Review of John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General by Stephen M. Hood
Newton’s second law of motion, roughly paraphrased, informs us that “an object at rest stays at rest, while an object in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.” This law of physics encapsulates Stephen M. Hood’s work of history John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, which reexamines the historical trajectory of the controversial Southern commander and seeks to push Hood historiography, often quite critical of the general, onto a new path. Indeed, Stephen Hood’s work is not so much a biography as a challenge to much of the existing scholarship on General Hood.
Boldly claiming that “some of the most well-known and influential historians of the 20th and 21st centuries,” regularly “misused sources, ignored contrary evidence, and/or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood,” Stephen Hood seeks to highlight and rectify these mistakes, redeeming the Southern general in the process. While the results of his endeavor are mixed, there can be no doubt that Stephen Hood’s work is a force to be reckoned with, guaranteed to raise your eyebrow on more than one occasion.
John Bell Hood does not enjoy a popular place in Civil War literature. Viewed as a wild, reckless brigadier-turned-lieutenant general, Hood’s 1864 tenure of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in particular earns the scorn of most historians. Author Stephen Hood, who is indeed a distant relative of the general, offers a thorough re-examination of virtually every charge laid against Hood. Earlya chapter are devoted to Hood’s youth and his relationships with prominent Confederate leaders, including Robert E. Lee. The bulk of the book grapples with Hood’s tough tenure during the 1864 Atlanta and Franklin/Nashville campaigns. Final chapters reevaluate commonly-held misconceptions about the general, including his supposed addiction to opium and his fondness for frontal assaults.
Such a rework in needed, we are told, due to prior historians’ misuse (incorrect citations, misinterpreted sources, etc.) or lack of primary sources supporting their claims. Moreover, Hood charges that many scholars cite prior secondary works of other historians too liberally, thus propelling mistakes into succeeding generations of literature. Stephen Hood does not shy away from controversy here—John Bell Hood challenges the scholarship of well-known scholars such as Stanley Horn, Thomas Connelly, and especially Wiley Sword. Albert Castel, Craig Symonds, and John Lundberg and others also come under Hood’s fire at times. These are big names, men who are really the architects for our understanding of the Civil War in the Western Theater. Yet Hood’s work does indeed uncover surprising scholarly mistakes that raise some serious questions about historical scholarship.
As a small example of Stephen Hood’s criticisms, take the often-cited phrase that General Hood was “all lion, no fox.” Stephen Hood notes that this phrase originated from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem “John Brown’s Body” from 1928. Yet historians have consistently and incorrectly attributed or implied this quote belonged to Robert E. Lee. Eddy Davison and Daniel Foxx’s biography of Nathan Bedford Forest charges that Lee thought Hood, “was ‘all lion and no fox.’ Lee was absolutely right.” Wiley Sword’s work implies that the quote came from Lee. Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway’s How the North Won the Civil War says “‘All lion, none of the fox,’ Robert E. Lee said of Hood.” James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom puts the quote in Lee’s mouth as well, citing Jones and Hattaway. Thus a poet’s clever phrase from sixty-three years after the Civil War thus becomes a critique straight from the mouth of Robert E. Lee. These types of errors are startling, and Stephen Hood’s work points out wagon-loads of them.
Errors such as these raise rough questions for historians, amateur and academic alike. Are we too reliant on secondary sources when producing our own narratives? Are our interpretations of events supported by the primary evidence we have gathered? Granted, historians must rely on secondary sources to a degree, something Stephen Hood fails to acknowledge. Indeed, historians have a responsibility to understand the arguments that other historians have made. Secondary sources provide us with base narratives, which we can then support or challenge. Still, Hood’s book highlights how even the best historians can repeat mistakes made by others, and the worst historians might be drawing questionable conclusions from scanty and/or misinterpreted sources. Frankly, it is refreshing (if somewhat frightening) to see someone really investigating the footnotes. After all, the devil is in the details. At the very least Stephen Hood’s work is a call for more careful and in-depth scholarship.
The strongest chapters of Stephen Hood’s book are the reexaminations of John Bell Hood’s generalship during the Atlanta and Nashville campaigns. Stephen Hood convincingly argues that Hood, thrust into an untenable situation in the trenches around Atlanta, delayed the fall of the city by weeks and boldly brought the war to the enemy’s doorstep with his subsequent invasion of Tennessee. The Tennessee invasion’s strategy was sound and the battles of Franklin and Nashville came closer than most realize to shattering the Union’s hold on the region. Certainly Stephen Hood adeptly conveys the panic the invasion stirred among the Union high command. The invasion’s failure, Hood contends, lies largely at the feet of General John Bell Hood’s subordinates. These chapters offer a fresh and convincing reinterpretation of John Bell Hood’s generalship, and military historians should take note.
