Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Q. How Old was General Hood at Gettysburg?

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on June 26, 2010

A. Thirty-two.

Hood as portrayed by (l. to r.) Patrick Gorman in Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), Levon Helm in In the Electric Mist (2009) and himself in real life (c. 1865).

Picking up a thread of an idea from David Woodbury at Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles, I’ve been thinking about how film and television typically portrays Civil War figures. Most often they’re depicted substantially older than they really were. I’m not necessarily speaking of the actor’s actual age versus character’s (because actors routinely play much younger characters), but more generally his apparent age — how he’s made to look. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When an actor portraying a Civil War figures actually is about the right age for the character, it’s often jarring for the viewer, to whom it doesn’t “feel” right even if, in fact, it is. Matthew Broderick was 25 or 26 when he shot Glory; his character, Robert Gould Shaw, was exactly that age at the time of the events depicted in the film. Nonetheless, although the actor and the role were perfectly matched for age, it still didn’t “look right” for a lot of people, and probably harmed the overall public reception of the movie. People just couldn’t see someone that young, in that role. (Being known at the time primarily for his role as as Ferris Bueller didn’t help.)

But this just highlights something that we might easily forget — the vast majority of these men, from private to general, were very young by modern standards. At the beginning of the war, Ulysses S. Grant was 39. George Meade was 45. George McClellan was 36. George Pickett was 36. James Longstreet was 40, as was John George Walker. Stonewall Jackson was 37. William Tecumseh Sherman was 41, and so on. Robert E. Lee was 54, the “old man,” not just because of the senior position he held, but because he was, by the standard of the day, objectively and factually old.

There are lots of exceptions, of course — Albert Sidney Johnston was nearly 60 when he got plinked at Shiloh — but still it amazes me how young these men were when so much rested on their shoulders.

Update: Argghh! Dimitri Rotov has stolen a march on me on this very topic over at Civil War Bookshelf.

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  1. […] reigned everywhere. Nearly all our field officers were gone. Hood, our Major General, had been shot from his horse. He lost an arm from the wound [sic.]. Robertson, […]

  2. […] four thousand died in 1878, and the following year the disease famously claimed the life of former General John Bell Hood, his wife and one of his eleven […]

  3. Bryan Cheeseboro said, on May 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Since you mentioned Glory…

    The character of Major General George Crockett Strong (who briefed the 54th about the assault on Fort Wagner) looked to be about 35-40 years old in the movie. The actual General Strong was 30 years old at the time (and died a few days after the assault). The actor (Jay O. Sanders) was 35 years old at the time of the movie. I always thought the actor looked too old for the portrayal.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 5, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      That’s a common problem in such movies. Matthew Broderick’s portrayal of Shaw suffered, I think, because he seemed too young for the role, and some viewers found that distracting. In fact, he and Shaw were just about exactly the same age (26).

      • Bryan Cheeseboro said, on May 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        I was not bothered at all by Broderick portraying Shaw. One, I thought he resembled Shaw a lot in appearance. Two, I never saw Ferris Bueller, so I didn’t have that distracting image going on.

        I was not bothered by Patrick Gorman as Hood either but I only mean that in Gettysburg. He looks about 10 years older than Hood would have been in 1863. But in Gods & Generals, he looks like he’s 64, not 32.

        As I understand it, JB Hood had blonde hair and his beard, in old black & white pictures, appears like gray hair. This may explain why gorman, portraying Hood in Gods & Generals, has a old gray beard. Perhaps someone thought Hood was older than he actually was. What’s funny about all this is the claim (on the DVD, I think) that 1500 historians worked on Gods & Generals. 1500 people, and nobody could get a beard right? But then, considering how the history of what the Confederate war was really about was flubbed in that film, a messed-up beard is the least of its problems.

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