Soon after my five-year-old daughter got hooked on the Civil War, she had me buy for her two decks of Civil War flashcards. The blue deck contained Union officers, the gray Confederates. We would flick through the cards on road trips to battlefields. This was how we both learned our Civil War Who’s-Who.
In a deck full of men with crazy beards, John Bell Hood might have just blended in with the others, but he stood out because of his eyes. “He has ‘hound-dog’ eyes,” Stephanie would say. “They make him look sad.”
And no wonder. Tough-nosed fighting at Gaines Mill. The horror of the cornfield at Antietam. The loss of use of an arm at Gettysburg. The loss of a leg at Chickamaga. Heartbreak from a fickle sweetheart during his convalescence. His ill-starred tenure as the commander of the Army of Tennessee–a job that, at that point, probably no one could have succeeded at. The indignity of having to be strapped onto his horse because of his lost leg. The rumors of opium overuse because of his chronic pain.
This is a man who’s hard-fighting spirit and devotion to duty destined him to serve in ways that would give anyone a hang-dog expression.
I wish we had been able to see a photo of Hood in a happier time. After the war, he moved to New Orleans, started his own business, and got married. Together, he and his wife had 11 children. Knowing the joy my children give to me, I have to imagine Hood had occasion to find much happiness in his own in those days.
But Stephanie and I did not know that as we looked at Hood’s portrait on his gray-deck flashcard. We knew him only as the sad-looking general.
Now that I know his Civil War story, I understand why.