While Stephen Hood’s work does succeed in making us questions the conclusions of others, his scholarship himself is not above reproach. First, Stephen Hood’s book is forthright about its pro-Hood bias: “this book,” Hood writes, “does not require balance because it represents the balance that is missing from most modern books…published about [General] Hood.” Perhaps this is true, but two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right. Finishing this book, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Hood comes off squeaky clean, personally and professionally. Surely some blame must rest at Hood feat for his invasion’s failure? Stephen Hood defends the Southern general at every turn, and in doing so, makes the reader wonder what he isn’t discussing.
Second, considering the weighty names that Stephen Hood challenges in his work, it is imperative that he establish the soundness of his own historical judgment with the reader. This he doesn’t quite do. In an early chapter, Stephen Hood contends that historians have inaccurately depicted Robert E. Lee’s opinion of John Bell Hood. In a series of two telegrams, Jefferson Davis inquired of Lee his thoughts on Hood as commander of the western army. Stephen Hood provides the texts of those messages to allow the reader to judge for themselves. I’ve placed them at the bottom of the article for you to read as well.* Stephen Hood argues that Lee is in favor of Hood, “making five positive comments and one negative.” Yet many historians, including myself, interpret Lee’s message as being rather critical of Hood, certainly not a ringing endorsement. Read the telegrams yourself; see if you can’t see the plausibility of both interpretations. Thus, what Stephen Hood castigates as “patently untrue” arguments by historians may simply be interpretations he himself doesn’t agree with or see. There are times throughout the book whether one wonders if the authors Hood is condemning truly blundered, or simply came to differing conclusions. John Bell Hood raises questions about other scholars’ work, yes, but it also raises a few questions about Stephen Hood’s scholarship as well.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Stephen Hood seems to trust completely John Bell Hood’s post-war memoirs Advance and Retreat. Although Stephen Hood reminds of the importance of primary sources, those sources can still be quite deceptive. Considering that General Hood’s memoirs were written in the midst of a post-war, Lost Cause, mud-slinging feud, certainly we should take Advance and Retreat with a grain of salt. Nowhere in Stephen Hood’s book does he deeply discuss General Hood’s memoirs, their veracity, or why he chose to put so much belief in them.
Ultimately, this is a book that belongs on Civil War bookshelves, especially for those interested in either General Hood or the war in the west. Stephen Hood has written a powerful critique on Hood scholarship, raising important questions both about how historians write and how historians have treated Hood. At times convincing, at other time less so, it is ultimately a book that, while not definitive or conclusive, certainly pushes our understanding of John Bell Hood and his war to the next level. It is a book to be reckoned with, and I surely hope that others (historians and readers both) will offer their thoughts, opinions, support and criticisms of it.
John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General by Stephen M. Hood. Savas Beatie LLC, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61121-140-5. 335 pp., $32.95.
*Lee’s first telegram to Jefferson Davis on July 12, 1864: Telegram of today received. I regret the fact stated. It is a bad time to release the commander of an army situated as that of Tennessee. We may lose Atlanta and the army too. Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.
Lee’s second telegram to Jefferson Davis later that evening: I am distressed at the intelligence conveyed in your telegram today. It is a grievous thing to change commander of an army situated as is that of the Tennessee. Sill if necessary it ought to be done. I know nothing of the necessity. I had hoped that Johnston was strong enough to deliver battle. We must risk much to save Alabama, Mobile and communication with the Trans Mississippi. It would be better to concentrate all cavalry in Mississippi and Tennessee on Sherman’s communications. If Johnston abandons Atlanta I suppose he will fall back on Augusta. This loses us Mississippi and communications with Trans Mississippi. We had better therefore hazard that communication to retain the country. Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battle field, care less off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal. General Hardee has more experience managing an army. May God give you wisdom to decide in this momentous matter.
Zac Cowsert received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Political Science from Centenary College of Louisiana, a small liberal-arts college in Shreveport. He is currently a graduate student at West Virginia University focusing in U.S. History and the American Civil War. His studies and research often explore the Trans-Mississippi Theater. ©
35 Responses to Review of John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General by Stephen M. Hood
Tell us a little about Stephen Hood, please.
