Will New Documents Prompt a Reappraisal of John Bell Hood?
John Bell Hood is one of the most controversial Confederate generals of the war, particularly for his performance after losing a leg at Chickamauga. The disastrous Confederate losses by Hood’s Army of the Tennessee at the Battle of Franklin, at the end of November 1864, and its defeat at Nashville two weeks later, effectively destroyed it as a fighting force in the West. Much of the blame for this is usually laid squarely at the feet — er, foot — of John Bell Hood.
Now, via Kraig McNutt and the Battle of Franklin Blog, the discovery of a large collection of Hood documents, previously unknown to historians, promises to open up new insights into the general’s record and provide answers to long-standing questions.
The Battle of Franklin Trust Chief Operating Officer Eric A. Jacobson announced today at Carnton Plantation the discovery of several hundred documents, letter and orders of Confederate General John Bell Hood. While conducting research for an upcoming book on the general, West Virginia’s Sam Hood, a collateral descendent and student of the career of Hood, was invited to inspect a collection of the general’s papers, held by a descendent in Pennsylvania. In making the announcement, Sam Hood said, “I felt like the guy who found the Titanic, except for the fact everyone knew the Titanic was out there somewhere, while I had no clue that some of the stuff I found even existed.” Sam Hood added, “General Hood is certainly no stranger to controversy. During his colorful military career and with historians ever since, he has remained a controversial and tragic figure of the Civil War. Long noted for the loss of Atlanta and what some consider reckless behavior at the November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin after a lost opportunity for possible victory at Spring Hill, he has often been the subject of ridicule and blame for the demise of the Confederacy in the West. Eric Jacobson, who has viewed a portion of the collection said, “This is one of the most significant Civil War discoveries in recent history. These documents also tell us as much by what they don’t say. One major example is the discovery of Hood’s medical journal, kept by his doctor, John T. Darby, during the war. There is no mention of the use of painkillers or laudanum by Hood at Spring Hill or any other time. Hood was much more multifaceted than how he has been portrayed by some as a simple minded and poorly equipped commander.” Jacobson has been one of only a few contemporary Army of Tennessee historians to give Hood the benefit of fatigue, fog of war and failures of subordinates as part of the breakdown of the Army of Tennessee in late 1864. Some of the items found include recommendations for promotion, handwritten by Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet. Also uncovered was wartime correspondence between Hood and General R. E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, Louis T. Wigfall, and other senior commanders as well as his four general officer commission papers with signatures. Roughly seventy post-war letters from other Civil War notables were also discovered, mostly concerning the controversy with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and used to compose Hood’s memoir Advance & Retreat. Hood added, “This is just the tip of the iceberg on the expansive collection.” “I spent three days photocopying and inventorying,” added Hood. “I held in my hands documents signed by Jefferson Davis, Longstreet, Jackson and Lee.”
Seems to me that if Sam Hood, the general’s descendant who’s writing a biography of his ancestor, is smart he’ll start taking pre-orders for that book of his right now.