I found this summary of General John Bell Hood career on a wargamer forum(by a Pete Belli) and it was interesting overall look at his Civil War career...
Discussing the performance of famous military commanders is practically a hobby within a hobby for wargame enthusiasts and amateur historians. A typical American Civil War buff can toss out a quick evaluation of every high-ranking general and provide a brief sketch of that officer’s career.
Until recently, if anybody had asked me to describe the legacy of Confederate general John B. Hood I might have replied: “He was an aggressive fighter who performed superbly at the brigade and division level but wrecked his army after taking command near Atlanta in 1864.” After reading about Hood’s outstanding performance in 1862 and digging deeper into my ACW library, I have formed a different opinion.
To borrow a malapropism from President George W. Bush, I might have “misunderestimated” the Rebel leader.
Although frequently associated with Texas, Hood was born in Kentucky. He learned to ride and shoot at an early age and lived the comfortable life of a typical middle-class Southern teenager. His formal education was limited but family connections allowed Hood to secure an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
Hood was an indifferent scholar and received help with his math classes from a bright cadet named Schofield. The two men would face each other as generals during the Civil War. During his senior year Hood had severe discipline problems and narrowly avoided being dismissed from West Point for excessive demerits… an early example of Hood’s impulsive behavior.
His low class standing at graduation meant that Hood was assigned to the infantry. After serving in California he attempted to pull political strings and transfer to the cavalry. This would not be the last time Hood tried to advance his military career with the influence of friendly politicians.
Hood was sent to Texas where he served under Robert E. Lee in the elite 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment. During a skirmish with the Indians the young lieutenant nearly led his men into a deadly ambush. Hood escaped after being wounded in the hand by an arrow. Hood’s aggressive conduct was rewarded when his gallantry was mentioned in army reports.
At the outbreak of the War Between the States he resigned from the army and offered his services to the Confederacy. Hood was eventually ordered to the Virginia peninsula and took command of the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment as a young colonel. After a series of political maneuvers by Jefferson Davis left the “Texas Brigade” without a commanding general, Hood was promoted to Brigadier in March of 1862, just as McClellan began moving up the peninsula toward Richmond.
During a skirmish with the Federals at Eltham’s Landing his boldness and courage under fire earned Hood and the Texas Brigade praise from the authorities in Richmond. Hood dashed forward to the firing line and rallied a shaky regiment, behaving like the brave young lieutenant he had been just a few months ago.
At the battle of Gaines Mill in 1862 several Confederate assaults were shattered against the strong Union position. Hood modified his tactics when the "Texas Brigade" went into action. Instead of exchanging musketry with the entrenched Yankees in a useless firefight Hood sent his men directly against the Union line without stopping to fire a volley. The attack broke the tired Federal defenders and the Rebels won the battle.
Hood’s reputation was secured. His brigade achieved celebrity status in the Rebel capital. When his division commander requested a medical furlough Hood was given control of two brigades, his own Texans and another fine unit of four regiments from Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. These troops would perform splendidly in future campaigns.
Hood played an important role at Second Manassas in August. Ordered to make a reconnaissance during the first day’s fighting, Hood characteristically exceeded his instructions and allowed his soldiers to advance deep into the Union lines. Fortunately for Hood, his division was able to withdraw after sunset. On the second day of battle Hood’s division played a major part in Longstreet’s crushing flank attack that wrecked most of Pope’s army and sent the Yankees flying in retreat.
A dispute with another officer over captured Federal ambulances resulted in Hood’s arrest. When his temper flared Hood’s impetuous words could be nearly as dangerous to his brother officers as his military maneuvers were to the Yankees. In the months ahead Hood eventually adopted the more reserved style of Robert E. Lee, a man Hood regarded with fatherly affection. Longstreet released Hood from arrest shortly before the battle of Antietam when the men of Hood’s division implored Lee to give them back their beloved commander. It should be noted that Hood refused to apologize for the incident.
During the early stages of the Antietam Campaign the troops under Hood marched across the hot, dusty landscape and served for a time as the Rebel army’s rear guard. They arrived at Sharpsburg tired and hungry. Stonewall Jackson allowed Hood’s brigades to move into a reserve position and cook the first meal the men enjoyed in three days.
The massive Union attack struck just as Hood’s men prepared to eat breakfast. Called to save the Confederate flank, the soldiers of Hood’s division threw the food on the ground and attacked the Federals with a fury. The advancing Yankees were pushed back and only the presence of a mighty array of Union artillery halted Hood.