Meg-I don’t have the book in front of me, but here’s a little from his Amazon site:
“Stephen M. “Sam” Hood is a distant relative of Confederate General John Bell Hood…He is a 1970 graduate of Kentucky Military Institute, and earned a BBA in Marketing from Marshall University in 1976…With an abiding interest in Civil War history, Sam is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Blue Gray Education Society of Chatham VA, and is past president of the Board of Directors of Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans.”
I will say that that due to the author’s relationship to Gen. Hood, I was somewhat skeptical of his approach. Regardless, however, I think his book is plausible and cited well-enough that it should be responded to critically and seriously. He discusses how he came to the project in the book as well (essentially, he noted contradictions in the basic Hood narrative).
I should also mention that this book is based off a new cache of recently-discovered Hood documents. I wish Stephen Hood had talked about these documents a bit more. One of the reasons I think historians SHOULD respond to this book (why it can’t be the final, definitive say), is that I think Hood should be reevaluated with these new documents on hand.
Hello Zac, Thanks for this. You will be pleased (I think) to learn that Savas Beatie has contracted a new study of Hood’s generalship with a qualified historian (Steven Davis, one of Bell Wiley’s students) based upon these recently found documents. No pub date has yet been determined.
One might say of Stephen Hood’s defense of General Hood what Craig Symonds said of Johnston (rough paraphrase), “The more strenuously Johnston asserted in his memoirs that absolutely NO blame attached to him, the more people suspected that he WAS to blame.”
Specifically in what way please?
I’m afraid I can’t offer specifics at this point, having thumbed through it only a few times idly without reading it the whole way through (I’m in the middle of another book, and I never been able to read two books at once and keep track of the contents of both). What I mean is that, generally speaking, wholesale exonerations (and wholesale condemnations, for that matter) tend to be viewed by the general public today with skepticism. When someone argues that another person ought to bear ALL of the blame for something, we suspect that he’s grasping for straws and that the blame can be more evenly apportioned amongst several others. When someone argues that he, or another, is completely EXEMPT of any and all blame, that everything that went wrong is someone else’s—or something else’s—fault, but NOT his in any way, shape, or form, once again, we suspect special pleading, and that the truth is he probably bears at least some of it. It may be—I suspect it is, in fact—that your work is more nuanced than that; I was only responding to how it seems to be marketed.
For what it’s worth, as I tried to point out in my above comment, I believe that all too many Johnston biographers have done the same thing. There’s no way you can convince me that Joe Johnston didn’t do ANYTHING wrong, that it was all Davis’ fault, Pemberton’s fault, Hood’s fault, etc., etc….even though the first Johnston bio I ever read (Govan & Livingood’s) tried to do just that, and actually had me convinced for a brief shining moment.
The very first words in my book are, “It’s a shame a book like this even has to be written.” I then admit that I know my book will be criticized for being unbalanced, but that in fact it IS the balance absent in all modern books on the Army of Tennessee and Hood’s battles and campaigns in the West. I state that the works of Thomas Connelly, Wiley Sword, and some others are largely compilations of everything negative ever written or said about Hood, and that those books are cleansed of any contemporary evidence that is unfit to soil Hood’s legacy. I implore readers NOT to just read my book, but to read the others in order to get a full presentation on John Bell Hood. I don’t just throw out vague accusations, I give specific examples–all fully sourced.
The most important page of my book is page one of the Introduction. If it is not read, or read and disregarded, readers will have no clue what my book is about. Hood made plenty of mistakes and misjudgments, and they are all chronicled in Sword’s and Connelly’s (and others) books. Hood had plenty of supporters, sympathizers, and admirers, but the only place you’ll learn about them is in my book.
Again, mine is not so much a book on John Bell Hood, rather, it is on the historiography of Hood by authors who have shaped his reputation. My book has been called “Revisionist” but I prefer to call it “Correctionist.”
Looks like a myth busting biography. I’ll read it for the historiography of the ‘Hood’ stereotype.
As the publisher, I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to review this important book.
This manuscript landed in my lap at the strong urging of historian Eric Wittenberg. Nearly everyone reading this blog knows of Eric and his outstanding reputation and understanding of how to use facts and sources when writing Civil War history.
