The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood
Scholars hail Confederate General John Bell Hood s personal papers as the most important discovery in Civil War scholarship in the last half century. This invaluable cache includes documents relating to Hood s U.S. Army service, Civil War career, and postwar life. It includes letters from Confederate and Union officers, unpublished battle reports, detailed medical reports relating to Hood s two major wounds, and dozens of letters exchanged between Hood and his wife Anna. This…

This book is an interesting collection of documents that were passed down through the Hood family and not made available until recently, buttressed by the author’s introduction and explanatory material between documents.  The foreword is by noted historian Richard McMurry. There are 126 primary source documents ranging from letters written by Hood as a lieutenant on the frontier to condolences written to his family after his death.  The editor/author is a distant relative of John Bell Hood who shares the nickname “Sam.”

The items of particular interest to the Civil War buff are in those chapters concerning his wounds and their treatment, the Atlanta Campaign, and the Nashville Campaign.  Much of the material was assembled by Hood from friends and subordinates for his use in writing his book, Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate Armies, which was originally published in 1880.  In many respects that book was a reply to Joe Johnston’s Narrative of Military Operations Directed during the Civil War (1874) and Sherman’s Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (1875), both of which were highly critical of Hood.  Hood solicited letters to refresh his recollections and to provide data to refute the allegations of Johnston and Sherman, while the medical reports shed new light on his mental and physical condition after his devastating wounds at Gettysburg and Chickamauga.

The chapter concerning Hood’s wounds contains the daily notes of the attending physician, Dr. Thompson Darby, and Dr. Darby’s medical reports on his condition.  Not only do these documents give a fascinating glimpse into Civil War medicine, they also decisively refute many theories concerning Hood’s physical abilities and mental sharpness.  According to the reports, Hood had significant use of his injured arm and was no longer using any pain medication by the time he returned to duty after his leg amputation.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions the letters and documents concerning Atlanta and Nashville are of lesser interest.  All these were written well before the Official Records were issued, so they address opinions and controversies that, in the main, were resolved when these records were published.  Yes, Johnston understated his strength and his casualties in his book, although not quite to the extent Hood alleged.  Hood excused his failure at Cassville by quoting a Union report (included) that documented two Union regiments  (less than 1,000 men) were threatening the rear of his 20,000 man corps—not particularly convincing.  These letters and documents do not address the period when Hood had overall command around Atlanta, but pick up again after its fall and address the Nashville Campaign.  The most interesting new information in this whole section is relayed in a letter written in 1875 from S. D. Lee to Hood, alleging that A. P. Stewart told him Cleburne was overcome by remorse concerning the failure at Spring Hill and hinting that Cleburne pressed the attack at Franklin suicidally because of this.  This second-hand opinion is interesting, although a close reading of the Spring Hill engagement would suggest the primary fault lay first with Brown and then with Cheatham.

To understand many of the points raised in the various letters (and the point of view of the letter writers, both Hood and the others) requires a fairly detailed knowledge of the campaigns and the personalities involved.  For instance, the average reader could hardly be expected to understand why Francis Shoup was supportive of Hood and dismissive of Johnston, while A. P. Stewart inclined to supporting Johnston’s positions over Hood’s.  Some of the author’s notes allude to a few of the issues but not to all.  All in all, this is a book directed more to specialists rather than the general run of Civil War buff, yet it contains interesting sidelights and insight into Hood’s character as well as documenting some of the sources Hood used for his book.


Reviewed by John Scales