Hood on Hood—Part IV

The conclusion 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 BiographyAnother example of Sword misrepresenting Hood’s words is illustrated in Sword’s portrayal of a December 11, 1864, dispatch Hood sent from Nashville to Secretary of War James Seddon mentioning, among other things, the subject of conscription. Sword completely mischaracterized the exchange, claiming that Hood was angry because only 164 recruits had voluntarily joined the invading Southern army. Here is how Sword presented this: “Hood reacted angrily and resolved ‘to bring into the army [by conscription] all men liable to military duty.’ If recruits wouldn’t voluntarily flock to his standards he intended to bring them in at the point of the bayonet.” Sword supported his false vitriol by citing the December 11 Hood dispatch to Seddon in which Hood wrote only a single sentence on the subject of conscription: “As yet I have not had time to adopt a general plan of conscription, but hope soon to do so, and to bring into the Army all men liable to military duty.” What Hood wrote to Seddon, and what Sword claimed he wrote, is not remotely similar. One must ask, “How could this be an accident?” Elsewhere in the dispatch, Hood discussed only routine issues such as railroad repairs and enemy troop strength. Contrary to Sword’s baseless and dramatized description, nowhere in the letter is there the slightest hint of anger, nor is there any comment about Hood intending to bring in draftees “at the point of the bayonet.” [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 315; OR 45, pt. 1, 658.]

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Sword persistently attempted to convince his readers that after suffering defeats at Franklin and Nashville, Hood tried to mislead Beauregard and the Richmond authorities as to the extent of his losses. “Beauregard, now at Macon, Georgia read what seemed to be a long-delayed dispatch from Hood about the Nashville battle,” explained Sword. “Immediately Beauregard telegraphed the contents to Richmond, noting Hood’s claim in an accompanying dispatch dated January 3 that his army had safely re-crossed the Tennessee River ‘without material loss since the battle of Franklin.’” This statement is factually incorrect and it is difficult to imagine how Sword’s mistake could be anything but intentional. Here is what the January 3, 1865, dispatch from Hood to Beauregard says in its entirety: “The army has re-crossed the Tennessee River without material loss since the battle in front of Nashville [emphasis added]. It will be assembled in a few days in the vicinity of Tupelo, to be supplied with shoes and clothing, and to obtain forage for the animals.”

The difference between what Hood wrote, and what Sword claimed he wrote, is not only obvious, but compelling and critical to Sword’s entire false narrative that Hood was lying to or misleading his superiors. The word “Franklin” does not appears anywhere in the telegram. The only thing false or misleading is how Sword presented it to their readers.”

George Thomas
George Thomas

It is also important to note that on December 17 Hood sent a dispatch to Beauregard and Seddon announcing the army’s defeat at Nashville, and that the army was in full retreat. Hood revealed, “We lost in the two days engagements fifty pieces of artillery, with several ordnance wagons.” Hood’s later message on January 3 (“The army has re-crossed the Tennessee River without material loss since the battle in front of Nashville”) accurately informed Beauregard that the army had successfully crossed the Tennessee River without losing more material (artillery and wagons) since what was lost at Nashville—just as he reported in his December 17 telegram. Sword was certainly aware of the dispatch because he referred to its contents on pages 425 and 436 (endnote 11) and 428 (endnote 22) of his book. Furthermore, in multiple places in his book Sword cites the Official Records (OR 45, pt. 2, 757) that has Hood’s January 3, 1865, dispatch in the very same chapter in which he accuses Hood of misleading authorities.

Notwithstanding Hood’s dispatches to Richmond after Franklin and Nashville that specified his casualties included 12 generals and at least 4,500 troops (Nashville casualties had yet to be calculated by Hood), as well as 50 cannon, Sword informed his readers that Hood’s messages “had been without admission of defeat; indeed, they had minimized the army’s losses.” [Sword, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, 428.]