I recall reading the original manuscript and thinking (dozens of times), “That can’t be true. A historian of such distinction would never simply make up such facts as author Hood suggests.” And yet, when I opened up my Official Records volume or some other source upon which the historian relied, and checked it against his book, indeed it was so. In far too many cases what had been thrust upon unknowing readers had not been just “misinterpreted” (as the reviewer charitably suggests), but made up from whole cloth or objectively “fudged” (again, a charitable term) to present a Hood that did not exist, a plan that was never intended, events that never transpired, et. al. Many instances arose from sheer laziness. But many more were outright falsehoods. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Read it yourself, open the secondary works noted and reach your own conclusions.
Indeed, I hope everyone who has an interest in Civil War history reads this remarkable book as a cautionary warning to dig deeply in the sources writers dangle before you, instead of blindly swallowing the shiny hook and running with it.
I am confident that future writers of Hood’s generalship and the western campaigns in which he participated will have no choice but to carefully check their scholarship before putting pen to paper.
I think this book has caused a bit of an internet stir, so I did want to weigh in as judiciously as possible. As I said above, I do think this book has flaws, and I really hope other historians respond to it one way or another. That said, it did open my eyebrows at times, and it absolutely should belong on a lot of bookshelves.
Thanks Zac, and I appreciate your review. Books will cease being imperfect when someone or something besides man produces them. Until then ., . . 🙂
Author Stephen “Sam” Hood here. Ted Savas informed me of your fair, thoughtful, and well-reasoned review.
I will submit a detailed reply later this afternoon or evening.
Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my book.
Reputations run in cycles…
As I said previously, thanks for the great review.
A few responses if I may.
You state that some of my revelations “offer a fresh and convincing reinterpretation of John Bell Hood’s generalship, and military historians should take note.” It just so happens that Dr. Stephen Davis is currently writing a new book reassessing Hood’s generalship of the Army of Tennessee. I gave Steve early access to the entire collection of Gen. Hood’s recently discovered personal papers and therefor his book should be insightful and revealing.
You also write, “Stephen Hood’s book is forthright about its pro-Hood bias: ‘this book,’ Hood writes, ‘does not require balance because it represents the balance that is missing from most modern books…published about [General] Hood.’ Perhaps this is true, but two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right.” I understand what you say, but the first words in the Introduction of my book are “It’s a shame a book like this even has to be written.” And it’s true. I felt somewhat perturbed that someone (me) was having to partake of such an effort. I am not a trained historian, yet it seemed clear to me that no professional historian was going to tackle the subject. In the next chapter of the Intro I urge my readers to read other books on Hood and his campaigns. I write:
“My wish is that they read this book in conjunction with others, for these pages intentionally present only the quotes, comments, and excerpts I have accumulated in more than ten years of study and research that support Hood and his decisions with the Army of Tennessee. And therein rests the “balance” mentioned earlier, because the words and comments of Hood’s critics are well-chronicled in the works of authors such as Thomas Connelly, James McDonough, Wiley Sword, and many others whose books and articles are largely cleansed of interpretations and references to historical records that shine a positive light on Hood’s reputation.”
Regarding my interpretation of Robert E. Lee’s response to Jefferson Davis’s inquiry of Hood as possible commander of the Army of Tennessee, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Lee’s words clearly speak for themselves. If Lee’s cautious advice to Davis was a rejection of the idea of elevating Hood, who then was Lee suggesting? He mentioned only Hardee, and commented only on his army management experience. With Sherman having steadily advanced 100 miles to within five miles from central Atlanta, would Davis want a bold fighter or an army manager?
You bring up a great point about my acceptance of Hood’s memoirs Advance and Retreat. I am currently writing an annotated volume of Hood’s newfound papers, and one of the chapters will be on the credibility of A&R. I made a close examination of Hood’s work papers, and I found nothing in the contents of any of the approximately 200 letters that was inconsistent with what he had written. If Hood gave erroneous information in the memoirs, he had received erroneous information from correspondents. The lone exception is where Hood acknowledged writing only two letters to Richmond authorities while he was a corps commander under Johnston, when we now know there were a few others. But Hood clearly stated that the two letters were all that he could recall, and in fact there were none of the others among his personal and work papers. In fact, there is an unpublished letter Hood had written to Louis T. Wigfall in March 1864 from Dalton informing him of Johnston’s movements (or lack thereof) but Hood opens the letter by stating that he had received Wigfall’s letter “and I will try to answer your direct questions.” This is further proof that Hood’s “poison pen” letters to Richmond in the spring of 1864 were in fact replies to letters the authorities were sending him. Was he to ignore letters from Richmond and refuse to reply?
