Kevin asked whether I wanted to read and review H.W. Crocker’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.Â I said I would, but I was not quite sure what I was getting myself into.
Let me get the basics over with first.Â The book is 337 pages.Â 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.Â 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.Â Being a Yankee, this does not bother me because I at least know where he is coming from.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â To the framers of the Confederate Constitution, sovereignty resided in the people of the states.Â 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.Â 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.Â Although I think he is wrong, he puts forth a an interesting argument.Â 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.Â 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.Â This last section is a short summary of the significance of a battle.Â 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).Â He covers all of the normal subjects – Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Grant, and Sherman.Â 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).Â These sections are excellent mini-biographies of the men.Â 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.Â For example, I do not agree with his raising up of the Southern gentlemen over the Northern cavemen.Â 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).Â 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).Â 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 conclusionsÂ – including, that McClellan was an absolute idiot on the battlefield and that the South initially had the best generals.Â McClellan was an ego maniac who blamed everyone around him when things went wrong – which they normally did when he was in command.Â 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.Â Crocker brings forth many thought-provoking points.