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Sword provides grossly inflated casualties incurred by Hood in both his defense of Atlanta and the Tennessee Campaign. In The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, he inflated Confederate losses by an astounding 11,000 when he wrote, “Hood had suffered during the campaign perhaps 23,500 casualties.” Grasping for a forceful superlative, Sword continued, “This appalling loss of nearly two-thirds of a major American army as the result of actual fighting was unprecedented. Never had there been such an overwhelming victory during the Civil War—indeed, never in American military history.” Elsewhere, when writing about the Confederate defense of Atlanta, Sword claimed: “Hood had in little over a week squandered nearly 20,000 men in fruitless attacks”—notwithstanding the fact that official campaign records report Hood’s losses during that period at 9,855—fewer than one-half the number Sword reported for his readers. Let’s look into the numbers at a deeper level to examine Sword’s trickery with numbers.

William T. Sherman
William T. Sherman

The Army of Tennessee totaled 50,414 effectives on July 10, one week before Hood took command, and 40,559 on August 31, after the three battles cited by Sword. His source for his exaggeration of Hood’s casualties in the defense of Atlanta appears to be drawn from Thomas Connelly’s Autumn of Glory, whose own casualty numbers are bewildering and contradictory. Connelly, who relied upon William T. Sherman’s inflated estimates of the battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta (Decatur), and Ezra Church, concluded that those casualties “brought Hood’s losses thus far in the campaign to over twelve thousand.” In the very next paragraph, however, citing the Official Records as his source, Connelly contradicted himself when he wrote that Hood’s losses in those same battles totaled 8,000. Even more perplexing was Sword’s decision to inflate Hood’s casualties by using the sum of Connelly’s two contradictory numbers. After citing the page in Connelly’s Autumn of Glory that provides both the 12,000 and 8,000 casualty estimates, Sword apparently totaled these two figures and made the astounding declaration that Hood lost 20,000 troops! Although Sword routinely cited the official reports in his books, and seems to be a careful and meticulous researcher in subjects other than John Bell Hood, he ignored official reports when calculating Hood’s casualties during the Atlanta and Tennessee campaigns in favor of the inflated figures presented by another author—and then inflated even those numbers by doubling them.

According to Sword’s casualty summation, Hood lost 43,500 troops during his six-month tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee—an astonishing 20,345 more than specified in the Official Records. Sword also appears to have misread the numbers regarding prisoners of war. In his book he included in the casualties suffered by Hood’s Army of Tennessee during the Tennessee Campaign, all 13,189 prisoners processed by George Thomas during Hood’s post-Atlanta tenure (September 7, 1864, through January 15, 1865). For his number to be correct, every Confederate prisoner processed through Nashville during that time frame—whether captured in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, or western Virginia—had to have come from Hood’s command. Of course, that was impossible. If Sword’s number is correct, nearly one-half of the post-Atlanta Army of Tennessee was captured during the Tennessee Campaign alone! For his part, Union General Thomas reported 4,462 Confederates captured during the battle at Nashville and the subsequent retreat, with perhaps a few hundred more prisoners taken during the other actions of the campaign.

Historian Eric Jacobson recently discovered that Sword also double-counted as many as 3,800 Confederates wounded on November 30. Hood had to leave these injured men at Franklin when he moved the army north to Nashville. Many of these wounded were captured on December 18 when the Federals pursued Hood’s retreating army through Franklin. Thus, Sword counted these troops as both wounded at the battle of Franklin and among the captured at the battle of Nashville.

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Sword provided one of the best illustrations of how an author’s selective use of historical records can alter their true meaning. In his closing chapter of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Sword persisted in his attack upon Hood’s character by providing the general’s oft-repeated postwar comment, “They charge me with having made Franklin a slaughter pen, but, as I understand it, war means fight and fight means kill.” Sword did not reveal to the reader where Hood’s quote came from, or the quote’s true context—both of which are important. Below is the quotation as framed and presented by Sword:

Hood, ultimately, was a tragic failure, a sad, pathetic soldier whose ambitions totally outstripped his abilities. Essentially, he was an anachronism: an advocate of outmoded concepts, and a general unable to adapt to new methods or technology. Always prone to blame others, and unable to admit his mistakes, to the bitter end Hood never understood his failings. “They charge me with having made Franklin a slaughter pen,” he admonished a group of aging veterans, “but, as I understand it, war means fight and fight means kill.” Perhaps Hood’s own words, written in anticipation of defending his military career, should serve as an epitaph: “To conquer self is the greatest battle of life.” Unfortunately for many of his men, that had never occurred.

