21 March 2009

*Harry On Harry And Me on Harry And Harry

*Harry Smeltzer trashes Harry Crocker's book. I review Harry's (Smeltzer) review and defend Harry's (Crocker) book.

Fellow CW blogger Harry Smeltzer recently had a review of Harry Crocker's The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, published in the latest issue of America's Civil War. Actually, to call it a review would be a stretch. ACW refers to Smeltzer's column and book comments as "Smeltzer's Six-Pack" and he "ranks" a sampling of books by awarding them a certain number of beer cans--up to six--with six being the best (I suppose the more beers you have, the better the book gets.) Crocker's book garnered Smeltzer's lowest ranking - one can.

The "review" is, shall we say, rather vapid; every bit of five sentences. And the only specific criticism is in reference to a quote and art on the cover. You have to wonder if Mr. Smeltzer even read the book since his criticism doesn't even get beyond what's on the cover. Why "review" it at all? If it's really that bad, why not just ignore it? Lord knows there's no shortage of WBTS books to review. Perhaps Smeltzer simply could not resist going after (just one more time!) that great boogie-man of Civil War academia, The Lost Cause. (My Lord, don't they ever have anything else to write about?)

Smeltzer opines:

"With The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, by H. W. Crocker III, we are presented with the same old Lost Cause rhetoric in a new bag, a Confederate catechism for the 21st century."

Here's the one quote Smeltzer pulls off the cover to criticize: "You think you know about the Civil War, but did you know: That the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave?"

And then he follows with the real clincher: "That's so wrong on so many levels, I won't go on, but trust me, this book is full of stuff like that." Uh-huh. "Full of stuff like that"? Well, that settles it. Nothing like penetrating analysis to convince the masses.

So, stating that the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free the slaves now automatically gets you labeled as a "Lost Causer." Really?

Would that include the following? ~

"Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control . . . the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation . . ."
Yes, just more of that "same old Lost Cause rhetoric in a new bag" by those devious Neo-Confederates and Lost Causers over at the National Archives. Those wascally wevisionists.

And then there's that hotbed of Neo-Confederate & Lost Cause propagandist thought, PBS, echoing the same opinion:

"The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the United States. Rather, it declared free only those slaves living in states not under Union control. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, commented, 'We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.' Lincoln was fully aware of the irony, but he did not want to antagonize the slave states loyal to the Union by setting their slaves free."
Shocking.

And by cracky, those Lost Causers are just turning up everywhere:

The testimony of sixteen thousand books and monographs to the contrary notwithstanding, Lincoln did not emancipate the slaves, greatly or otherwise. As for the Emancipation Proclamation, it was not a real emancipation proclamation at all, and did not liberate African-American slaves. John F. Hume, the Missouri antislavery leader who heard Lincoln speak in Alton and who looked him in the eye in the White House, said the Proclamation "did not ... whatever it may have otherwise accomplished at the time it was issued, liberate a single slave."

Sources favorable to Lincoln were even more emphatic. Lincoln crony Henry Clay Whitney said the Proclamation was a mirage and that Lincoln knew it was a mirage. Secretary of State William Henry Seward, the No. 2 man in the administration, said the Proclamation was an illusion in which "we show our sympathy with the slaves by emancipating the slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free."

The same points have been made with abundant documentation by 20th-century scholars like Richard Hofstadter, who said "it did not in fact free any slaves." Some of the biggest names in the Lincoln establishment have said the same thing. Roy P. Basler, the editor of the monumental Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, said the Proclamation was "itself only a promise of freedom...." J. G. Randall, who has been called "the greatest Lincoln scholar of all time," said the Proclamation itself did not free a single slave. Horace White, the Chicago Tribune correspondent who covered Lincoln in Illinois and in Washington, said it is doubtful that the Proclamation "freed anybody anywhere." ~ Lerone Bennett, Jr., former editor of Ebony Magazine.

I suppose Mr. Bennett is just pushing that "same old Lost Cause rhetoric" as well.

Certainly, Crocker's collection of factoids and essays are not meant to be a scholarly, in-depth study of the WBTS. The book is, however, meant to challenge some popular myths surrounding the war and do it in a popular, somewhat witty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, entertaining style; which it does very well. Crocker is a gifted writer.

Mr. Smeltzer is a capable writer as well and hosts an interesting blog. However, if I may be so bold as to offer some advice: First, when challenging an author's assertion, it's advisable to offer something a little more convincing than "trust me" and calling it "stuff like that"; particularly when other authorities on that assertion would agree with the author. Secondly, when reviewing, or even commenting on books in a national publication, try to get beyond the blurbs and art on the cover. By limiting his critique to the cover art and one blurb, Mr. Smeltzer unwittingly falls into the same error of which he accuses Mr. Crocker: shallowness, generalizations, and over-simplification.

**************************************************************

H.W. Crocker, III is also the author of Robert E. Lee on Leadership; Don’t Tread on Me (a history of the United States military); Triumph (a history of the Catholic Church); and the prize-winning comic novel The Old Limey. Crocker holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and American Literature from the University of California at San Diego, and a Master's Degree from the University of Southern California's School of International Relations in London, England. He is currently Executive Editor at Regnery Publishing and lives on the site of a former Confederate encampment near the battlefields of Northern Virginia.

