Previously Unknown John Bell Hood Papers Are Found
By Gregory L. Wade
(November 2012 Civil War News)
|This previously unknown colorized photo of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood is on the cover of Sam Hood’s upcoming book. He believes it was taken in the winter of 1863-64 in Richmond where Hood recovered from his Chickamauga wound and leg amputation. The same background is in a seated photo made before Hood returned to duty in March 1864.
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Confederate General John Bell Hood was no stranger to controversy. During his colorful military career, and for historians ever since, he is a controversial and tragic figure.
Faulted for the July 1864 loss at Atlanta, a lost opportunity for possible victory at Spring Hill, Tenn., and reckless behavior the following day at the Battle of Franklin, Hood has often been the subject of ridicule and blame for the demise of the Confederacy in the West.
Those assessments could change thanks to the recent discovery of a major collection of Hood documents. They include Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet’s recommendations for Hood’s promotion and wartime and postwar correspondence with R.E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, L.T. Wigfall, S.D. Lee, A.P. Stewart, William Bate, P.G.T. Beauregard, Henry Clayton, James Longstreet, G.W. Smith and other senior commanders, as well as William T. Sherman, Jefferson Davis, James Seddon, and other prominent Civil War characters.
Sam Hood, a student of the Hood’s career and distant relative, says, “The list goes on and on.”
The cache includes Hood’s four general officer commissions and roughly 70 postwar letters from other Civil War notables, Union and Confederate, mostly concerning the controversy with Joseph Johnston, and the work papers from Hood’s memoir, Advance & Retreat.
“At this point I’ve not seen anything in General Hood’s memoir that is not supported by this newly found documentation” Sam Hood says.
“I have been fighting to right some of the misperceptions and vicious myths of General Hood for years,” he says. “The new documents will surely change some of those views.
While conducting research for an upcoming book, Sam Hood assumed most documents about Hood had been lost or were previously known. Then he learned about hundreds of documents, letters and orders held by a J.B. Hood relative who was not fully cognizant of their historical value. He was invited to review the collection.
“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,” he says.
Instead, he was “astonished” by what he was shown in boxes stored in a closet. He spent five days photocopying and inventorying.
“I held in my hands documents signed by Jefferson Davis, Longstreet, Jackson and Lee.” There was a letter from Federal commander George Thomas to Hood about prisoner exchanges during the December 1864 siege of Nashville. The West Point diplomas and U.S. Army officers’ certificates of both Hood and his son Duncan were there.
Letters between General Hood and Richmond bring new light to the Atlanta campaign. Other letters reveal new “witnesses” to the Confederate failure at Spring Hill and an explanation of Patrick Cleburne’s “peculiar demeanor” before and during the Battle of Franklin.
Equally fascinating are the medical journals of Dr. John Darby regarding General Hood’s treatment and recovery from his Chickamauga and Gettysburg wounds.
Before he found the cache Sam Hood had completed most of the manuscript for his point-by-point defense of Hood’s career, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General, set for release next spring by Savas Beatie Publishing.
A dominant theme of the book is that known evidence has been misinterpreted or blatantly misused by many contemporary authors. Hood cites authors Wiley Sword, Thomas Connelly and Stanley Horn, among others, who he believes established and perpetuated Hood as a scapegoat for the Confederate defeat in the West.
Among the charges he refutes are General Hood’s alleged use of painkillers at Spring Hill on the night that Federals escaped almost certain defeat, and assertions that Hood ordered the frontal attack at Franklin as punishment for his troops.
Sam Hood says the “distortion” of General Hood over the years has been based on inaccurate or incomplete works by earlier writers “who are hesitant to counter prevailing orthodoxy.” With the new material and documentation, he is ready to further his argument that General Hood was a victim of poor scholarship.
Sam Hood is transcribing the papers. He hopes to publish an edited volume of them by late next year — in time for the 150th anniversary of Hood’s ascension to command of the Army of Tennessee, the defense of Atlanta, and the Tennessee Campaign — at which time a copy of the full collection will be released to a yet to be determined public repository.
The Battle of Franklin Trust and Franklin Civil War Round Table are hosting the public announcement of the discovery of the Hood documents at Carnton Plantation as this edition of the Civil War News is being released.