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?)
"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
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.