Today, ECW is pleased to welcome guest author Sam Hood. Sam Hood is a descendant of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and author of the forthcoming The Lost Papers of John Bell Hood. He has also written a biography of his ancestor, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General, based on those papers.
As the sesquicentennial of the Tennessee Campaign and the Battles of Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville enter the spotlight, it is difficult not to reflect on the historical legacy of Army of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood. As a distant relative and student of the controversial general, I have read every major book on Hood, the Army of Tennessee, the Civil War in the West, and the Atlanta and Tennessee Campaigns. It is perplexing to see the respectful things commonly written about him by most commentators during Reconstruction and the end of the 19th century, and then the deterioration of Hood’s portrayals in 20th century literature, beginning with Thomas R. Hay’s 1929 largely complimentary Hood’s Tennessee Campaign, through major books by Stanley Horn, and Thomas Connelly, and ending with Wiley Sword’s caustic The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, which unfortunately currently defines Hood’s image in popular Civil War culture, and in academia.
Battle of Franklin veteran and Confederate Veteran magazine founder Sumner Cunningham wrote, “Many we know, will disagree with us, but we think to calmly and impartially view General Hood’s course we will be forced to accord him the highest order and a military commander with but few superiors. . . . What became of General Hood for the remainder of the war we do not know, but if he was removed for failure in Tennessee, he was treated very unjustly. That he did so we believe was no fault of his. He failed simply because he had not the men and supplies to contend with the immense force that was against him.”
Thomas Hay wrote of Hood, “The strong force of Hood’s character yielded an influence that no oratory could command and he passed his days, after the war, refined by sorrow, purified by aspiration, strengthened through self-reliance, and made gentle by an earnest faith in things unseen. He was genial, generous, and indulgent toward others and severe to himself. His aims were prompted by noble desires and in politics his ideals for democratic action were high. With all his limitations, which he recognized, as well as his powers, he commands our admiration and respect.”
Then, somehow, a series of writers relying on the same historical evidence transformed Hood, culminating in Wiley Sword’s presentation of Hood as a disloyal, lovelorn, inept, vindictive, drug-addicted “fool with a license to kill his own men,” who intentionally slaughtered his own men to teach them “a remedial lesson in courage.” So influenced by Sword and others, in 2006, author, actor, and economist Ben Stein wrote in the New York Times that John Bell Hood was a “horrifyingly misguided soul” and “the most destructive American of all time.”
It will be interesting to see how the Civil War history community will portray John Bell Hood in the final weeks of 2014. Will Sumner Cunningham’s or Ben Stein’s version of John Bell Hood earn the interpretation and portrayal of the sesquicentennial?