Chickamauga: The Shot that Doomed the Confederacy?

On the afternoon of September 20, Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood went down with a gunshot wound to the leg while rallying his troops. Let me throw out something that will be intentionally provocative: Was the shot that took out Hood the gunshot that led to the downfall of the Confederacy?

Chick-HoodBefore I offer some thoughts on that, let’s first read the story of Hood’s wounding as told in Lee White’s Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale.

This appears on page 115:

The sudden appearance of [Federals] also sent [Bushrod] Johnson’s brigades into a panic, and a virtual stampede started across the Dyer field as men raced for the safety of the woods on the eastern side.

Seeing this, Gen. John Bell Hood rode in among the men of his old brigade. He grabbed the flag of his old regiment, the 4th Texas, and tried to rally his men—all the while still receiving fire from Harker’s men, who had now stopped at a fence line along a patch of woods a short distance to the north. Among his milling men, holding the flag and the reins of his horse with his disabled arm, Hood made an excellent target. He soon went down with a gunshot in his right thigh. Any hope of keeping the Texans in the fight now disappeared. They picked up their beloved commander and made their way to the rear.

Hood stayed in the West to recover from his wound even as the rest of his fellow Easterners from Longstreet’s First Corps went on to other assignments. During his convalescence, he was promoted to lieutenant general; he also struck up a friendship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

That combination of factors put Hood in a position to take over for General Joseph Johnston when Davis became too dissatisfied with Johnston’s defensive strategy in the summer of 1864. Hood, far more offensive minded, threw his outmanned army against Sherman’s superior forces outside Atlanta, thus losing the city; he did the same against Thomas at Franklin and Nashville later that fall. Historians have long criticized Hood–perhaps justly, perhaps not–for destroying the Confederacy’s main Western army.

If one buys the argument that, militarily, the war was won in the west (as I do), then one has to consider the loss of the Army of Tennessee as a major reason for that. That, therefore, requires an examination of Hood’s behavior as commander of that army. And how did Hood get promoted to command of the first place…?

Now that I’ve put that little earworm in your head, here’s another, different take: Check out Stephen Hood‘s new biography, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. Taking advantage of Hood’s lost personal papers (the first time anyone’s had access to them), Stephen Hood explodes a lot of the common myths about his collateral ancestor.

4 Responses to Chickamauga: The Shot that Doomed the Confederacy?

  1. My great-great-grandfather, Tobias Gibson Richardson, was the surgeon who amputated General Hood’s leg. Given the location of Hood’s wound and the state of medicine at the time, it is my understanding that he stood a 5 – 10% chance of survival. I must confess that I have often thought along lines similar to this provocative question: that, ironically, my ancestor might have doomed the Confederacy by so skillfully saving General Hood’s life!

    Because of Dr. Richardson’s link with Hood (he also served as his physician in post-War New Orleans–in fact, one of Hood’s daughters was named for his wife), I have wished and searched for reasons to esteem Hood’s generalship. This is not difficult until he came to the Army of Tennessee. After having read Stephen Hood’s book, I was not entirely convinced, although he is obviously correct about the extremely negative, even untrue, treatment of Hood by some authors (whom I had avoided anyway). Nevertheless, among other more general (pun intended) problems with Hood, I cannot help believing him at least partly responsible for Cleburne’s death.

    Hood certainly shines through all of history as a heroic fighter, and Lee White’s beautifully written word picture of his rallying his men, at great risk to his personal safety, perfectly conveys his gallantry. (Yesterday I had the privilege of soaking in two guided tours conducted by Mr. White at Chickamauga. His presentations were heartfelt, meaningful and inspiring–can’t wait to read his book.)

    I believe that Stephen Hood’s book was primarily completed BEFORE discovery of the lost Hood papers, and if that understanding is correct, perhaps a subsequent book incorporating the new documentary evidence will more convincingly redeem General Hood in my mind.

    1. Thanks for the note, Amanda. I’m glad you had a good time on the tours. I’ve spent a lot of time with Lee’s book, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it when you finally have the chance to check it out.

      Hood’s book, as I understand it, DOES take advantage of the Hood papers. I’ve not yet had the chance to read the book yet for myself, but when talking with the publisher about it in advance of publication, I know the publisher was VERY excited about the book because of the papers. He predicted that the book would redefine Hood scholarship. I’m definitely looking forward to finally settling down with it.

  2. I did indeed have access to Hood’s papers shortly before my manuscript was completed and published, and was fortunate to be able to insert some very important new information. Regarding Cleburne’s death, in Hood’s papers is a postwar letter from SD Lee to Hood that explains why Schofield escaped at Spring Hill, and what was on Cleburne’s mind at Franklin (and it had nothing to do with Hood.)

  3. Ms. Warren,

    What an honor to meet a direct descendent of Gen Hood’s dear friend Dr TG Richardson. In the newfound collection of Hood’s papers is poignant letter of condolence to Gen Hood written by Dr Richardson the day after Mrs. Hood’s death. The Richardsons were in Estes Park, Colorado, and unfortunately, Gen. Hood never received the letter, dying before it arrived in New Orleans.

    As for Gen. Cleburne’s death, in the newfound collection is a postwar letter to Hood from SD Lee, who conveyed a meeting he had with AP Stewart a few days earlier. According to Stewart, Cleburne and Frank Cheatham decided not to attack Schofield’s troops at Spring Hill because of darkness. Cleburne, according to Stewart, regretted his inaction the next morning upon learning of the Federal escape, claimed he would never again disobey orders, and “in that feeling” died the next day at Franklin attempting to redeem himself.

    S.M. Hood

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