Conduct Unbecoming an Officer: John B. Hood’s Efforts to Cover Up the Bad News From his Tennessee Campaign

EDITOR’S NOTE: ECWer Stephen Davis has had published the second volume of his study of Confederate General John B. Hood’s generalship in 1864. This piece is from his second volume, released this past autumn by Mercer University Press.

After the fall of Atlanta, President Davis created a “super-department” in the western theater (as he had done in late ’62, with Joe Johnston as commander). This time he put G. T. Beauregard in charge, with authority to coordinate the operations of Hood’s Department of Tennessee and Dick Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana.

Davis personally conveyed his idea of a “Military Division of the West” in visits with  both generals in September 1864. Hood quickly agreed. (He feared he would be relieved when the president visited him at Palmetto, Ga.).

But Hood, as it turned out, didn’t like having a new boss, and he showed it in several ways during the next few months. After Beauregard assumed command on October 17, Hood did not go through him to communicate with Taylor at Montgomery, which chain of command would require.

Hood even lied to Taylor on October 20: “I have not seen General Beauregard,” although he very much had ten days before in northwest Georgia.

Hood refused to keep Beauregard informed of his movements, angering the Creole as he sought to meet up with Hood in north Alabama. When Bory finally caught up with Hood at Decatur on October 27, he “cautioned him anew, in a more pointed manner, against the irregularities of his official proceedings” (Roman, 1884).

Then, when Beauregard, through his adjutant, Col. George Brent, asked for a written statement of his planned advance into Tennessee, Hood was short and evasive in his reply.

Hood also refused to go through Beauregard in his communications with Richmond.

On October 30, after Brent asked for a report on Hood’s activity from early September to date, Hood answered that he had been too busy and sick to comply.

[Roman: Hood “began to chafe under the supervision exercised over him by General Beauregard”; the Creole even complained to Richmond on November 6.]

On December 11, after Franklin and before Nashville, Hood wrote a report and sent it directly to Richmond, with only a copy to his superior officer. Beauregard’s endorsement, once he got it: “General Hood does not seem to understand that he is responsible directly to these Headquarters, and not to the War Department.”

After Nashville, on December17 Hood telegraphed Seddon and Beauregard from Spring Hill about his defeat. But because of the rickety telegraph system, Colonel Brent in Montgomery didn’t receive it. December 25: “I have nothing official from Hood.” The 27th: “No intelligence yet from Hood.”

By December 27 Hood had retreated back across the Tennessee River. Brent and Beauregard were already hearing rumors of Hood’s disaster at Nashville. More, through Northern newspapers, officials in Richmond were reading about Thomas’ massive victory.

Beauregard to Cooper, Dec. 27: “I have no advices whatever from that quarter, and…am apprehensive some reverse may have occurred.”

Brent to Bory, Dec. 29: “No tidings yet from General Hood.”

A frustrated Beauregard, then in Charleston, notified General Cooper in Richmond that he was going to travel to Hood’s army at Corinth to find out for himself. Before he left, he asked President Davis on December 31 if he could relieve Hood of command—and this, without his having heard officially from Hood about his disastrous campaign. (Davis answered yes on January 2.)

Meanwhile Hood continued his evasion, responding to Brent’s request for an update by referring him to his dispatch sent from Spring Hill on December 17.

Beauregard to Brent, January 7: “Order General Hood, in writing, to make report of his operations from Tuscumbia to Nashville, and back to Tupelo. I have telegraphed him to same effect.” (Hood did not write the requested report.)

Sensing he was about to be fired, on January 13 Hood asked to be removed from army command. Seddon quickly accepted, so when Beauregard arrived at Tupelo on the 15th, he was relieved that he would not have to issue the pink slip.

CONCLUSION: it was not so much his disastrous Tennessee Campaign that brought down Hood, so much as his effort to conceal from Beauregard and Richmond the extent of his army’s collapse.