Sword’s readers would have been better served had he not extracted just the 21-word “war means fight and fight means kill” quotation from the eloquent 1,150-word tribute written by others about Hood. Instead, Sword’s readers were led told that Hood “admonished a group of aging veterans.” In fact, the audience was the Army of Tennessee Association of Louisiana, soldiers who had fought under Hood in Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee, and the tribute was on Hood’s behalfand there wasn’t even a suggestion of admonishment in their words. The tribute containing the “war means fight and fight means kill” sentence in its full context is reproduced below:

An Eloquent Tribute to the Memory of the Late Gen. J. B. Hood

To his men it mattered not what doubt of success or what intimation of danger might be suggested; those men felt that Hood would make a grand and stupendously bold effort, and they could afford to follow his lead and stand by this man of marvelous daring; that even if defeat should follow they would at least have given to the world another example that would excite wonder and approbation and mark the bloody field with indelible and imperishable fame, serving to teach future generations the limit of human effort and human endurance. As expressed in his own forceful language, when last with us, five short months since; “They charge me with making Franklin a slaughter pen, but, as I understand it, war means fight and fight means kill.” The recollections of his incomparable daring, his eminent skill, his fidelity to duty, his unselfish patriotism, the splendor of his service, his loftiness of purpose, lead us to realize that in the firmament of our military history a brilliant star has suddenly sunk below the horizon of the present; its departure arouses us to what its brightness was, and brings reflections as to how greatly it transcended and differed in glory from other stars, and we stand watching for lights of equal magnitude, wondering if we shall ever look upon its peer.

Context is crucial to understanding meaning. The contrast between Sword’s extract and framing of 21 words and the original source is a clear illustration of his persistent slandering of Hood.

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I could have added additional entire chapters on these sorts of things, and many, many, more are found in my book John Bell Hood.

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Sword has, on multiple occasions—both privately and publicly—defended his portrayal of Hood, explaining that he only assessed what the historical records revealed to him, and that he has no personal bias against John Bell Hood. Sword expects the public to ignore his many derogatory comments about Hood’s personal character, including perhaps the most callous comment ever made about a Civil War character. Sword wrote, “As if to refute any inference that he might be a ‘lame’ lover due to his crippled body, Hood fathered eleven children” after the war. This crude statement reduces John Bell and Anna Marie Hood’s many descendants to mere products of a man who bred children only to demonstrate his virility, while discounting the fact that Hood—by all contemporary accounts a devoted husband and loving father—wanted the typically large family of that era. It would be difficult to find anything so cruel and insensitive written about another Civil War participant, yet Sword claims only to fairly assess what the historical records reveal to him about John Bell Hood.

I will let you, the readers, be the judge of whether the historical image we have of John Bell Hood is based upon reality—or poor scholarship.

1 Response to Hood on Hood—Part IV

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to expose the deplorable historiography and literature on General Hood, with a focus on Wiley Sword, who is unquestionably the worst offender. For more than a decade I have been a very public critic of Sword’s portrayal of Hood, and yet he has never publicly engaged me in debate. In fact, as I understand, he has only commented once publicly via a letter to the editor of the Civil War News in the mid 2000s.

    I would welcome an opportunity to debate Mr. Sword face-to-face at any venue, at any time. In fact I would personally pay all of his expenses and his customary honorarium, and make a donation in an equal amount to the host organization. Surely if Mr. Sword has confidence in his own research and writing he would welcome an opportunity to defend his work as pertaining to J.B. Hood.

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