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.