We’re Still Arguing about General Hood

Clisby Austin House 1900
Clisby Austin House, circa 1900

No, I’m not talking about Gen. John Bell Hood’s decision to launch that tragic frontal assault at Franklin, or to entrench before Thomas’ army at Nashville, inviting disaster.

I’m talking about Hood’s right leg.

Go to Tunnel Hill, Georgia (north of Dalton), and you’ll hear the local legend that after his limb was amputated at a Chickamauga battlefield hospital, he was transported to the Clisby Austin house in Tunnel Hill, where he spent days in recovery. The local lore has it that the severed leg was borne with him to the Austin place, and that it was buried near the house. Local history buffs can even point to the possible burial site of the limb.

Robert D. Jenkins, author of Blue & Gray’s feature article on the fighting around Dalton, repeats the legend. I’ve countered Bob on the facts, and we’ve agreed that Hood did not convalesce at the Clisby Austin house after the battle of Chickamauga. Together we’ve now asked Dave Roth, publisher of Blue &Gray, to run a correction in his next issue.

So, what are the facts, anyway?

The undisputed source is Dr. John Darby’s medical report of Hood’s recovery from his Chickamauga wound. In 2012 Stephen M. (“Sam”) Hood of Huntington, WV, found the astonishing document in the attic in the home of one of the general’s descendants living in Philadelphia. It is now published in Stephen M. Hood, ed., The Lost Papers of Confederate General John B. Hood (Savas Beatie, 2015).

From this meticulous medical record kept by Dr. Darby (who was Hood’s personal physician), we learn the following:

  • After being shot on September 20 a little after 2 p.m., Hood “was conveyed immediately to the field infirmary,” where the amputation was performed at 4 p.m. (Lost Papers, 28).
  • Hood remained at the “infirmary” until mid-afternoon, September 21 (Lost Papers, 28). The “infirmary” was Hood’s division hospital located at the Reed house and farm, near the Reed bridge at Chickamauga (Keith S. Bohannon, “’A Bold Fighter’ Promoted beyond His Abilities: General John Bell Hood,” in Gary W. Gallagher and Joseph T. Glatthaar, eds., Leaders of the Lost Cause: New Perspectives on the Confederate High Command [Mechanicsburg PA, 2004], 261).
  • “At 3 p.m. was borne on a litter five miles en route for residence of Col Littles of 11th Ga Regmt” (Lost Papers, 28). Where they stopped for the night, Dr. Darby doesn’t say. Note that Hood was in a stretcher, carried by men walking—an ambulance wagon on north Georgia’s rough roads would have been too painful, and possibly dangerous, to the amputee.
  • Hood, Darby, probably some staff officers and litter bearers arrived at the Little farm on the night of September 22, with the patient “having stood the trip of thirty miles remarkably well” (28). Recall that Dyer’s biography of Hood (1949) states that Hood was carried by litter to the Armuchee Valley house of F. H. Little, Colonel of the 11th Georgia (p. 211). Dyer gives no source for this, but we see that he was in touch with Ida Hood and other Hood descendants in New Orleans (John P. Dyer, The Gallant Hood [Indianapolis, 1950], 348 n.60, 363 n.38). It is possible he got this information from them. Dyer does not mention the Clisby Austin house.
  • Hood, Darby and entourage stayed at Colonel Little’s until November 1. On October 29 Darby received letter from General Bragg warning that enemy raiders might try to capture Hood and that he should be moved farther to the rear. Although the wound was improving, Darby was reluctant. Hood himself was “very restive about remaining where the enemy might make him a prisoner”; Darby consented (Lost Papers, 35).
  • They set out from the Little farm around 10 a.m. on November 1. Hood fared so well on the journey that the party decided not to stop for the night, but trekked all the way to the railroad depot at Tunnel Hill, arriving there at 6:30 p.m. They had covered some nineteen miles in 8 ½ hours and spent the night at Tunnel Hill. They boarded the train for Atlanta at 7 a.m. November 2 (Lost Papers, 36). This is where the local legend may have arisen. Though Darby does not mention the Austin house, its proximity to the railroad depot makes it a strong candidate as the place where Hood spent this night of November 1-2. Editor Sam Hood accepts this: “According to legend, Hood spent the night of November 1, 1863, at the Clisby Austin House adjacent to the railroad tracks in Tunnel Hill” (Lost Papers, 36 n.). Sam also considers the local legend that Hood’s amputated leg could have been buried on the Austin property (36 n.). But it could not have been brought there by Dr. Darby’s party, if only because of organic decomposition in the six weeks after the dismemberment. Sam instead cites Harold Simpson’s Hood’s Texas Brigade: A Compendium and its tale of how Pvt. Arthur Collier, a member of the 4th Texas, was entrusted with the severed limb, “so it is possible the Texan buried Hood’s leg on the Clisby Austin property” (36 n.).
  • We even know how Hood was carried those 19 miles from the Little farm to Tunnel Hill. In the 1940s the indefatigable Wilbur G. Kurtz managed to come into contact with Colonel Little’s granddaughter, and learned these details: “I have heard my Father, John Randolph Little, tell many times (my Father was only 17 years of age then) of taking twelve Negros slaves & carrying Gen. Hood on a litter to Tunnel Hill, Ga. to catch a train away. Father was the only white person along, besides some of Gen. Hood’s staff. Gen Hood had these Negroes to sing corn songs all the way” (Dixie Little to Kurtz, Sept. 3, 1946, Wilbur G. Kurtz Collection, Atlanta History Center, box 79, folder 13). A few weeks later Miss Little again wrote Kurtz: “Did any one tell you that a night or two after Gen. Hood was moved from there, that a bunch of Yankees came to Grandfather Littles looking for Gen Hood and they got pretty rough and one of the Little boys shot and killed a Yankee and they buried him close to the house.”
  • The general and his physician arrived in Atlanta on November 2 at 4 p.m. After a week of rest there, staying at the Whitehall Street home of John S. Thrasher (superintendent of the Confederate Press Association), Hood and Darby boarded train for Richmond (Lost Papers, 36-38; McMurry, Hood, 80).

