John Bell Hood: The rise, fall, and resurrection of a Confederate General
by Stephen M. Hood
(Savas Beatie, 2013).
A Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table book review by David Lady.
Stephen Hood has written a most interesting and compelling book, inspired by a filial duty to his ancestor, Confederate General John Bell Hood. As Stephen points out, for one-hundred and fifty years General Hood has been castigated by Confederate apologists, newspapermen, historians, and novelists for his failures as a soldier and commander: For disputing with his leaders at Gettysburg, for losing Atlanta to Sherman’s Army, for his later defeats at Franklin and Nashville, for ‘destroying’ the Army of Tennessee. In addition, Hood has been accused of personal failings: stupidity, love-sickness, drunkenness, drug addiction; of “attack addiction” that wasted his soldier’s lives. Worst of all, the general has been held in contempt for belittling his soldiers as ‘cowards’ who failed to win battles with those attacks.
With this book, Mr. Hood discredits many of these critics for failing to carefully compare and weigh the original sources, preferring to use single unsubstantiated testimonies or even simply repeating hoary old stories and anecdotes. In some cases, Stephen accuses the critics of lying or fabricating incidents and anecdotes. Using a topical and not a chronological approach, he takes separate accusations and shows the weakness of many specific criticisms.
Stephen argues for a re-evaluation of the meaning of Robert E. Lee’s ‘tepid’ recommendation of General Hood’s potential as an Army commander; also of General Hood’s indifference to feeding and supplying his army, of his callousness of death and injury, and his preference for frontal assaults. He takes issue with General Hood’s criticism of his soldier’s lack of offensive spirit by the time of the battles around Atlanta, showing that it should not be viewed as an accusation of individual or collective cowardice. General Hood’s reputed disloyalty to General Joe Johnston, and his reproach of Patrick Cleburne after the none-battle of Spring Hill are also disputed by the author.
Mr. Hood has succeeded in showing that General Hood has often been unfairly maligned. In particular, he has shown the unreliability and prejudice contained in the proceedings of the Southern Historical Society Papers, where General Hood fares very poorly, not being a Virginian and sometimes disagreeing with his Virginian commanding general at Gettysburg, and having ‘lost the war along with Atlanta.’ Several well-received later-twentieth century histories about General Hood are sharply attacked: in particular Wiley Sword’s Embrace an Angry Wind and The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, and Thomas Connelly’s Autumn of Glory. As part of his contraction, Stephen Hood calls attention to numerous veteran testimonials and nineteenth-early twentieth century histories that place General Hood in a much more favorable light.
The book is not just an exercise in textual criticism. Stephen Hood does examine General Hood’s major actions as Army of Tennessee Commander: Peach Tree Creek, Bald Hill, Ezra Church, Jonesboro in the Atlanta campaign; Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville in the Middle Tennessee Campaign. However, these chapters focus on taking on the critics as much as on laying out the events of the battles. He offers context and alternative explanations for some of Hood’s strategic or tactical decisions, and identifies the culpability of other commanders in these defeats or missed opportunities. He does not lay out a closely reasoned case for regarding Hood as more than a mediocre Corps or Army commander.
I recommend this book to those interested in learning more about General John B. Hood. Stephen Hood is generally successful in defending his ancestor’s character and intelligence. He is less successful in providing a thorough and well-grounded reevaluation of General Hood as a commander, strategist, and tactician. Other historians have begun to do that, notably Stephen Davis for General Hood’s decisions during the Atlanta Campaign and Eric Jacobson for the Nashville Campaign. With this book, and with his recently published The Lost Papers of General John Bell Hood, Stephen Hood should energize Civil War historians and the interested public to work toward a more balanced and favorable evaluation of Lieutenant General John B. Hood.
David Lady is a native of Washington, D. C., and grew-up in northern Virginia during the Civil War Centennial. His branch of the Lady family lived in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia during the Civil War, and his forebears served on both sides of this war. David graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield OH with honors in History. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1974, and during his thirty-three year military career served as an Armor and Cavalry soldier and later as the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of the U. S. Army Armor Center, the
- S. Army Europe, and the U. S. Army Strategic Command. He and his wife Ellen reside in Huntsville, and he is employed on Redstone Arsenal with the U. S. Army Strategic Command. He serves on our Board of Directors as membership chairman, and is an enthusiastic participant in the Little Round Table and the Round Table Brigade.