Schmutz’s Crater

So, it looks like I am reviewing John F. Schmutz’s new book on the Crater for H-Net.  I should apologize for the cheap shot I took the other week when I suggested that he probably took up the project after watching Cold Mountain.  It turns out he has some relatives who fought in the battle.  Schmutz has written a thick book, and apparently he did a pretty good job of surveying the primary and secondary sources.  It’s also nice to see some of my own published work on the Crater in recent bibliographies, including his.  Still, I am a bit concerned after reading the preface.  The author describes the political scene in the 1860s with the phrase, “political correctness run amok.”  Hell, I don’t even know what the phrase means most of the time when it is used to describe current politics, let alone the political culture 140 years ago.  Anyway, I will let you know what I think once I’ve crawled out of this thing.

19 comments… add one
  • John Buchanan Mar 5, 2009 @ 10:32

    I have read 2 reviews of Schmutz’s book. Neither was complimentary.

  • Craig Mar 4, 2009 @ 19:04

    But what does schmutz mean in Malay?

  • jim steele Mar 4, 2009 @ 17:51

    A few years ago I managed a small Civil War battlefield in South Carolina. The local SCV camp, which was named for the battlefield, had little use for me or the agency I represented. I was trying to preserve and interpret a historic site, but their behavior suggested they believed I was merely custodian of a Confederate shrine. Every time I was around the camp officers, it was political correctness this, political correctness that, and so forth, a chant actually, spouted by people who refused to (or just couldn’t) engage me on the issues, but were happy to call names. Their understanding of the Civil War was straight out of Mildred Rutherford’s “truths” of history (did you know General Lee freed his slaves before the war, and that General Grant didn’t free his slaves until afterwards?). However, one camp member was a notable exception to the general rule. One day after I had recieved another lecture about how political correctness was ruining the South and “their” Civil War site, he told me: “Don’t worry about them, political correctness is just anything they don’t like.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said better than that.

  • Marc Ferguson Mar 4, 2009 @ 17:19

    Oddly, “amok” is Malyasian for both “crater” and “politically correct.”


  • Craig Mar 4, 2009 @ 16:12

    I’ve been told by an Indonesian friend that “amok” is a term the English borrowed from Malay.

  • Will Hickox Mar 4, 2009 @ 16:01

    I meant to say, “Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner,” although I’m sure Preston the Happy Cane Swinger would have loved to test his stick on the editor of The Liberator.

  • Will Hickox Mar 4, 2009 @ 15:52

    “I didn’t know PC was an is sue in the 1860’s though. That alone intrigues me enough to read the book.”

    Obviously the term “PC” wasn’t yet coined, but in reading the correspondence of the era it is quite clear that many people were quick to take offense, and it was vital to be scrupulously polite in one’s language (witness the civilized exchanges between Anderson and Beauregard in Charleston harbor). Then on the other hand we have Preston Brooks and William Lloyd Garrison…it was truly an era of extremes.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2009 @ 15:54

      I think the author is just being careless. It’s the kind of reference that you simply will not find in a more scholarly study.

  • Drew Wagenhoffer Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:32

    I am plugging away at it slowly. The bibliography certainly appears to be more than adequate, and viewed narrowly as a battle study it is quite good. On the downside, it really needed an active editor and more & better maps.

    That phrase in the intro bugged me as well, because, if it must be used, at the very least the author owes the reader an explanation of precisely what it means in relation to the subject of the book and how the author plans to “correct” it. Otherwise, it’s a rather empty charge that will only serve to raise a red flag in the mind of many readers. Best to leave such things out altogether and let the work stand on its own.


    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:42


      Nice to hear from you. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the book and I just started. I flipped through and noticed the maps as well as the bibliography. The writing is extremely choppy which makes it very difficult to maintain focus. It’s a real meat and potatoes study. I’ll keep plugging away.

      By the way, I am pleased to see that you liked Marc Egnal’s new book. It is one of the best books that I’ve read in recent months.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:10

    “The term “politically correct” is now a throw-away phrase used to dismiss any critical assessment that takes such things as gender and race into account.”

    You offended me. You left out “aged.” I demand an apology.

    I suppose it is a throw away phrase in some situations, similar to “neo-Confederate.”

    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:12

      Need I say more?

  • Marc Ferguson Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:03

    By the way, I look forward to your review of Schmutz’s crater book, and what you make of “Political Correctness running amok in the 1860s.”

  • Marc Ferguson Mar 4, 2009 @ 12:00

    The term “politically correct” is now a throw-away phrase used to dismiss any critical assessment that takes such things as gender and race into account. When it shows up in academic discussions, it is an accusation that someone is intellectually dishonest in the service of an ideological agenda. Essentially, it’s a lazy way to attack someone ideologically while avoiding dealing with their ideas. What it could possibly mean in reference to the Civil War Era, I have no idea. The term itself goes back to Gramsci, I believe, but it had a very different meaning for him (besides having been rendered in Italian, I presume).

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Mar 4, 2009 @ 11:48

    I know you’re aware of the meaning, just being facetious. But I disagree its meaningless. The label may be pervasive, but so is pc.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2009 @ 11:53

      Sorry about that, Richard. Long day grading exams. As for its pervasiveness…well, whatever helps you makes sense of the world. It doesn’t help me with much of anything.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Mar 4, 2009 @ 11:39

    Uh, that should be “guess”, not “guest.” Leave me alone, I’m old.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Mar 4, 2009 @ 11:38

    Let me help you Kevin:

    “Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct; both forms commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term applied to language, ideas, policies, or behavior seen as seeking to minimize offense to gender, racial, cultural, disabled, aged or other identity groups. Conversely, the term “politically incorrect” is used to refer to language or ideas that may cause offense or that are unconstrained by orthodoxy. Ruth Perry traces the term back to Mao’s Little Red Book. According to Perry, the term was later adopted by the radical Left in the 1960s, initially seriously and later ironically, as a self-criticism of dogmatic attitudes. In the 1990s, because of the term’s association with radical politics and communist censorship, it was used by the political Right in the United States to try to discredit the Old and New Left.”

    From Wikipedia (Not authoritative, I know), and the pc movement involves much more than this, but in a nutshell, it’s pretty close. Since I’m now 51 years old, I guest I’m one of the “identity groups” (the “aged”) – so be careful how you respond.


    I didn’t know PC was an is sue in the 1860’s though. That alone intrigues me enough to read the book.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2009 @ 11:42

      Thanks for the lesson, Richard (lol). I should have clarified. I am well aware of what it means, but the label has become so pervasive in our culture that it’s been rendered meaningless as far as I am concerned. That goes for both “politically correct” and “politically incorrect.” To use in reference to the 1860s tells me more about the person using it rather than the time period in question.

Leave a Reply to Drew WagenhofferCancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next post:

Previous post: