Hood on Hood—Part III

The third part of a four-part series.

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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John Bell Hood BiographyRegarding the Spring Hill affair, Sword once again attacked Hood, ignoring the fact that Hood sent numerous orders to his subordinates to attack the fleeing Federals. “It was Hood’s mismanagement and his assorted careless errors that led to such disastrous consequences,” Sword wrote about Spring Hill. “Indeed, despite the failure of others the primary fault was Hood’s . . . The responsibility for the conduct of operations was Hood’s, and yet he had acted with gross carelessness. By failing to adequately communicate with his chief subordinates, he had created a fatal leadership malaise.” Hood in fact sent numerous orders to Gen. Frank Cheatham via multiple couriers, including Tennessee governor Isham Harris, yet Cheatham did not comply. Finally Hood ordered Nathan Bedford Forrest to block the road. Forrest failed, and neglected to send word of the failure back to Hood. According to Sword, this is carelessness and inattention to detail by Hood. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 154-155.]

Sword acknowledged that Hood blamed Cheatham for the Spring Hill failure, but then asserted that Cheatham, in turn, blamed Patrick Cleburne and John C. Brown. “While reliable reports of the gathering are lacking,” wrote Sword about the meeting of Confederate commanders at the Rippavilla plantation in Spring Hill on the morning after the Federal escape, “from circumstantial evidence it appears Cheatham excused his inaction by placing much of the blame for not attacking on Generals Brown and Cleburne, neither of whom were present at the breakfast.” However, Sword later contradicted himself when he stated that it was Hood, not Cheatham, who had blamed Cleburne: “Pat Cleburne evidently received word of Hood’s displeasure with his conduct at Spring Hill from Cheatham, following the morning’s breakfast.” Sword informed his readers that no contemporary evidence existed proving that Hood blamed Cleburne, and he even stated that circumstantial evidence pointed to Cheatham, then wrote that it was Hood who blamed Cleburne. Sword seems unable to resist his urgings to place Hood in every possible negative light.

After the failure at Spring Hill, Hood was described by witnesses as being among the many Confederates angry in the early morning of November 30, 1864, after learning of the Federal escape. However, after the early morning hours there is no evidence whatsoever that Hood was still angry. In fact every eyewitness account of Hood later in the day described him as soldierly, composed, and contemplative before the attack at Franklin. Yet Sword embellishes Hood’s anger, and without any credible evidence, claims Hood stayed enraged throughout the day. Sword described Hood as “morose” and that, “Throughout the morning Hood continued to chafe at and bitterly denounce his generals.” According to Sword, Hood was “still seething” in the afternoon and those subordinates who disagreed with his decision to attack at Franklin only accentuated his “smoldering resentment over the Spring Hill affair.” The intensity of Sword’s subjectivity is best illustrated by his repeated accusations of near-psychopathic behavior by Hood. “Hood on November 30 was angry, overeager, frustrated and not reasoning well,” claimed Sword, who added that “his disabled personality” and “vindictive disposition” made him “a fool with a license to kill his own men.” In a later book entitled Courage Under Fire, Sword asserted first that Hood’s decision to attack at Franklin was merely a “remedial lesson in courage” before asking, “Where had been the moral courage to act upon what was right rather than upon unreasoned emotion?” For none of these accusations does Sword offer any contemporary firsthand account. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 156, 157, 177, 179, 263; Sword, Courage Under Fire, 199.]

Battle of Franklin Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

Battle of Franklin Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

Sword also claimed on multiple occasions that Hood accused his soldiers of cowardice. He did so in his 1992 in The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah and again in Courage Under Fire in 2006. In the latter book, Sword alleged that Hood “sacrificed” men during the defense of Atlanta and that he alleged a “want of courage” in his soldiers when deciding to teach them “a remedial lesson” at the battle of Franklin. In his earlier book, Sword commented extensively on Hood’s purported lack of respect for the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee and his intent to “purge their ranks” of their fear of fighting except behind breastworks. In each instance, Sword’s source was a single paragraph from Hood’s memoirs, in which the general wrote nothing that remotely resembled Sword’s interpretation and presentation. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 156, 157, 177, 179, 263; Sword, Courage Under Fire, 199.]

In fact, firsthand accounts of Hood’s words and demeanor before the attack at Franklin indicate that Hood acted exactly as a balanced thoughtful general would under such circumstances. A witness recalled how Hood rode along the lines as his army formed for the assault, stopping at several points to tell his soldiers, “These lines must be broken boys, they are weak and cannot stand you.” Promising the men that if they carried the Federal position the campaign in Tennessee would be over, Hood is also recorded as having said, “No enemy will exist who will dare to oppose your march to the Ohio.” Another soldier recorded in his diary, “General Hood’s last words to his generals were: ‘Now, go down to the work to be done and go at it.’” A witness also recalled Hood encouraging Cleburne, “Franklin is the key to Nashville, and Nashville is the key to independence.”  [Augusta Constitutionalist, December 16, 1864; Jacobson, For Cause and For Country, 257; article in the May 3, 1902 edition of the Atlanta Journal by Army of Tennessee veteran Dr. W. T. Burt, formerly of the 46th Georgia Infantry, quoted from his wartime diary of Hood’s final orders at Franklin. Carter House files.]

Patrick Cleburne

Patrick Cleburne

Sword made many inflammatory comments concerning Hood’s supposed vengeance mission against his own troops at Franklin, but this may be the most sensational: “Cheatham, Cleburne and Brown, in particular, became the focus of Hood’s ire. If not outright punishment for their behavior on November 29, the assault at Franklin would be a severe corrective lesson in what he would demand in aggressive behavior.” For these outrageous claims Sword cites but a single page of Hood’s memoirs. For the record, there is nothing on that page, or those before or after, where Hood says anything about using any commanders or troops anywhere for any specific reason. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 156, 157, 177, 179, 263; Sword, Courage Under Fire, 199.]

Sword continued, “By specific design . . . Cheatham, Brown and Cleburne would be thrust in the very storm center of any fighting; Hood would purge their ranks of their apparent reluctance to fight except when behind breastworks.” Once again Sword cited a page from Hood’s Advance and Retreat that makes no mention whatsoever of troop positioning or situating specific units to intentionally purge their reluctance to fight except when behind fortifications. Sword added: “It was no accident when he assigned Cheatham’s Corps to make the frontal assault against the center of the enemy’s formidable fortifications. Brown and Cleburne were posted to the front rank and told to attack along the Columbia Pike, where the Federal lines were the strongest and the ground entirely open.”

In reality, the ground was essentially entirely open in front of all six Confederate divisions attacking Schofield’s army—not just Brown’s and Cleburne’s commands. The source for these charges is a paltry single page in the Official Records that says nothing about Hood’s reasoning for specific troop positions, and a book by an author who provided a routine description of the configuration of the entire armywithout any comment on the reasons for the alignment or any hint at anything out of the ordinary.

Contrary to these wholly unfounded assertions, the strategy behind the army’s alignment for the assault at Franklin was quite simple and devoid of any malevolent intent by Hood. As was customary, corps, divisions, and brigades alternated (rotated) their marching order each day. A. P. Stewart’s corps had followed Cheatham’s corps on the march from Columbia to Spring Hill on November 29, so Stewart led the army column on the November 30 march to Franklin. As a result, it was the first to arrive at Franklin. Stewart’s vanguard corps, with Cheatham trailing three or four miles behind, was the first to contact the Federal rearguard situated on the southerly slopes of Winstead and Breezy Hills south of Franklin. Rather than assault the defenders, Hood sent Stewart east to flank the enemy and force their withdrawal from the hills northward to the main lines at Franklin. After Stewart’s flanking movement compelled the Federals to retreat, Cheatham’s trailing corps continued up the road unmolested and assumed a position on the Confederate left (Stewart already held the right). John C. Brown’s division led Cheatham’s column on the march from Spring Hill and so arrived at Franklin ahead of Patrick Cleburne’s division, with William Bate’s division bringing up the rear. On the previous day’s march from Columbia to Spring Hill, Cleburne had been in the lead, Bate was second, and Brown third. The customary daily march rotation of the divisions placed Brown’s division in the lead on November 30, followed by Cleburne and then Bate. With Stewart already positioned to the east, occupying the right half of the Confederate formation from the river to near the Columbia Pike, Cheatham’s arriving corps necessarily constituted the left half of the Confederate front line, with its right flank connecting with the left of Stewart’s corps.