Finally, in response to your quite correct observation that some of my defenses of Hood are stronger than others, I admit that I wanted to take the opportunity of publishing a book to broach any and all criticisms I had read or heard in my 20 years of wandering Civil War battlefields, attending tours, and reading. Some subjects I tackled were admittedly somewhat silly (although interesting,) such as the validity of the widespread myth that the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee, during the retreat from Nashville, sang a corrupted version of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”…“But the Gallant Hood of Texas played hell in Tennessee.”
Again, many thanks for the excellent review, and the kind words.
About the controversy of the “lion/fox” quote: It is interesting that Secretary of War Seddon gave advice to Hood upon his attaining command that corresponds so closely to the meaning, albeit without the animal symbolism: “Be wary no less than bold.”
Amanda, in fact Hood was quite wary. His attack on Sherman at Peachtree Creek was intended to catch a detached portion of Sherman’s army as it was crossing a river. His next attack (Decatur) was to the left and rear of Sherman’s army, in an attempt to exploit a mistake by Sherman, who had left his flank largely undefended. At Ezra Church Hood sent SD Lee repeated orders not to attack another detached wing of the Union army if it had already entrenched. Lee disobeyed orders and attacked. At Jonesboro Hood had no choice but to try and push Sherman’s force away from the last remaining rail line into Atlanta. To lose Jonesboro was to loose Atlanta. Later, in Tennessee, Hood elected not to assault Schofield’s fortified positions at Columbia, and made the flank march to Spring Hill, which failed because Frank Cheatham did not obey Hood’s repeated orders to seize the road. Hood attacked at Franklin because to not do so meant he would have had to contend with Schofield later at more heavily fortified Nashville. And at Nashville Hood did not attack Thomas, rather he fortified his own lines, called repeatedly for reinforcements (which were not available, or in the case of Kirby Smith, no attempt was made to come to Hood’s aid,) and received George Thomas’s attack. Hood (along with the entire Confederate military) had few options late in the war. Richmond made the decision not to surrender, and ordered their commanders–Lee, Hood, and Kirby Smith–to fight on. And fight on they did.
I’ve felt for some time that Hood is due a little more generosity than he typically receives from CW historians, and I certainly intend to read your work. The one battle, though, where I just can’t get on board with Hood is Franklin. I’ve certainly heard the pro-Hood arguments there: flanking wouldn’t work, time was of the essence, etc., etc. And I can understand the necessity in war of risking everything on one more “roll of the iron dice.” And yet…and yet…nope; it just seems like a colossal mistake: an advance with two-thirds of the army over a bare, two mile-front approach, no artillery prep, against earthworks. If we could just agree that THIS one battle was bone-headed and completely unredeemable on his behalf, then it would go better with me, I can tell you. Every other AOT battle during Hood’s tenure—P’tree Creek, Bald Hill, Ezra Church, Jonesboro, even Nashville—has extenuating circumstances, human frailities, and “friction” that seem more plausible, more “well, that’s just the way it is.” Franklin just seems…bad…REALLY BAD…UNACCEPTABLTY BAD for Hood’s rep, and I imagine it will always be so. Anyway, I’m certainly picking up a copy next time I’m in B & N.
I agree. I think Hood can be looked on differently for the Battles around Atlanta but the Battle of Franklin was a terrible, terrible mistake. Hood decimates his army there and the leadership of it.
Hood should have been saving men not using them up like he did at Franklin. Keeping the army and its key Generals intact was much more important than trying to crush Schofield after missing the chance at Spring Hill.
I really can’t believe that the army was somehow able to pull itself together after Franklin to get destroyed at Nashville.
