Today is the Day

Confederate President Jefferson Davis
Confederate President Jefferson Davis

July 17, 1864. Davis had had it. He had given Confederate Joseph E. Johnston every chance possible. He had sent General Braxton Bragg down to Atlanta to personally check out the situation of the Army of Tennessee, he had thought everything over carefully–an unusual tactic for Davis, who was known to hire and fire on a whim–and he finally came to a conclusion: Johnston had to go. He’d never liked the guy anyway.

The day before Davis had received this telegram

from Johnston in response to his query, “I wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.”

            As the enemy has double our number, we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be  freer and wider.

The Georgia Militia? That renowned fighting force referred to as “Joe Brown’s Pets?” That Georgia Militia? Oh dear.

General Joseph E. Johnston
General Joseph E. Johnston

It was clear that General Johnston was going to remain on the defensive–again.

This was very annoying to President Jefferson Davis. Davis was, after all, the inventor of the famous “Offensive-Defensive” style of warfare, but to work successfully, one needed to have a balance of offensive in there, somewhere. Or perhaps Davis found Johnston’s explanation of events to be, in itself, offensive. After all, this was the same general who had been willing to give up Richmond early in the war. Perhaps Johnston was just as blasé about giving up Atlanta.

Union General William T.  Sherman
Union General William T. Sherman

For almost three months Union General William T. Sherman had fought Johnston around the corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but the nearly constant skirmishing kept him from effectively moving his army. There was a limit as to how long this tactic could work, however. Each skirmish brought Sherman that much closer to Atlanta, and Johnston would run out of distance, even if he did not run out of men.


And now, Johnston was on the outskirts of Atlanta. The Army of Tennessee was mostly intact, but Davis felt that too much territory had been given up. It was not just a comparison to Lee, nor the ire of southern citizens, politicians nor the press that helped Davis to his decision to relieve Johnston; it was looking at a map, (and then all the rest).

Davis sent the telegram:

            General J. E. Johnston:

Lieut. Gen. J. B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of general under the late law of Congress, I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army f Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.

S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General.

And whom does Jefferson Davis choose to pull the Confederacy’s feet out of the fire? Why, that lovelorn, severely crippled, morphine-addicted General John Bell Hood, of course.

Confederate General John Bell Hood
Confederate General John Bell Hood




17 Responses to Today is the Day

  1. While I’m sure Stephen Hood will give you a sterner reproof regarding this particular entry, let me add my two cents on the replacement of Joe Johnston. It is quite true that Jeff Davis’s patience with Uncle Joe had reached its limit; it is also true that he felt that Hood had the necessary aggressive spirit that he thought Johnston lacked. That Hood’s subsequent command of the Army of Tennessee proved to be a catastrophe is also true. However, to characterize John Bell Hood as “lovelorn, severely crippled, morphine-addicted” I think is an inherited opinion which is more and more becoming viewed as not fact-based.

    The real villain of the western Confederacy’s collapse–f one is looking for villains–is neither Uncle Joe and his Fabian strategy, nor Hood and his “audace, toujours audace” philosophy; nor even the irascible Braxton Bragg. Let’s place the blame where it belongs: “General” Jeff Davis himself. Johnston, outnumbered nearly two to one, deprived of the resources necessary to conduct a proper offense campaign, devised the best strategy he was able to, given how the entire west was chronically neglected in favor of northern Virginia. In fact, Johnston was correct early in the war: Richmond SHOULD have been abandoned early in the war as a capitol, freeing the Confederacy to shift large numbers of troops back and forth as needed. To choose Richmond as the Rebel Capital was an act of hubris that ultimately proved the South’s downfall.

    At Kennesaw Mountain Johnston showed what a strategic defense could do to a superior enemy. The blame heaped on Hood has largely been unfair: his mandate was to go over to the offensive and that is what he tried to do to the best of his ability. That he had even fewer resources than Johnston did doomed him to failure. Hood simply carried out what Davis had wanted him to do. Sending Bragg to judge Johnston was another bad idea of Davis’. When Davis badgered General Lee to rubber stamp his choice of Hood, Lee resisted; while not overtly criticizing Hood, Lee gently suggested to keep Johnston in place.

    Jefferson Davis fancied himself a military genius, largely based on his experiences in the Mexican War and stint as Secretary of War. But in the end, Davis was more a legend in his own mind than a competent commander–and that was the real undoing of Atlanta, The Army of Tennessee and ultimately of the Confederacy.