Casualties had been severe but Hood’s division helped to repel an attack by another Union corps. After this second round of action Hood’s sector remained relatively quiet for the rest of the day. The division had been a crucial element of Lee’s successful defense; once again Hood had covered himself in glory. After three triumphant engagements in 1862 the lesson Hood absorbed was simple: a fierce infantry assault could turn the tide of battle.
Hood saw little action at Fredericksburg. He was not present during Lee’s epic victory at Chancellorsville because part of Longstreet’s Corps was involved in a campaign against Suffolk in southeastern Virginia. Hood’s superb reputation did play a part in the battle, though. When phony Confederate “deserters” entered the Union lines they spread the rumor that Hood had arrived with his Texans. This disinformation was an attempt to confuse the Union commanders about Lee’s actual strength.
In the quiet periods between these autumn battles Hood demonstrated a lack of administrative ability. Possibly due to boredom, Hood frequently stumbled when confronted with routine logistical tasks. At one point Lee had to remind Major General John B. Hood that the commanding general’s orders regarding the distribution of muskets and ammunition had not been carried out. Hood clashed with Confederate general Lafayette McLaws when a hastily-written book about the Antietam campaign criticized that officer’s performance and praised Hood’s Texans.
Hood arrived at Gettysburg on July 2nd and his division was part of Longstreet’s assault on the Union left flank. Hood quickly grasped the tactical possibilities of a flanking maneuver beyond Little Round Top. After several messages were exchanged Hood obediently followed Longstreet’s firm instructions to follow Lee’s original orders and launch a direct attack immediately. Just as the troops began to move forward an artillery shell exploded directly above Hood. The general was badly wounded.
His left arm was shattered and at one point Hood was going to be left behind at Gettysburg with the other severely wounded officers. He eventually joined the thousands of battered Confederates who were hauled back to Virginia during Lee’s retreat. For those Geeks interested in speculative ACW timelines it should be remembered that high-ranking officers were usually exchanged after capture. If the maimed Hood had recovered while a prisoner of the Yankees he would have returned to the Confederacy sooner or later.
During his convalescence in Richmond that summer Hood rekindled a romantic attachment with a coquettish southern belle named Sally Preston. The general was totally smitten with this aristocratic beauty but she toyed with Hood while her family opposed the match. Miss Preston might be described as Hood’s part-time fiancée because the exact boundary of their relationship remained unclear.
When several brigades from Longstreet’s corps were sent west during the Chickamauga campaign Hood accompanied the soldiers. After a lengthy railroad journey Hood arrived during the confused action on the first day and took part in the final attack that evening. When the army was hurriedly reorganized by Bragg the following morning Hood was given command of several divisions -- essentially a small corps -- as part of Longstreet’s left wing.
Hood’s column struck a gap that had opened in the Union line after a confused series of orders from Rosecrans sent a Yankee division marching away when it should have remained in position. As the Federal line cracked Hood rode among his troops to urge them forward. A bullet smashed into Hood’s leg and he was carried away on a stretcher. His right leg was amputated near the upper thigh.
After a painful recovery Hood returned to Richmond. His left arm was useless and he could only ride a horse after being strapped in the saddle. Hood refused to accept these limitations and began to wear an artificial leg smuggled through the blockade from Europe. Hood spent a great deal of time with Jefferson Davis (causing gossip about Hood’s social maneuvering) and he petitioned the president for a new assignment. Hood was promoted to Lieutenant General and sent to command a corps in Joseph E. Johnston’s army south of Chattanooga.
Hood had always been ambitious but there were psychological factors at work here. He naturally wanted to prove to himself and to the world that although horribly wounded he could still perform the duties of a soldier. Hood desperately sought success as part of his struggle to gain the heart of Sally Preston and the approval of her patrician family. As the campaign for Atlanta began the less admirable qualities of Hood’s personality began to take on a new dimension.
Although he led one of the three army corps in Johnston’s force Hood had not actually served as a corps commander prior to the 1864 campaign. During the long series of skirmishes and withdrawals as Sherman maneuvered against Atlanta there were incidents that did not reflect well on Hood’s ability. On more than one occasion the general engaged in unprofessional finger-pointing when his battlefield performance was questioned. There was also another serious issue: Hood was attempting to undermine Joe Johnston, his superior officer.
This kind of scheming was not unusual during the American Civil War. McClellan attempted to undermine Winfield Scott. Hooker attempted to undermine Burnside. Schofield attempted to undermine Thomas. A platoon of disgruntled Confederate generals attempted to undermine Bragg. That does not excuse Hood’s behavior, and his efforts to gain political favor while blackening the reputations of his brother officers would come back to haunt the general.
…Hood is a bold fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal. General Hardee has more experience in managing an army.