Guitarmandanga: I think Franklin is more infamous for the results of the battle than the decision to attack. The battle was unquestionably savage in terms of the concentration of casualties in both time (4 hours) and space (only 1,100 yards in length) and the men of the AOT were in a do-or-die mentality, having finally caught the retreating Yankees after retreating from them for 8 months. It is recorded in many letters and memoirs that the men of the AOT were chomping at the bit on the march from Spring Hill, and Hood beheld their aggressive mood–so essential in 19th century warfare. I cover Hood’s decision to attack in depth in my book, but basically, he had only a few hours of daylight and a flank was impossible (regardless of what Forrest supposedly said.) Hood had only 2 options: attack them in Franklin where they had been fortifying for 3 hours, or later at Nashville where they had been fortifying for 3 years. S.A. Cunningham was near to Hood and recalled him carefully “meditating on his responsibility” immediately before the attack, and “making a most careful survey of their lines.” Cunningham wrote, “It was all important to attack if at all, at once.” Hood of course elected to attack. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with Hood’s expressed reason for attacking at Franklin, but I have a major problem with those (like Wiley Sword) who assert that Hood was irrationally enraged and intentionally ordered his own army to be slaughtered to punish them for their cowardice at Spring Hill. Throw in a little opium, and the claim that he was trying to look good for his girlfriend back in Richmond and you have some truly outrageous “history” of the Battle of Franklin to which I strongly object.
I still (and will always) find the decision to make the attack a terrible one. It absolutely decimated the command structure of the Army of Tennessee. It completely destroyed morale in the army.
Also, going in without heavy artillery support and your whole army not up is also a bad decision.
Capt Samuel Foster (who is a excellent source) from Granbury’s Texas Brigade in his diary had some choice words for Hood after the Battle of Franklin and he had every right because he was there and saw the destruction of a great army.
Since you proclaim that you will never change your mind about Hood’s decision to attack at Franklin, I present this response for the benefit of others who may be following this thread.
Hood could not await his artillery, nor the two other divisions of SD Lee’s corps. Diminishing daylight necessitated an immediate attack, or no attack. The army could see Schofield’s trains crossing the hastily repaired bridges in Franklin and moving toward Nashville. As S.A. Cunningham said, “It was all important to act, if at all, at once.”
I have a major problem with Samuel Foster, and I spend some time on him in my book. His vile, caustic (literal) damnation of Hood the day after Franklin is so extreme that it assures its inclusion in every book written on the Battle of Franklin. He had every right to be upset, but there were veterans of that battle who supported Hood’s decision to attack, notwithstanding its failure, and they are never quoted.
Foster loved Joe Johnston and despised Hood from the start. (Foster said the army wanted nobody but Johnston…not even Robert E. Lee.) Foster noted that Jefferson Davis risked being assassinated after removing Johnston, and didn’t condemn the possibility. Foster, a captain, recorded that he counseled a private to disobey a direct order from Hood to return to Atlanta to destroy some equipment that had mistakenly been left in operating condition. Foster told the private to tell Hood “to go do it himself” and Foster even bragged that the private followed his advice and didn’t go back and destroy the machinery, thus leaving it to the benefit of Sherman’s occupiers. Foster was a belligerent and insubordinate officer, yet his views on Hood at Franklin are always reprinted, and give the impression that his feelings were universal, when they were not.
There is a third way. Spend a ton of hours researching primary sources, and don’t just include those in your book that support a premise. And take as long as necessary, rather than be enslaved to a deadline set by a publisher.
There are plenty of comments about Hood–pro and con–in the historical records, and I published a slew of the pro-Hood quotes, since all the anti-Hood ones were chronicled by Sword. I’m no miracle worker; all the testimony I found was right there in the records, viewable to any willing naked eye.
But no matter what, a on-fiction writer should, under no circumstances, let flourish and style distort the facts.
Hey Chris – excuse my ending this sentence in a preposition, but exactly what do you think Hood should have been saving his men for? Even “intact” he was facing pretty long odds at Nashville.
Fascinating discussion. Yes, I am the publisher, but I will offer something up here since most CW students are appalled Hood attacked at Franklin.
First, until I read Sam’s manuscript I was equally appalled and believed all the pablum so many authors had written about “why” Hood ordered the attack (he was rash, he wanted to punish his men, he was smoking crack with a hooker that morning, he was stupid, he refused to listen to anyone, etc.). As it turns out, none of that was true and Sam lays out a pretty good case “why” Hood attacked both in the book and on this comment thread. There was also a case to be made pre-hindsight for why he should not have assaulted. But, he did, and it did not turn out well–but that is all hindsight. Was there a strong case to be made for launching the attack when and as he did? Now, I must confess, the answer in my opinion is unquestionably strong yes.
Now, look at Lee at Gettysburg. He was a much more successful general, vastly more experienced in leading an army, the situation for the South was not nearly as desperate, Lee had more time to study the enemy position, and had fought on that field for two full days. And yet, it was clear to Longstreet and others that launching such an attack could not succeed, and even if the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack had broken the Union line–so what? Meade had thousands of men in reserve, and Lee had nothing left to follow up with in any substantial way.
