Hood Remembered: Chris Kolakowski

How should we remember John Bell Hood?

The answer to this question depends partly on your own point of view. Eastern Theater historians see him one way, based on his record with the Army of Northern Virginia as a brigade and division commander. Western Theater historians view him as a senior leader only—first a corps commander and then an army commander. Each of these perspectives leaves out a major part of the story—kind of like watching only half of a football game. Following the admonishment to “wait until the evening before judging the day,” we must view Hood’s career in its totality.

And what a career! General Hood is one of the more prominent combat leaders of the war, showing up in key places on many important battles of the war, both East and West. Not many officers rise from brigade command to army command in 26 months – but he did. In the East, he is one of the finest and most aggressive battlefield commanders in an army known for them. Out West, he displays that same aggressiveness, but also reveals a sense of strategic decision (especially in the North Georgia Campaign) that had not previously been shown. His initial strategy for Tennessee is sound, and is the best of an unpalatable set of options.

All of this said, Hood lacks three essential elements for greatness as a senior commander: command presence, complete focus, and logistical sense. The first is as much a product of his wounds, since he is physically handicapped in ways his counterparts in other armies are not; but it also hurts his ability to meld his senior leaders into an effective team. He sometimes dissipates his efforts or loses sight of the overall objective, and his logistical failures often result in his army being ill-supplied and unable to bring its full combat power to bear.

Here’s how I remember Hood: A fine battlefield leader of men at the lower levels, a decent strategist, but without all the tools and knowledge necessary to command at the senior levels in a complex campaign.

5 Responses to Hood Remembered: Chris Kolakowski

  1. Just a question. Given the limited supply and transport resources available to Hood after the fall of Atlanta could ANY other commanding general have done better at supplying the army during the Tennessee campaign? Success in Tennessee demanded rapid movement, which in turn magnified pre-existing logistical difficulties. Perhaps getting the army on a good logistical footing was only possible if the campaign was cancelled. Also, I have not read anywhere that Hood’s army received less than the normal food ration (correct me if I’m wrong) or that there were ammunition shortages. Is Hood the logistician being condemned for not meeting standards impossible to achieve?

    1. Sir,

      I have an entire chapter on Hood’s logistics before and during the TN Campaign in my book “John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.” A great book that reveals much about Hood’s difficulties in launching the campaign is an excellent (hard to find) monograph by Noel Carpenter titled “A Slight Demonstration.”

      SM Hood

  2. Chris,

    Hood’s army being ill-supplied is a bit of a myth. It is true that during his post-Atlanta movements in north Alabama, the army was at times short of food, but Richmond had assigned Richard Taylor’s department to supply Hood’s army. The Official Records is full of repeated requests for rations by Hood.

    After long delays, the food situation improved, and during the Tennessee Campaign, the army was well supplied with the exception of shoes and blankets. Most letters from soldiers, and memoirs state that food was plentiful. There are also no known shortages of ammunition during the campaign.

    As for shoes and blankets, again, the Official Records reveal much. Hood began requesting shoes even before the commencement of the campaign, first on September 6, and again on September 23. The same was true of blankets. With Taylor not producing, Hood wired Richmond on Dec. 13 from Nashville, “Major Ayer, chief quartermaster, informs me that Major Bridewell at Augusta [Georgia] has fifty bales of blankets belonging to this army. Please have them sent forward at once.”

    Hood’s immediate superior PGT Beauregard was also unable to obtain the needed supplies of shoes, blankets, and clothing. On Dec. 2 Beauregard appealed directly to Samuel Cooper in Richmond, stating that Hood’s army was “sadly in need of every disposition of military supplies—horses and mules for artillery and other transportation,” as well as blankets and clothing. Beauregard fumed to Cooper that nobody in the central government “whose powers should be ample, and whose instructions should be full and clear,” seemed willing to take charge of problems that directly affected acquisition of supplies.

    On one occasion Beauregard complained directly to civilian railroad officials in Corinth MS, whose squabbling was delaying the trans-shipment of supplies from Alabama to Hood’s army.

    Fault for whatever shortages of supplies Hood’s army endured after Atlanta must be spread around many senior Confederate officers.

    SM Hood

  3. Thanks everyone for the feedback. I’ll admit that Hood faced issues beyond his control in supplying his army, but the question remains whether he did all that was possible in the existing situation (the answer is “possibly”).

    Keep in mind that my discussion of this aspect is broader than just supply, incorporating the classic military definition of the term. When I say “logistics,” I’m also speaking of managing the details of operations, such as coordinating marching routes and times, attacks, and other elements of moving and deploying an army for battle. Here there are undeniable issues, most notably before Atlanta and again at Spring Hill.

  4. I thank you for the comments as well. I agree Hood had difficulty managing some of the details of army operations, most notably oversight of his subordinates. Perhaps his impaired health and mobility was a reason. But Hood may have also been influenced by Lee’s habit of allowing his subordinates great latitude in tactical matters once a basic plan of battle was set. (A mistake Lee would have only made once if he had to work with Hood’s corp commanders!)

    Getting back to supplies, I wish we had logistical histories of the Army of Tennessee and the ANV that would detail how supply considerations limited operational possibilities, sometimes dictated troop positions (i.e. dispersal of mounted units for forage) and consequent negative impacts on army operations when active campaigns commenced. Thanks again.

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