Robert E. Lee
By the beginning of July the Rebel army had retreated to the outskirts of Atlanta. Jefferson Davis grew increasingly frustrated with Johnston. After making the incomprehensible decision to send Bragg on an inspection tour of that disgraced general’s former command Davis received a mendacious letter from Hood which can best be described as a blatant attempt to push Johnston and Hardee aside and secure the command for himself. Davis pressured Johnston to reveal his plan to defeat Sherman; when the cautious general refused to offer detailed predictions of uncertain future events Davis placed Hood in command.
At this point many Geeks interested in the ACW are familiar with the common perception of Hood and his battles around Atlanta. Simply expressed, many people would say that Hood launched a series of frontal attacks against Sherman, wrecked the Confederate army, and lost the city.
This is not an accurate appraisal of Hood’s operations in 1864.
At the battle of Peachtree Creek he planned to strike Thomas as his formations were astride the river. At the battle of Atlanta he planned to smash McPherson’s flank and rear as the Federals attempted to move east of the city. At the battle of Ezra Church he planned to hold the Yankees in position with S.D. Lee’s entrenched corps while A.P. Stewart maneuvered to hit the Federal flank beyond the railroad.
At no point in the campaign around Atlanta did Hood recklessly order his divisions to charge Union entrenchments, although that situation certainly did occur during these engagements. Hood issued specific instructions to his subordinates about offensive tactics, telling the generals to push their troops into close quarters combat with the Federals while avoiding prolonged firefights. Hood’s enthusiasm for the bayonet may have been a relic of the Napoleonic era but his tactical intuition was sound. Other commanders (like the brilliant Emory Upton) had also determined that the most effective assault technique was based on a quick rush across the deadly ground followed by a sudden burst of fire into the enemy’s fieldworks.
Hood failed because his command system was entirely inadequate. Confederate staff work was atrocious and his subordinates were either new to their jobs or talented officers who fumbled at crucial moments. Hood’s lack of personal mobility and his inexperience as an army commander led to a loss of control when things went wrong. Hood had not cultivated the loyalty of his corps commanders and these generals did not follow him almost unquestioningly like many of Lee’s subordinates.
I do everything in my power to make my plans as perfect as possible, and to bring the troops upon the field of battle; the rest must be done by my generals and their troops, trusting to Providence for the victory.
Robert E. Lee
Hood seems to have emulated Lee’s loose methods of battlefield command in a misguided attempt to duplicate the Virginian’s achievements. He didn’t realize that a system that might work between Lee and Jackson could not be jammed into a command structure that included a former rival like Hardee and second-stringers like Bate or Wheeler.
Before the finger of blame is pointed at Hood for his complex battle plans it might be worth mentioning that Sherman, Thomas, and Schofield had their own problems when maneuvering through the pine forests and ravines around Atlanta. At the battle of Jonesboro the glacial pace of the Union advance permitted the heavily outnumbered Hardee to escape what could have been a deadly trap for his three divisions.
When the city finally fell to the Yankees the deficiencies in Hood’s logistical skills became even more apparent. He had inherited the army (and its supply system) from Joe Johnston. When young John B. Hood was a lieutenant chasing tribal warriors across the Texas plains Johnston had been a Brigadier General and an experienced staff officer. Johnston was famous for taking care of his soldiers, but after the loss of Atlanta and its resources Hood soon experienced tremendous supply problems.
Hood was not a stupid man. He understood that his soldiers needed blankets, beans, boots, and bullets. Hood simply lacked the practical experience that allowed a successful administrator like Johnston or Lee to move beyond submitting official requisitions through a rickety Confederate supply system.
I cannot guess his movements as I could those of Johnston, who was a sensible man and did only sensible things.
William Tecumseh Sherman
Hood faced a major strategic problem… what should his army do next? After consulting with Davis it was decided that Hood would operate against Sherman’s railroad supply line in northern Georgia in an attempt to force a Union retreat. Davis assigned Beauregard to the western theater as a glorified advisor. Beauregard attempted to coordinate strategic efforts with Forrest while providing Hood with some logistical expertise. Beauregard worked tirelessly to supply Hood’s army from improvised bases in Alabama.
Hood was able to interdict Sherman’s railroad network on several occasions but superior Yankee planning combined with expert repair work soon got the trains running again. Hood lacked the strength to challenge strong Union forces that responded to the Rebel incursions and his tenuous logistical system could not sustain the Confederate army in the mountains of northern Georgia.
Hood decided to advance into Tennessee.