9 Responses to Conduct Unbecoming an Officer: John B. Hood’s Efforts to Cover Up the Bad News From his Tennessee Campaign

  1. I have researched and written extensively about John Bell Hood; more specifically the flawed modern literature on Hood. Accusations of Hood’s drug addition, emotional imbalance, betrayal of Joe Johnston, thirst for vengeance against his own troops at Franklin, and the Sally Preston soap opera are largely cleansed from serious Civil War scholarship, but we now have a new manufactured controversy–insubordination. This new criticism of Hood is even less supported by historical records than the others.

    Hood is now unwarrantedly accused of refusing to report and reveal the defeats at Franklin and Nashville to his superiors. Not only did Hood accurately report the results of the battles and the condition of the army, he specifically asked P.G.T. Beauregard to come and meet with him five times—Dec. 7, Dec. 25, Jan. 3, Jan. 10, and Jan. 11—before Beauregard finally rejoined Hood on Jan. 13—a full two months since Beauregard had last visited the Army of Tennessee. Additionally, in late December Hood dispatched a senior staff officer to Richmond to personally report the results of the campaign to the Confederate government.

    After the campaign Beauregard never even hinted that Hood had been insubordinate, and additionally, a mere four years later they became close friends as prominent residents of New Orleans. In fact, Beauregard headed up the Hood Relief Committee to care for Hood’s ten young orphans after the sudden deaths of Hood and his wife in 1879.

  2. This is an interesting post. I would note that two letters from AAG Brent to Hood dated November 10, 1864 and November 12, 1864 also evidence some “tension” between Hood and Beauregard even though the subject matter did not relate directly to conduct of the campaign. If Hood was aware of Lee’s September 1864 input regarding command of the army, that could help account for the tension. I have no idea whether he was aware of it..

  3. Accusations of a contentious relationship between Hood and Beauregard are without substantiation. The full body of correspondence between Beauregard and Hood, taken at face value without conjecture or dramatization, reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Beauregard was a new commander of a newly created super-department where he was repeatedly asking Richmond to define his authority and duties and Beauregard was constantly on the move, away from Hood’s army. Hood was commanding an army in the midst of a desperate and bloody offensive campaign into enemy-held territory, and then an equally desperate retreat. Hood corresponded regularly as best he could with Beauregard (wherever he was at any given time) and Richmond over telegraph and rail lines in deplorable condition. After Franklin, Hood corresponded with Beauregard on Dec. 3, 6, 7, 11 (to James Seddon), 13, 17, 25, Jan. 3, 10, and 11. Claims that Hood ignored and avoided Beauregard is simply not so.

    Early Tennessee Campaign and Army of Tennessee scholars Thomas Hay and Stanley Horn wrote nothing of any enmity between Hood and Beauregard. Thomas Connelly and Sword did, but a careful inspection of their cited sources (as I did) reveal that the accusations were baseless. Jefferson Davis never wrote of any insubordination by Hood, nor did Beauregard, nor James Seddon, nor Braxton Bragg.

    Steve Davis wrote the Preface to my award winning 2013 book, “John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General,” wherein I wrote some 40-50 pages on Hood’s post-Atlanta movements and the Tennessee Campaign. The word “Beauregard” appears 239 times in the manuscript, and among several major subjects, I researched Hood’s communications with Beauregard and Richmond. In 2013 Steve Davis had no problem whatsoever with my assertions (supported by primary sources) that there was nothing inappropriate or unprofessional in Hood’s conduct. Yet in 2020 somehow John Bell Hood is guilty of insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer.

  4. An incident occurred in 1879 where Hood asked Beauregard to intercede in a business misunderstanding between Robert Toombs and Hood. Toombs was upset, so Beauregard vouched for Hood. Beauregard would certainly not have done so (nor would Hood have even asked) if Beauregard felt that Hood had treated him with insubordinate and “unbecoming conduct” during the latter weeks of the war. With Beauregard’s explanation and endorsement of Hood’s honorable motives, the misunderstanding was resolved amicably. The full historical record–not only selected records given personal interpretations–are replete with documents related to Beauregard and Hood that are, in a word, unremarkable.