Thus, my conclusion: Hood did not convalesce from his wound at the Clisby Austin house, and spent only the night of November 1-2 there; the amputated leg could have been buried there, but it was only because Pvt. Collier may have done so soon after the battle.

Now, can we get the record straight?

7 Responses to We’re Still Arguing about General Hood

  1. Stephen, Thanks for posting this. Since I have heard the same legend, I also was delighted when Sam Hood’s “Lost Papers” reprinted Dr. Darby’s excellent report, with all it’s invaluable details.

    I also agree that it is highly unlikely that Hood ever spent any time at the Clisby-Austin House prior to his overnight stop on November 1.

    One further note about the leg. If Collier really did take the leg, intending to take it Texas, why would he not go to Catoosa Platform, just outside of Ringgold, instead of several miles farther on to Tunnel Hill before burying it there? That piece of the story also fails to add up.

    Finally, I have looked in the Union sources for any reference to a raiding or foraging party probing into Armuchee Valley, without success. Moreover, this would be pretty far afield for any such party of Federals. Yes, the fighting at Wauhatchie on Oct 28-29, 1863, went a long way towards lifting the seige of Chattanooga, but still, Federals that far to the southeast seems unlikely.

    One thing I am sure of. Hood’s leg will continue to be associated with the Clisby Austin House, no matter what is said here.:)

    1. Most thoughtful, Dave–many thanks. I’m just grateful Wilbur Kurtz connected with the Little descendant all those years ago!

    2. Dave–I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Coming from an authority such as yourself, quite an honor!

  2. Fascinating, especially for a look at what happened to wounded officers. Glad he didn’t have to endure the experience of GA roads in an ambulance, but 30 miles by stretcher? That doesn’t sound pleasant either.

  3. I’ve thought the same thing Dave. Why would Pvt. Collier (a Texas Brigade musician) be at Tunnel Hill? One theory is that Hood’s amputated leg might have been taken with Hood to the Little farm, and Collier departed with the leg from there, with the Tunnel Hill railhead being an easier journey from the Little’s than over the mountains to Dalton. The provenance of the story of Hood’s leg being buried on the Clisby Austin property was told to me by Ken Sumner, the current caretaker and guru of all things Tunnel Hill. It’s oral information passed down by the two subsequent property owners to Ken in the 1970s, and I’ll have to admit that because of some details I am not at liberty to share, it is persuasive even to an uber-skeptic like me

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