Harry Smeltzer hosts the blog, Bull Runnings ~ A Journal of the Digitization of a Civil War and writes for America's Civil War.

**Update: For more validation of my own comments here, be sure and read some of the comments at Mr. Smeltzer's blog. More criticisms of Crocker's book from those who admit they've not read it. Quite amazing.


11 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

I've read neither the book nor the column, but I do have a couple of comments on your rant:

"So, stating that the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free the slaves now automatically gets you labeled as a "Lost Causer." Really?"

Yes, I'd say so. Perhaps simply uneducated the history of the event. There is a difference between saying "The EP freed all the slaves" (which, of course, it didn't) and "The EP didn't free any slaves" which is the clear (false) implication of the comment on the cover of the book.

Later you said: "I suppose Mr. Bennett is just pushing that "same old Lost Cause rhetoric" as well."

No, I wouldn't label Mr. Bennett a "Lost Causer," but he is profoundly wrong on many things involving the Civil War.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Great comeback James. Any time someone disagrees with academic orthodoxy, its a rant.

That logic will score you lots of points. Sounds a little like Mr. Smeltzer's "stuff like that."

Like I said, the Lost Causers have evidently taken over the National Archives as well as PBS. This conspiracy is quite pervasive, isn't it?

James F. Epperson said...

There is a profound difference between saying the EP didn't free *all* the slaves (which is true, and is what the Archives quote says) and saying the EP didn't free *any* slaves, which is what the book in question erroneously claims.

I'm surprised you were bothered by my use of "rant." I picked it up from another blog I read. The author uses it to describe a post where he goes off and complains, at some length and with some heat, about something he doesn't like. I thought it was commonly used among bloggers and it certainly seemed to fit your post.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"There is a profound difference between saying the EP didn't free *all* the slaves (which is true, and is what the Archives quote says) and saying the EP didn't free *any* slaves, which is what the book in question erroneously claims."

Not really, the spirit of the quotes are essentially the same to correct the myth that the EP ended slavery or "freed the slaves." You can parse words if you like, but the intent and context is clear. And the archives quote says no such thing. The PBS quote says something similar, but even the PBS wording could be taken either way. Again, not parsing words here. The myth among the general public, which is the intended audience of the book, is that the EP freed the slaves. It did not. Were that so, the 13th amendment would have not been needed. The cover quote is what's known in the publishing world as a "hook" - something "bold" to get the reader to look and explore further.

"I'm surprised you were bothered by my use of "rant." I picked it up from another blog I read."

I misread your intent. I stand corrected. It was a rant indeed, by that definition.

James F. Epperson said...

"The myth among the general public, which is the intended audience of the book, is that the EP freed the slaves. It did not."

Sorry, that is simply historically false. It is true that the EP did not free *all* the slaves, but many thousands were freed by it as of Jan 1, 1863. (The largest group would have been the many thousands who had run away to Union lines in West Tennessee and North Mississippi/Alabama.)

Yes, I confused the Archives quote with the PBS quote. My error.

I understand the notion of "hooks" in the publishing business. But the book claims in one of its hooks that the EP "did not free a single slave," and that simply is historically wrong.

FWIW, Harry has a response of sorts upon his blog:

http://bullrunnings.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/the-politically-incorrect-guide-to-the-civil-war/

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Already addressed your objections. Repeating your contention and repeated parsing of words doesn't change anything.

Mr. Smeltzer's response doesn't change anything either. He stands by his comments, I stand by mine. Crocker's "agenda" is to refute the other "agenda." Is that really surprising?

The difference is Mr. Crocker is open and honest about his intent (which Smeltzer admits) while many academics couch their agenda in self-satisfying declarations of "objectivity" and "scholarship." Right. They know what happens to them if they disagree with certain high priests.

To disagree with academic orthodoxy is to be labeled a "Lost Causer." Very intellectual.

The original purpose of the post, which you seemed to have missed, was that Smeltzer appears to casually base his condemnation of the book on the cover and suggests that if you disagree with academic orthodoxy on the EP (It ended slavery, freed the slaves, etc, etc), then you're a Lost Causer. I simply pointed out (with just a small sampling of quotes) that that contention is ridiculous and not supported by the facts.

Why don't you actually read the book James, since you admitted you had not. It's rather silly of you to debate its merits, and the author's points, while at the same time admitting you haven't read it.

Thank you for your input. The arguments have played out. Comments are closed.

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Oh my gosh, you are hilarious! PBS! The National Archives! "Wascally wevisionists!"

Glorious!

Spencer

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

(The largest group would have been the many thousands who had run away to Union lines in West Tennessee and North Mississippi/Alabama.)

If they "ran away" they freed themselves. What happened to many of those "free slaves" once they came to Union lines?

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Mr. Williams...do you recommend the book, I'm curious?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, I do. And many of the other PIG books as well.

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

I've wanted to read them but haven't had the chance yet....

You ever read Dabney's Stonewall bio?