    New Orleans, Feb. 13, 1879
    My dear Genl, (Toombs)
    At the request of Genl. Hood, I have examined as a mutual friend of both parties his Bond transaction for you thru Boris & LeMore, brokers of this city, and find that he has really endeavored, to the utmost of his ability, to protect you from loss in the run on that firm by those who were “leaving” the market at that time. I enclose you letters from Messer Oglesby, and Moore Hyams & Co, showing that such is the fact.
    Your letter of Jany 12th, addressed to Genl Hood at Washington D.C. was read by him, owing to absence of the city, only on the 21st ulto., after receipt of your telegram of the 27th & letter of the 28th of the same month, approving his course, & you may well imagine his surprise.
    I see plainly that you wrote your letter of the 12th of Jany under a misapprehension, and I am satisfied that your own sense of justice will induce you to make amends to Genl Hood for the same & the correspondence resulting from this misapprehension may be recalled at once by both parties.
    Hoping that this misunderstanding may be speedily & satisfactorily adjusted,
    I am your friend
    G.T. Beauregard

    March 5th, 1879
    Dear Genl, (Beauregard)
    . . . I fully reciprocate the gratification of Genl Hood at this termination of a misunderstanding with an old and valued friend, and consider our relations fully restored. Should be good to hear from him on his return from St. Louis, or at any time. I send you herewith the Genls letter of Feby 7th & January the 31st as requested. I hope I shall have the pleasure of meeting this summer in the mountains of Va.
    I am truly your friend,
    R. Toombs

  5. Thank-you for the article and the responses from Sam Hood. Lots to ponder. I do remember that Beauregard kindly organized relief for Hood’s orphans.

  6. On the broader subject of Civil War history, scholarship, and literature in general, I am becoming increasingly distressed at the intentional degrading and sensationalized portrayals of Civil War characters, especially Confederates. All of American history is being attacked, destroyed, and erased from the public square and education, and Confederate history is the low-hanging fruit targeted by the anti-history fanatics. Why then do those who love Civil War history unjustly insult and demonize Confederate soldiers and prominent commanders, thus adding credibility to those who wish to erase all record of Confederates and call them traitors and racists? People of past centuries already had values and customs that are taboo by modern standards; why do we also soil their personal honor, integrity, and character, adding fuel to the rampant historical cleansing already spreading like a plague in our modern society?

    Will the authorities deciding the fate of the name of Fort Hood, Texas, be influenced by a 2020 book, published by an academic press, “revealing” that John Bell Hood was an insubordinate army commander, guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer?

    Why do we do this to ourselves as we watch interest in Civil War history evaporate and monuments and landmarks honoring prominent Civil War characters demolished and removed from public view?

  7. I think it’s a mistake to draw lines and connections between things that are not necessarily related. The current situation with monuments likely has very little to do with any history books, and more to do with long-simmering societal issues.

    I doubt that most Americans could come up with any specific info on the Confederates which the bases are named after, much less the current trends in historiography on those Confederates.

    There is no history being destroyed. There is just a reconsideration of who we as a nation are going to PUBLICLY honor.

    1. I understand your point, and in some (perhaps even most) cases I agree that there is no direct connection between the perception of particular historical characters and modern societal sensitivities. However, in the specific case of John Bell Hood, his portrayal in a few history books is quite often cited as justification alone for removing his name from the US Army base. I receive Google Alerts and have read numerous published op-eds and letters-to-the-editor advocating the name change, and almost all of them unfoundedly accuse Gen. Hood of all sorts of character flaws and incompetence as a military commander. Most of the “facts” presented in the articles come straight from the most highly critical book on Hood–Wiley Sword’s formerly influential but now widely discredited 1993 book, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah.

      I do not follow Fort Bragg as closely, but doubtless the same thing happens to Braxton Bragg as happens to Hood. And I suspect Fort Gordon (and others) as well.

      In San Francisco, schools named for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are being changed. There is an anti-history wave sweeping America. Honored historical characters are being demonized. It distresses me when those who love American history add fuel to the fire.

      When historical characters are not PUBLICLY acknowledged they will disappear because they are no longer taught in schools.

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