If Hood had broken the line and collapsed Schofield at Franklin, it would have destroyed his command and seriously hurt Thomas’s changes of holding Nashville. In other words, Lee was gambling a buck to make a buck ten. Hood was gambling a buck to make three bucks.
But we don’t call Lee stupid, rash, allege he wanted to punish his men for failing on the two previous days (Cemetery Hill and on the southern end of the field), etc. Was there a strong case to be made for Lee to launch the July 3 attack when and as he did? Now, I must confess, the answer in my opinion is unquestionably no. Just walk the field and you know immediately, even as a lay person, that ordering that attack was damn near criminal (and I am a strong fan of Lee’s, BTW, so save your hate mail).
I guess my point in that we treat different generals and their motives differently. Hood attacked and was beaten and so he was an X. Lee attacked and was beaten, but Lee was . . . .
Just an observation after but one cup of coffee. Thanks for all the interest in the book, this thread, and your support of independent Civil War publishing.
Is Foster the one who said that (rough paraphrase) “the tears of the widows and oprhans of Franklin will light up the fires of hell to burn Hood throughout eternity”?
It’s regrettable, but almost inevitable, that not just the same secondary sources but many of the same primary sources are recycled ad infinitum ad nauseam in Civil War studies. It’s always been a little irritating to me that Sam Watkins of Company H, 1st Tennessee Infantry gets to be the AOT “everyman,” to the point where his opinions stand in for those of the other 50 – 60,000 men in that army. Yet when you have a few people who wrote extensively and descriptively (Watkins, Foster, et al), while the vast majority—if they wrote at all—simply wrote, “It rained today,” “We fawt a hard battle, so-and-so-killed,” etc., it’s difficult for the historian to do much of anything else. Either he “salts” and “seasons” his narrative with the same, tired old chestnuts in the way of letters and memoirs from a select few…or he writes the driest, dullest crap in the world that no one wants to read.
Ever since reading Bradley Clampitt’s “The Confederate Heartland,” I’ve been quite curious about the full letter collection of Norphret Brown, an Alabamian in SAM Wood’s/Lowery’s Brigade of Cleburne’s Division who started out as a Hood supporter but gradually came to dislike him. I think that collection (at UAla), which is said to be extensive, would show an interesting side to the Hood/Johnston contretemps and another voice beyond the usual suspects, but right now it’s marked in the collection notes that there are restrictions against publishing the entirety in book form.
I believe Hood lost Nashville by failing to take Decatur, Alabama on Oct. 26-29, 1864.
I had the honor to spend 2 hours yesterday with the iconic gentleman and historian Richard McMurry at the Blake Confederate Library at Marshall University. Richard consented to write the Foreword for my forthcoming book “The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood” (Savas Beatie, May 2014). My cup runneth over.
I have read this book twice in order to fully understand how Hood went from being a hero in the East, to the person that caused the end of the Confederacy in the West.It would seem that from the time Hood took command from Johnston, he was doomed for the loss of the war in the West.After the continued retreat from the Union Army,it is little wonder that taking Johnston out of Command and replacing him with Hood was some thing that should have been done early on.
What could Hood do to to turn around the situation ? unlike the command he had of the Texas Brigade in the East,the war in the West was lost by the lack of will to fight by the troop’s (it is hard to get men to stand and fight when they continue to retreat before the enemy),petty rivalry in the Officer rank’s and a poor logistic’s. The Confederate Government must take a lot of the blame, as they were slow to act and did not grasp the seriousness of the situation.As for the Officer’s that were under Hood’s command,some were tardy and as demonstrated at Spring Hill,let the enemy slip away,thus making the future battle’s harder to fight against a larger Union force.
As for the personal attack’s upon Hood’s character, it is sad that there is a lot stated about Hood that has little justification, given that some historian’s took it upon them selves to write about Hood with out solid evidence as to the claim’s mentioned.It is also noted that Sam Hood has been castigated by some authors for speaking out about the treatment that John Bell Hood has been given.
It is well to remember that revisionist history is very selective and that in any examination by the reader,there must be a clear reasoning that some of what is written can well be the selective view’s of the author, rather than historically based fact.
