Today we welcome back guest author Stephen “Sam” Hood. Sam is the author of John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.
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Although unfounded theories of Hood using the painkilling opiate laudanum after his return to duty in early 1864 existed before Sword’s book, the baseless myth mushroomed in the 1990s, another blemish on Hood’s character permeating the broad Civil War history community via Sword’s successful and highly influential book. Sword wrote (without proper sourcing) that at Spring Hill Hood’s mind was “clouded by fatigue and perhaps laudanum.” And later in his book, Sword wrote that after finishing dinner at his headquarters on the night of November 29, 1864, Hood retired and “perhaps swallowed some laudanum.” Sword did not cite any primary source or eyewitness testimony for either of these claims; his only “proof” for the charges was a reference to a local legend in William B. Turner’s 1955 book A History of Maury County, Tennessee. Then, when writing about the Confederate failure at Spring Hill, Sword alleged Hood’s “careless attitude can perhaps be explained only in terms of the fatigue and possibly the opium derivative which clouded his mind.” Elsewhere in his book is a photo caption stating that “Hood often resorted to laudanum.”
There is no evidence whatsoever that Hood used drugs or alcohol after he recovered from the amputation of his right leg at Chickamauga. No contemporary—critic or supporter—ever recorded that Hood used opiates or alcohol. No routine medical or supply records mention painkillers for Hood. Even Hood’s newly discovered postwar papers, including 60 letters to his wife, are totally devoid of any mention of painkillers, or, for that matter, pain. The suggestion that Hood may have used laudanum was a theory that appeared in a 1940s book on General Richard Ewell, who like Hood had suffered an amputation of a limb during the Civil War. (The manner of Ewell’s wound, it should be noted, was much worse than Hood’s.)
It should also be noted that historian Steven Davis of Atlanta demolished this myth in 1998—with plenty of time for Sword to have seen and read the article, which appeared in Blue & Gray Magazine. (You can also access it here on the Internet.)
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Regarding the loss of supplies when Atlanta fell, Sword wrote that “Hood had waited too long” to remove the army’s enormous stockpile of supplies, attempting to demonstrate Hood’s ineptitude at logistics and inattention to detail. However, the facts reveal something quite different.
The Confederate defeat at Jonesboro on September 1 severed the last open rail line feeding Atlanta. Before it was cut, Hood’s quartermaster, Col. M. B. McMicken, had failed to evacuate a trainload of supplies and ordnance that included cannon, caissons, howitzers, 14,000 artillery rounds, and 5,000 Enfield muskets, as well as numerous small arms, ammunition, tools, and other equipment. Hood, via his chief of staff Gen. Francis Shoup, however, had indeed issued “repeated instructions” to remove the valuable train before the fall of the city. “Owing to the wanton neglect of the chief quartermaster of this army a large amount of ammunition and railroad stock had to be destroyed at Atlanta,” Hood explained to Braxton Bragg from Lovejoy’s Station on September 4. “He had more than ample time to remove the whole and had repeated instructions. I am reliably informed that he is too much addicted to drink of late to attend to his duties. Am greatly in want of an officer to take his place. Can you not send one?” The quartermaster general in Richmond granted Hood’s request and appointed a replacement for McMicken on September 23.
Sword never explains any of this to his readers. Most historians follow his lead.
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The original plan for the Tennessee invasion was for the Army of Tennessee to cross the Tennessee River at Guntersville, Alabama. Hood, however, was informed by cavalryman Gen. P. D. Roddey on October 18, 1864, that Guntersville was heavily guarded by Federal infantry, while Decatur, Alabama was but lightly defended. This important intelligence convinced Hood to change his plans and move the army west toward Decatur to avoid a pitched fight. Sword disparaged this wise and necessary decision when he wrote that, while en route to Guntersville, Hood “impulsively changed the army’s destination to Decatur.”
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According to Sword, diary entries penned by Hood’s men during the army’s movements in northern Alabama before the Tennessee Campaign reveal “plummeting” morale as a result of insufficient supplies. In support of this assertion (the army in fact was excited, and described by one officer as “buoyant with hope”) Sword provided two quotes of complaint, one from an individual identified as “a disgruntled captain,” and the other identified simply as “a soldier.” A check of the sources cited by Sword, however, reveals that the “disgruntled captain” and the “soldier” were one and the same: Capt. Samuel Foster of Granbury’s brigade, a strong Joseph Johnston devotee who despised Hood. In an effort to exaggerate the dislike for Hood, Sword gives multiple critical comments of individual Hood-haters, but identifies them differently each time to create the illusion that Hood had more critics than actually existed. And anyone who is familiar with Captain Foster knows he chronically complained about nearly everyone.