Battle of Spring Hill, Afternoon Nov. 29, 1864. Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

Battle of Spring Hill, Afternoon Nov. 29, 1864. Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

In summary, the first of Hood’s two corps (Stewart’s) arrived and deployed to the right, and the second corps (Cheatham’s) arrived next and deployed to the left. Cheatham’s three divisions, like the army’s two corps, simply deployed right to left in the order they arrived from Spring Hill.

Hood’s positioning of his corps and divisions at Franklin was consistent with usual and customary practices of his time. To assert otherwise is simply wrong.

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Sword spends considerable time in his book on Patrick Cleburne, whom, claims Sword, considered the assault at Franklin an “outrageous tactical blunder,” and that he “well realized that the commanding general’s orders were likely to be his own death warrant.” Sword added, “Perhaps the South’s most brilliant major general, the ‘Stonewall Jackson of the West,’ his ideas scorned by his president and his competence punished by his commanding general, had been required to lead a suicidal frontal charge like some captain of infantry. Was it God’s decreed fate, or simply man’s stupidity?” Such inflammatory commentary is wholly without merit. There is absolutely no evidence that Hood “punished” Cleburne’s competence. Cleburne was well known for daringly leading his men into battle and it was not unusual for any soldier—commander or private—to have feelings of impending doom before a battle. Yet, Sword characterized Cleburne’s mood as an anomaly and the result of Hood’s “blunder.” Cleburne did not survive and therefore did not leave a record of this appraisal. Statements like Sword’s are not history, but speculation. Although Cleburne was rational and direct by nature, he was also a loyal subordinate, and was not known to be disrespectful or belligerent to his superiors. Regardless of Cleburne’s opinion of his commander’s decision, he would not only obey it, but also do so respectfully and confidently. There is no evidence that Hood ordered Cleburne to personally lead a suicidal attack “like some captain of infantry.” Going into the thick of the fighting at Franklin was Cleburne’s decision, and he—like so many Civil War generals—often led by example. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 180, 224.]

As previously stated, a witness recalled Hood giving Cleburne final instructions before concluding with, “Franklin is the key to Nashville, and Nashville is the key to independence.” Hood wrote in his memoirs that he gave Cleburne final instructions to have his men not pause and fire during the attack, but to hold their fire, use their bayonets, and follow the fleeing enemy into their works. W. A. Washburn of the 1st Arkansas Infantry offered corroboration for Hood’s recollection when he wrote that before the attack, “Gen. Cleburne rode along the line, cautioning us to save ammunition and ‘use the bayonet.’” These are hardly what an enraged commander would say to a subordinate he wanted to punish for an earlier failure.  [W. A. Washburn, Confederate Veteran, vol. 13 (January 1905), 27.]

Battle of Spring Hill, After Dark, Nov 29, 1864. Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

Battle of Spring Hill, After Dark, Nov 29, 1864. Map created by Hal Jesperson. www.cwmaps.com

While arguing that Hood could have flanked the Federals at Franklin but preferred to punish the army by making a frontal assault, Sword makes an astonishing factual error. In The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah he claimed that Hollow Tree Gap—the point where the Federal escape from Franklin to Nashville could be cut off—was as close to Hood’s forces as it was to Schofield’s. “Of specific use to Forrest was Hollow Tree Gap, a defile in the range of hills through which the Nashville Pike passed, only about four and a half miles distant from Hood’s present position,” explained Sword. “Here the Yankees might be cut off from Nashville, urged Forrest, since Hood’s army was as close to this gap as was Schofield’s at Franklin.” In fact, Hollow Tree Gap (“Holly Tree Gap” on modern maps) is significantly farther from Hood’s position than it was from Schofield’s. On a direct route from Winstead Hill through the very center of the Federal lines between the Carter House and Carter cotton gin house, the distance to Hollow Tree Gap is about seven miles. From the extreme right of Hood’s army’s position, along the bank of the Harpeth River, the distance is slightly shorter as the crow flies, but this direct route would have passed through the Federal positions around Fort Granger.  Sword, of course, mentions none of this. [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 262.]