Hood didn’t adapt to the changes of warfare and he was not alone in that regard. He was fighting the last war as we Americans often do and did frontal assaults long after they were not feasible. This is true of many generals in the Civil War as this is what they were taught at West Point. They studied Napoleon and charges with massed columns but rifled muskets made these tactics foolhardy especially with the manpower issues of the South.
He was a great divisional commander and one of the best of the war. His units fought hard but lost many casualties in different battles. He was not a good army level commander. Many were promoted to commands they could not handle in the war. A.P. Hill was a prime example. Courage can only take you so far. The Army of Tennessee found that out.
This author is a relative and thereby biased as well as those who put him down. One can find facts to support Hood and go against him and the answer is probably in the middle. There were clear scapegoats after the war and Hood was one of those blamed. But in the West, the Union Army was generally superior to the Confederates just as Bobby Lee dominated the Yankees in Virginia for several years. The South demise can be tied to offensive thrusts in an age where defensive positions with rifled muskets made those pure folly.
There is one point that most people don’t address about the battle of Franklin that needs to be addressed. I live in Franklin and Spring Hill all my life. I know the distance it takes to get from Spring Hill to Franklin. I have even walked from Thompson Station to the family farm on the outskirts of Franklin. With all that said…A march from Spring Hill to Franklin would take most of the day. Thus the time to dig in defenses after that march would not be long if any enemy is only hours behind you.
I haven’t studied this battle as extensively as I have studied tactics/strategy in general and from what I know I would have ordered that attack for multiple reasons:
1.) Enemy has marched all night with very little rest. While your men had an extra nights rest.
2.) They have spent what little time they have ahead of you building what defenses they could and trying to repair an escape route. Thus the defenses are not as strong as they will be by any later time. In fact most of the defenses are only a couple hours old and hastily constructed.
3.) They WILL retreat if given the option into a even better fortified position with another army for reinforcements thereby eliminating any effect of attacking the enemy at all. And in actuality leaving you with a bigger threat then you had to contend with beforehand.
4.) Moral of both armies. One army is running in fear the other is on the hunt. If you don’t attack when your men are this hungry for an attack you will be looked at as a coward and potentially treasonous allowing the enemy to escape and reinforce a bigger army when you had the opportunity to destroy them twice and failed to attack both times.
You think Hood is slandered now imagine if he did not attack at Spring Hill and Franklin when he had the opportunity to wipe a weaken enemy from the map before it reinforced a larger force twice. And failed to even attack them either time.
That is all the reason that anyone at the time could reasonable consider as a general.
Now in hindsight we can arm chair discuss the issue to death with knowledge of what actually happened but militarily it was the ONLY reasonable option was to attack at Franklin and from what I have read it NEARLY worked. The enemy lines were broken and victory was almost secured but the amazing Union army managed to come back from the precipice of defeat and re-secure their line which is a very uncommon thing in and of itself and generally considered an AMAZING feat in battle unless it is part of a maneuver to open the center of the lines to trap the enemy. And even then it is dangerous cause it can leave your armies split.
With all that said it was a bloody battle and a Pyrrhic Victory for the Southern Army. And what they needed was three or four actual victories up through the enemy armies into Union lands to win the war. Victories which were basically impossible to achieve because they did not have the soldiers to lose that victory would have required them to sacrifice.
SK Hood: I cannot disagree with anything you say, but there is one fact that should be recognized. Although Schofield’s army indeed arrived only a few hours before Hood’s assault, there were existing Union fortifications from earlier in the war, including, if I am correct, the earthworks near the Carter House and cotton gin, and of course Ft. Granger. According to Eric Jacobson, they had somewhat deteriorated, but they were in place when Schofield arrived.
For me SK’s point 4 has always been paramount in my thinking about Franklin. “Imagine if he did not attack” indeed. Any criticism that would have followed THEN would have been justified and I suspect it would have been immediate and intense. The criticism that has been popularized by contemporary “historians” was created in hindsight and exaggerated with outright fabrications over 100 years later. Stephen Hood’s book reveals the depth of this deception.
I doubt anyone is reading this, as I’m seven years late in joining the discussion. My interest in Hood and the Battle of Franklin derives from two things:  I’m distantly related to Lt. General John C Carter through my maternal grandmother, born in Waynesboro, GA.  I had the honor of visiting the battlefield during my years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
I plan to purchase two copies of Sam Hood’s book-one for myself and another for my amateur historian brother. Thanks for the great discussion. As a retired physician, I love learning history, at least partly because I have always had to concentrate my reading on science and math.