A Gem from the Gilder Lehrman

TexasBrigadierA century and a half after the war, we’re still finding cool stuff. I’ll give an example from my new book, Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood (Mercer, 2019).

In my research I was perusing Kirk Denkler, ed., Voices of the Civil War: Atlanta (1996). In it I saw a photograph of a letter Hood wrote on March 7, 1864 to Col. James Chesnut, aide to President Davis. “I enclose to you a copy of a letter I have written to the President,” it began.

Hood’s letter to Davis, in the Official Records (32, 3, 606-607), is widely quoted in the literature for Hood’s repeated mention of wanting to launch an offensive (which his superior, Joe Johnston, didn’t want to do). “An army of 60,000 or 70,000 men,” Hood assured Davis (if Johnston were reinforced), “should be sufficient to defeat and destroy all the Federals on this side of the Ohio River.”

But a less scrutinized statement in Hood’s letter is this: “The divisions of Stewart, Stevenson, and Hindman make up my corps. You perceive I have all the untried troops of this army; I hope, however, to do good work.”

In Denkler’s Atlanta I saw that the Hood-Chesnut letter is in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York. Naturally I wanted to see what else Hood wrote (the photo shows only the first handwritten page). So I contacted Gilder Lehrman, and Alinda Borell, archivist, kindly provided me the full text of the letter, which I saw had not been previously published. McMurry does not mention it in his biography (1982). In her diary, under date of March 24, 1864, Mary Chesnut wrote, “Read Hood’s letter to J.C.,” but editor Vann Woodward offers no explanatory note about the letter; he didn’t know about it either.

Here’s the part that caught my eye: “My corps is composed of all the untried troops of this army. I have all the Vicksburg warriors, the Divisions I command are Stuarts Stevensons & Hindmans. So if I don’t do as well as may be expected, I wish my friends to know, what troops I command….”

In this statement Hood maybe forgiven for misspelling the name of one of his division commanders (A. P. Stewart); he had been in Dalton less than two weeks. What is not so easy to forgive, though, is the new corps commander trashing his men even before the campaign has begun.

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4 Responses to A Gem from the Gilder Lehrman

  1. Sam Hood says:

    Steve. I have previously read Hood’s mention of inheriting Vicksburg troops in another letter, and he stated something to the effect that Richmond should not expect too much of them immediately. Your characterization that Hood was “trashing” the Vicksburg troops itself seems overly harsh.

  2. Dave Powell says:

    All the untried troops in this army? He’s flat out wrong. Of the 12 brigades in the corps, only 6 can be classified as “Vicksburg” troops, and of the other 6 brigades, none were green. further, he has some crack brigades in that mix: Walthall’s Mississippians and Gibson’s Louisiana Brigade, to name just two.

    • Sam Elliott says:

      Actually, Dave, more like 4: Cumming, Pettus, Stovall and Baker. But Sam makes a good point about JBH’s likely unfamiliarity with his new command.

      In my view, A. P. Stewart took 2 brigades that had not worked together before (Gibson and Clayton) and 2 brigades of Vicksburg exchangees (Stovall and Baker) and forged a very nice division that probably was the third best in the army in 1864, after Cheatham and Cleburne.

  3. Sam Hood says:

    Perhaps if Hood had known his words were going to be dissected 150 years later he would have chosen his words more carefully. Other than 30 minutes at Chickamauga, he had served the entire war in Lee’s army, and he had been out of service in Richmond for five months recovering from a wound. He then is given a corps command in a new army of which he was unfamiliar.

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