavery peacebly on its own. What rubbish. Not only did every declaration of secession insist on the perpetuation of slavery, so did the Confederate Constitution, and so did every speech by Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stevens. They even intended to conquer Mexico and Cuba and parts of South America in order to spread the practice there!

    This book is just another example of the kind of cutlural apologist dissimulation that Islamofascists use to justify their war on the West. When asked why they do what they do, they sputter and froth with vague references to the “decadence of the Imperialist West” and to poorly defined human rights “abuses”, all the while avoiding the subject of their own tradition of unparalleled barbarity.

    Same with the South and it’s sympathizers when explaining their actions to the rest of the World- “Just stick to vague references of Northern abuses, downplay the slavery angle, and maybe we’ll be able to sleep at night and dupe some bystanders while we’re at it.” Good political advice.

    The states rights argument is a red herring, and any thinking person knows it.

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