Without gaining official approval Hood began to maneuver along the Tennessee River and force a crossing. Beauregard struggled to keep up with Hood’s erratic movements but eventually coordinated a northward advance against the scattered forces of Schofield and Thomas that Sherman had dispatched from Atlanta to block the Confederates. Hood hoped to draw Sherman away from Atlanta; when that objective was not attained Hood concocted a bizarre plan to seize the massive Union supply base at Nashville and liberate Kentucky.
If I had been in Hood’s place, I would have gone to Louisville and on north until I came to Chicago.
Logistical problems had delayed Hood’s advance until November. If the Rebels had been able to enter Tennessee in October, before Lincoln’s election was assured, Hood might have influenced the outcome of the war. The actions that became known as the Franklin-Nashville Campaign were a tremendous distraction for the Union high command. At one point in December concern became so intense that Grant headed west to take control in Nashville... he halted when Thomas defeated Hood.
Hood maneuvered briskly as he pushed by Schofield at Columbia and moved between that general’s Union force and the larger Yankee formation at Nashville commanded by Thomas. Hood’s plan was nebulous; his claim that he planned to defeat these two Federal armies in detail might be a later construction built with the benefit of hindsight. There is no question that Hood intended to capture Nashville by a coup-de-main and he drove his men relentlessly… until they reached Spring Hill.
Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan.
The lost opportunity at Spring Hill is one of the mysteries of Hood’s career. The Confederate army halted as Schofield and his men marched by at midnight on the way to Franklin and the Harpeth River crossing. There may never be a satisfactory explanation of the Rebel failure but even if the road had been cut other routes were available to Schofield. The Union withdrawal certainly would have been delayed, but the complete destruction of Schofield’s force was unlikely. In any case, the buck stops at Hood’s desk so he must be held responsible for the blunder.
The attack at Franklin was the greatest fiasco of Hood’s military career. Analysis of the general’s decision process has covered the entire spectrum from a laudanum-induced haze to blinding fury at the missed chance at Spring Hill. In my opinion, Hood simply made a bad choice when he launched a hasty attack against what he thought was a disorganized and retreating foe. However, there is no excuse for continuing the assault after it became obvious that the first sucessful push against the advanced Union line had failed to break Schofield’s defenses. The heavy losses among Hood’s officers drastically weakened an army that already suffered from severe command and control issues. Of course, the thousands of lost infantrymen could never be replaced by the beleaguered Confederacy.
As a soldier, he was brave, good, noble, and gallant, and fought with the ferociousness of the wounded tiger, and with the grit of the bulldog; but as a general he was a failure in every particular.
A Confederate Private
Hood advanced to the hills south of Nashville and entrenched his shattered army in the face of a much larger Union force dug in behind the one of most fortified cities in the country. Hood was at the end of a gossamer supply line as winter approached. His men suffered from hunger, cold, and sickness. In spite of the horrible losses at Franklin and the deprivation they experienced, the Rebels refused to collapse. This does not excuse Hood’s decision to “besiege” Nashville. The general’s strategic thinking was unrealistic at best and merely stubbornness at worst. Superior leaders should not need to demonstrate their toughness by sacrificing the lives of their soldiers.
It required two days of hard fighting for Thomas, who outnumbered Hood by a 2-1 margin, to drive the Rebels away in December. According to the account provided by Hood, he hoped to defeat Thomas when the Union army opened itself up to a flank attack during the struggle at Nashville.
This might sound ridiculous.
Hood had served under Thomas before the war. Hood had faced Thomas on several battlefields during 1864. If there was one Union general who would be the least likely to commit a blunder that would allow Hood to launch an assault against an exposed flank, it would be the methodical Thomas. However, after the first day of the battle at Nashville the Union commander left both of his flanks essentially “in the air” because he assumed that Hood’s army was shattered and in retreat. Only a late night change of orders prevented the Union cavalry from running headlong into Hood’s second line of entrenchments in the morning. If the dead Confederates left behind at Franklin had been present at the battle of Nashville, there might have been trouble.
Thousands of Hood’s men drifted away during the long, dreary retreat to Tupelo. Hood was relieved of command and went into military oblivion for the rest of the war, although he still found time to quarrel with his rivals even as Richmond fell.
Sally Preston moved on with her life. Hood married another woman and they had 11 children. He engaged in a spirited defense of his war record when Johnston and Sherman participated in the “Memoir Wars” that began after the conflict ended. Hood died during a yellow fever epidemic that struck New Orleans in 1879.
If you have read through it, one can see General Hood had issues that show up again as the commander of the AoT. He had poor logistic and administration skills which are paramount when leading a large force of men. He tries a loose command structure with Generals who did care for him. He should have been more central controlling command structure. He physical limitations also prevent him from doing his job well because he could not get around the battlefield and observe what was happening... Everyone thoughts...
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