  2. Thanks for your long & thoughtful reply. I do not disagree with you at all about Davis–he was just about impossible. And I actually like General Joe a lot. The last sentence is actually a seriously garbled quote from some academic on C-Span. I had the TV on & was getting ready to hear a talk by Steven Woodworth. I caught the tail end of the speaker prior to Dr. Woodworth, and that was how the guy pretty much summed up Hood. I literally laughed out loud! I had never heard it put quite that way before. He was, however, all of those things–just not in exactly he way it was made to sound. Almost everyone with chronic pain back then was probably a morphine addict or some such.

    Anyway, I filed the startling referral to Hood away in my head, swearing that someday I would be able to use that quote. I woke up this morning and realized–“Today Is the Day” I could use it.

    This is my story and I am sticking to it!

  3. It should be obvious given the overall tone of your post, really quite clever, that the last sentence is included in a spirit of humor. I think Christopher is right, though, that it may bring Hood demagogues out in force–not much humor there! I disagree with their recent doctrine of blaming Hood’s offensives entirely on Davis. Based on Hood’s well-known proclivity to fight, his correspondence to Davis during the time leading up to his assumption of command, and his memoirs, it would appear the strategy was equally, if not more, his own creation and recommendation as much as the president’s, rather than being handed down from above with him reluctantly, obediently complying.

  4. Amanda–I have weathered your blistering criticism for my position on Sherman (which I love,btw) and been shelled unmercifully for being a Carhartian about Custer–so I may as well go for the Hood-induced trifecta. At least I have Mary Chestnut in my corner!

    I just wish we all lived closer–I have a wonderful front porch just made for Civil War cuss-and-discussion sessions. Huzzah?

    1. Ah, the front porch! Sounds lovely, I could bring some Southern boiled peanuts. OK, I’ve got to go look up Carhartian now.

    1. Actually, in anticipation of your question, I dug around the Internet to find out the source of my mangled quote. It was Richard McMurry, and his talk is entitled “Atlanta, 1864-Last Chance For the Confederacy.” Here’s the link

      Personally I think General Hood was lovelorn because Miss Buck was pretty co-dependent and felt guilty about Hood, but did not feel she could be honest because he was a Confederate general and had honorably been injured in battle. So poo on her. He did better later on anyway.

      I think he was morphine-addicted because morphine was prescribed very frequently for pain then–still is. No one was too worried about addiction, they just didn’t want to hurt all the time. I suspect many were addicted to lots of stuff. Even Mary Chestnut was addicted to some type of pain killer late in the war. It was just the times. General Hood probably hurt a lot, even with the morphine. And, as you probably know, McMurry is a pretty big fan of Hood.

      I don’t think that, under these circumstances, Hood’s character is called into question. I do, however, think McMurry is pretty funny.

      And that’s it!

  5. Thank you for the link to Richard McMurray’s lecture. From listening to the portion that refers to the perceptions of Hood as opium-addicted, lovelorn etc. it seems clear that McMurray’s tone is somewhat ironical and that his intention is to make the point to his audience that it not wise to believe everything seen in print, film or other media that is not supported by the facts. – ie. there is little to no substantive fact that underlies those characterizations of Hood. Stephen Hood’s recent book lays out a very detailed argument that most of these accusations lack substantiating historical fact to maintain their credibility. In the example of the accusation of “morphine addiction” Stephen Hood presents strong historical evidence that Gen. Hood was not addicted to morphine (or the actual opium derivative that was prescribed to him after his amputation) – the notes of his attending physician describe a typical weaning regimen off of the pain medicine that had been prescribed for the recuperating general. This is positive evidence that General Hood was NOT addicted. Lacking historical evidence that contradicts this documented fact, the accusation of addiction should not be repeated by historians. Dramatists might make the accusation. Humorists might do so. But historians abide by a different standard – bound to the facts as demonstrated by the most credible historical resources. As McMurry says toward the end of his talk, “facts are strange things” and, from the current understanding of The available historical facts regarding Gen. Hood, many of these characterizations of him lack historical merit.

    And I also found McMurry to be humorous as well in his talk.

    1. I also found McMurry to be ironical in his tone, which made his talk much more compelling than most you hear on C-Span. I especially like that McMurry had some fun with his history. To think that all the men and women in the Civil War were marble statues is just ridiculous. To humanize them is part of a historian’s job, or at least it should be if we really care about advancing our studies to new generations. McMurry accepts General Hood’s humanity–celebrates it even–and then goes on to look at what Hood did, in spite of many issues. Let us, as historians, not deny that General Hood overcame a great deal of adversity. What else could losing a leg and the use of an arm be considered? The test of Hood’s character is defined, in part, by how he continued forward, despite these issues.