Stephen D. Lee

Stephen D. Lee

In any event, regardless of the route and distance, if any infantry or cavalry from any point along the Confederate lines had attempted to march to Hollow Tree Gap, the route would have had to have been circuitous in a northeasterly direction, a distance of, at the very least, ten to twelve miles, in order to avoid Schofield’s artillery at Fort Granger. To accomplish such a flanking movement, Forrest’s cavalry and his requested 2,000 infantry would have had to ford the rushing rain-swollen Harpeth River, march cross-country ten to twelve miles in clear view of the Federals, meet up with heavy resistance from 5,000 Yankee cavalrymen and at least one 4,500-man infantry division, all in a matter of three or four hours. Anyone who knows anything about moving troops during the Civil War knows this was impossible for a host of reasons.

Sword disregarded the large enemy force available to resist Forrest by writing that Hood “easily could have outflanked Schofield from Franklin by crossing the Harpeth River at Hughes’s Ford or various other sites.” By this time, most of James Wilson’s 5,000 cavalry had consolidated at Franklin and held a strong position on a high bluff overlooking McGavock Ford, the nearest possible crossing point on the Harpeth. Any unmolested crossing of the river by infantry would have been at Hughes Ford, more than a mile farther south of Franklin, which in turn would have added even more time to any attempted flanking movement. The functional distance to Hollow Tree Gap for Hood’s forces was at least double, and most likely triple, the distance from Schofield’s lines. Sword’s unequivocal statement that the Confederates and the Federals were equidistant from the point where Schofield’s retreat could be blocked is patently wrong. This misleading information makes Hood look ignorant, incompetent, or worse, by lending validity to Forrest’s impracticable proposal. Additionally, Sword overlooked the diminishing daylight and the treacherously high river that had trapped much of Schofield’s army in Franklin. A simple question settles the matter: If the river was so easy to ford, why did Schofield stop and entrench at Franklin rather than continue to march his column north to Nashville?

Sword related a conversation that took place between Col. Virgil S. Murphey of the 17th Alabama Infantry, who had been captured at Franklin, and Gen. Schofield. Quoting from Murphey’s diary, Sword revealed to his readers that Schofield had called Hood a butcher, and Murphey’s response that “butchery always seemed to involve a considerable mixture of the Rebels’ enemies.” What Sword did not provide was the rest of what the defiant Murphey wrote, which in fact strongly supported Hood’s decision to attack: “Had Hood succeeded, Nashville would have opened her gates to the head of his victorious legions and the throat of Tennessee released from the grasp of remorseless despotism. It was worth the hazard. Its failure does not diminish the value of the prize.” Sword also failed to include additional Murphey entries where the Alabama colonel informed Schofield that Hood’s orders had been disobeyed at Spring Hill, which in turn enabled the Federals to escape. This is yet another example of Sword intentionally editing primary source evidence to mischaracterize and mislead.

Late in the night after the Battle of Franklin, Sword described Hood at that time as “almost savage in his fury” at the lack of success of the battle. His cite for this definitive statement: Henry Field’s 1890 travelogue Bright Skies and Dark Shadows. Field, a New England minister who first visited Franklin in 1889 was of course not present at this command meeting and provided no specific source in his own book. Generals Stephan D. Lee, Frank Cheatham, and A. P. Stewart, however, were all present at the meeting, and none of them ever mentioned anything about Hood’s specific mood in any of their postwar writings. Field’s credibility nonetheless satisfied Sword, even though the clergyman claimed that the effectively one-armed Hood impossibly “raised his hands, clasping them together” in despair when hearing of the heavy casualties incurred by Cheatham’s corps. As often happens with his portrayals of Hood, Sword disregards credible primary sources in favor of unlikely secondary sources that add melodrama to events while simultaneously making Hood look like a fool—or worse.

Next week we will close out the series.

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1 Response to Hood on Hood—Part III

  1. Savas Beatie says:

    Thanks for this post, Sam Hood, and to Emerging Civil War for giving us a platform to continue this fascinating discussion. These posts bring a lot of valuable information to the table that everyone will enjoy–from avid readers of Civil War material to people who have only just begun to get into this time period. There is a book trailer for John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General here: http://tinyurl.com/kc28ru9

    We are looking forward to publishing Sam Hood’s next release The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood later this year.

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