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One of the worst of the many cases of Sword misleading his readers is unfortunately the most difficult to illustrate in brief. In The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah Sword invests several pages attempting to convince readers that Generals Hood and Beauregard had an acrimonious relationship once Beauregard became Hood’s immediate superior following the fall of Atlanta. Hood, according to Sword, routinely ignored Beauregard and treated him with utter disrespect. This, according to Sword, infuriated Beauregard, who constantly retaliated against Hood. A complete chapter of a book could be written exposing the falsehoods written by Sword, for even a cursory examination of the sources cited by Sword reveals absolutely nothing of what Sword describes. Literally, nothing. In reality, Hood cooperated with Beauregard, and Beauregard worked well with Hood, and at no time even suggested any annoyance or anger at Hood.
Example: In Sword’s attempt to portray Hood as disrespectful and insubordinate, he wrote that during Hood’s movements in northern Alabama, P. G. T. Beauregard, via an aide, sent a “curt note” to Hood asking for a summary of the army’s past actions and a statement of future plans. The note, which Sword did not reproduce verbatim, reads as follows: “General Beauregard desires that you will forward him for the information of the War Department a brief summary of the operations of your army from the date of its departure from Jonesborough, Georgia, to the present time; also a concise statement of your plans for future operations, intended for the same office.” Sword then went on to allege that “Hood remained silent, ignoring this request for three days.” Sword failed to inform his readers that Hood did reply via a message sent by his inspector general to Richmond the following day, in which he clearly explained the reasons why reports and routine administrative functions were being delayed:
I beg leave respectfully to report that it is impracticable to render any inspectionreports for the army of Tennessee for the month of October, 1864. Since the 29th of September this army has been marching from fifteen to twenty miles a day. The campaign is still going on. General Hood unites with me in saying that these reports cannot be rendered, and hopes that this statement of facts will satisfy you that it is impracticable to do so. When you hear from me next, I hope that it will be in the heart of Tennessee, after Sherman has been whipped and the state reclaimed. The army is a unit, buoyant with hope.
Notwithstanding Sword’s dramatic portrayal, Beauregard’s request to Hood clearly was not “curt,” indeed it reads like many hundreds of others routinely found in the Official Records, and Hood did not “ignore” or defiantly disregard the request.
Another one of many examples by Sword involves an event in Tuscumbia, Alabama on November 11, when Hood suggested to Beauregard a change of supply base to Purdy, Tennessee. In response, Beauregard, according to Sword, not only rejected the idea but was “determined to retaliate.” [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 66.] The retaliation, continued Sword, was a review of A. P. Stewart’s corps arranged by Beauregard without informing Hood, who “responded to the perceived challenge like a petulant child,” sending an “acid-laced note to Beauregard.” How Sword could interpret Beauregard’s request to review one of Hood’s corps as revenge for suggesting a change of supply bases is left unexplained. In any event, none of the language in the note from Hood to Beauregard described by Sword as “acid-laced” is out of the ordinary. Beauregard’s reply to Hood was equally benign. In it, Beauregard explained to Hood that he and Gen. Stewart had mutually agreed to an informal troop review, and by an innocent oversight Hood had not been informed. (According to Beauregard, he thought Stewart would inform Hood, but Stewart had failed to do so.) Sword injected even more melodrama into this non-event, writing, “Beauregard had Hood’s dander up, and he pushed even further . . . as soon as circumstances permitted, Beauregard said, he would separately review the corps of Cheatham and Lee.” In fact, Beauregard closed his reply by politely expressing his desire to also review Cheatham’s and Lee’s corps, adding courteously, “As soon as circumstances permit . . . provided it will not interfere with the movements of the army.” [OR 39, pt. 3, 914.]
Sword’s version of these events continued. He informed readers that “to rub salt in Hood’s wounds,” Beauregard sent a note to Hood “about alleged mistreatment of [black] prisoners” being used as laborers on the railroad and fortifications around Corinth. Although Beauregard’s adjutant had indeed sent Hood a note inquiring about the medical treatment of the black laborers, on the same day Beauregard also sent Hood a request for the repair of some nearby bridges. Sword’s conclusion that correspondence over routine administrative matters was vengeful retaliation by Beauregard is baseless and inconsistent with Beauregard’s own words. [Roman, The Military Operations of General Beauregard, 605-606, 913-914; Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 70.]
Next week Sam will look at Spring Hill and Confederate general Patrick Cleburne.