  6. I took a little exception to the last dig at hood, but I am quite dense with sarcasm and humor. In looking at the Correspondence I was interested to see Johnston’s response to Cooper, viz,

    NEAR ATLANTA, July 18, 1864.
    General S. COOPER,
    Your dispatch of yesterday received and obeyed. Command of the Army and Department of
    Tennessee has been transferred to General Hood. As to the alleged cause of my removal, I
    assert that Shermans army is much stronger compared with that of Tennessee than Grants
    compared with that of Northern Virginia. Yet the enemy has been compelled to advance much
    more slowly to the vicinity of Atlanta than to that of Richmond and Petersburg, and has
    penetrated much deeper into Virginia than into Georgia. Confident language by a military
    commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency.

    I gotta love the dig at Lee in the east, and I am not even sure who he is insulting with the last sentence.

  7. Dr. Goddard’s reply to Ms. Thompson is spot on. There was zero evidence that Hood took pain medicine even before I discovered Dr. John T Darby’s detailed medical reports on Hood’s Gettysburg and Chickamauga wounds. Darby’s report adds even more evidence that opiates should not even be mentioned in the same breathe as John Bell Hood. His postwar letters to his wife also mention nothing of pain or discomfort, much less pain treatment of any kind.

    I have shared the entire 200-letter collection of Hood’s personal papers with Richard McMurry and met with him multiple times. He admits that Hood and pain medication is now a non-subject.

    And speaking of Mary Chesnut, she mentions in her diary that she once took opiates and it made her so loony that she vowed never to take it again. She said that it “addled” her brain. If Hood was taking opiates she would absolutely have mentioned it in her diary.

    As for Buck Preston; it is all melodrama created solely by Wiley Sword. Preston wasn’t even mentioned by Thomas Hay, Stanley Horn, and in only one sentence by Thomas Connelly. Sword however permeates his book with baseless melodrama…much like the love story blended into the recent movie “Titanic.” Hood was no more in love with Preston than Sherman, Lee, Grant, Johnston, or any other commander (or soldier for that matter) were with their wives. Why does Sword assert that every decision and action by Hood was influenced by a woman and no other prominent Civil War character accused of similar conduct? Sword’s hyperbole was so over-the-top that he actually wrote more about Buck Preston than he wrote about four of the six generals killed in the battle that is the title of his book! Sword was so obsessed with a soap-operatic theme to his book that he even spent more space on Susan Tarleton than three of the generals killed at Franklin. (If you don’t know who Tarleton is you are probably not alone…she was Patrick Cleburne’s fiancé.)

    Ms. Thompson describes herself as “Historian.” A historian, in my opinion, should rely on primary sources, not stories woven from whole cloth. Repeating other historians and offering personal theories in the guise of facts is not acceptable historiography, in my opinion.

  8. Even primary sources may be suspect at times, depending on the purpose for which they were created. Besides being a historian, I am a teacher, and have been for over 30 years. Teachers do not always give personal opinions to the class as truth. Much more often they create an environment where there is disagreement, give & take, and intellectual wrangling. A good teacher pushes this model, asking for more source work, asking for more passionate defense of position, and finally asking each to own the subject. ECW, as a blog, has stood firm in their commitment to be a forum for an exchange of ideas, which is why I am still here after three years.

    This current exchange is an example of great discussion, serious sourcing, passionate defense and a vibrant exchange of ideas. To my set of values, this is all more important than a statement made about the past that is passed off as some sort of granite-inscribed “truth.” Taken as it sits now, we might all view Dr. McMurry’s broadcast, reread Mary Chestnut, check the OR (again!), start putting sticky notes in the new Hood biography, and be sure that the additional volume of Hood’s personal correspondence is ordered, if not delivered, pull out Wiley Sword and check him again, and maybe see if we can find that Cleburne biography that came a months or so ago.

    Now that’s a satisfying list of To Dos!

  9. Great reaction and response Ms. Thompson…what I would expect from a dedicated educator and historian. If I can help with your “To Do” list, don’t hesitate to ask. I know far too much about JB Hood and far too little about everyone else:-) My email address is Feel free
    to contact me.

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