John Bell Hood
Born:June 29, 1831, Owingsville, Kentucky
Died:August 30, 1879, New Orleans
Born the son of a doctor in rural Kentucky, John Bell Hood learned the importance of political influence at the very start of his military career. His uncle, Richard French, was serving in the U. S. House of Representatives, and it was through him that young John secured a nomination to West Point. Adroitly working the intricate mesh of military and politics was a trait Hood would use time and again to advance his career.
His demerit record at West Point includes reprimands for appearance, inappropriate behavior, and disobedience. In spite of a poor academic record and a rebellious attitude Hood was well-liked by his superior officers. Colonel Robert E. Lee, newly appointed Superintendent of the Academy, made Hood a lieutenant of cadets, charged with enforcing stricter discipline. It was a move Lee would regret. Two months later Lee stripped Hood of this duty when he was "absent without authority."
Virginian George Thomas taught Hood about artillery and cavalry tactics while at the Army academy. During the War for Southern Independence Thomas, who remained with the North, would repeatedly come up against his former student in battle.
From his graduation until he joined the Confederate Army, Hood's most notable service was in Texas, where he met up again with Robert E. Lee. During this period Hood would occasionally ride with Lee in the Texas countryside. He also battled the Commanches that were raiding the Texas frontier.
Four days after the Rebel attack at Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861) John Bell Hood resigned his commission in the U. S. Army. Joining the newly formed Confederate Army he was quickly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Serving in the Army of Northern Virginia, over the next two years he established himself as a brilliant tactical commander who was beloved by his men and would be promoted to general. He saw action at Seven Days, Second Manasas, Sharpsburg, Fredricksburg, and Gettysburg, where he lost the use of an arm.
Stationed in Chattanooga and surrounded on three sides by Union forces, Braxton Bragg sent an urgent appeal to Richmond for additional troops early in September, 1863. As a result Hood's commander, Georgian James Longstreet, was re-assigned to the Army of Tennessee. Longstreet and Hood journeyed by train to northwest Georgia where they turned the tide in favor of the Confederacy during the battle of Chickamauga. Hood led the breakthrough at the Brotherton Cabin on September 20, 1863, advancing with his men across the open field west of the cabin, routing Federal Commander William Rosecrans and most of the Union Army. Only his former teacher, George Thomas, would stop the advance of Hood's troops.
During the fighting Hood was shot in the leg. Moved to a nearby field hospital, his leg was amputated. So badly wounded was the general that his leg accompanied him on a short journey to the Clisby-Austin house in Tunnel Hill so that they could be buried together. Erroneous reports reached the Confederate capital that "the Gallant Hood" had died. He moved to Richmond not only to recover from his wounds but also to convince his superior officers and President Jefferson Davis that he deserved a Corps Commander position, which he received.
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was to be Hood's next commanding officer. Now defending the state of Georgia against the invading Union Army, Hood became a key player in the Atlanta Campaign. Johnston's tactic of developing a strong position then defending that position did not appeal to the impetuous Hood. He wanted to fight. As Johnston withdrew from Dalton, Resaca, and the Dallas Line, Hood used his political allies to manipulate President Davis into believing that Johnston was losing where he (Hood) could have won.
As the Union forces moved south from Dalton, General Hood requested that fellow corps commander Bishop Polk baptize him. The Bishop was always happy to perform such a ceremony.
Stationed at the southern end of the "Kennesaw Line" with the Union Army about to outflank him, Hood attacked without orders. This attack at Kolb's Farm stopped the Federals cold and forced them to abandon hope of outflanking the Confederates, however, the cost in human life was extremely high. Five days later they would try to breach the Confederate line at Kennesaw Mountain.
As Johnston withdrew the Kennesaw Line, the Smyrna Line and the Chattahoochee Line became history. With the Army of Tennessee surrounded and outnumbered 2 to 1, President Davis ordered Hood to take command on July 17, 1864 (more). Robert E. Lee advised the President "Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to the other qualities necessary." Union General Jacob Cox said, "...the change of Confederate commanders was learned with satisfaction by every officer and man in the National Army."
Over the next six months Hood proved that a good tactical commander may not be a strategic thinker. He lost the battles of Peachtree Creek, East Atlanta, Ezra Church, Jonesboro, Allatoona Pass, Franklin and Nashville before resigning his commission. Franklin and Nashville were the final, devastating battles in the Western Theater of Operation. It was Hood's old teacher, George Thomas, who ended his career as commander by soundly defeating his former student.
Rather than accepting responsibility for his decisions while commander of the Army of Tennessee, he tried to pass blame to his former commander, his subordinates, even the enlisted men. Additionally, reports to his commanding officers are generally regarded as full of intentional errors and omissions, frequently overstating the number of enemy troops engaged while underreporting his own troop strength and losses.
After the war his actions were attacked by a number of people, most notably Joe Johnston, his commanding officer at the start of the Atlanta Campaign. Hood's book, Attack and Retreat, is essentially a defense of his actions. Both Union and Confederate officers were quick to point out that the figures Hood used in the book just didn't add up. He died from Yellow Fever in New Orleans in 1879 after several unsuccessful attempts at business.
Today General John Bell Hood is memorialized throughout the nation, with Fort Hood, Texas the best known. However, John Dyer in his biography "The Gallant Hood" himself notes,
"He was essentially a man of emotion rather than of intellect. He was never a reasoning and analytical man who carefully weighed all possible factors in a given problem or situation. Rather he was much inclined to be impetuous in his decisions, trust in his intuition and his blind optimism to see him through."
General William Hardee, the highly respected corps commander on whom Hood tried to blame for the losses of The Battle of Atlanta and Jonesborough, stated in his official report on April 5, 1865,
It is well known that I felt unwilling to serve under General Hood upon his succession to the command of the Army of Tennessee, because I believed him, though a tried and gallant officer, to be unequal in both experience and natural ability to so important a command...