John Bell Hood (1831-1879)
UPDATED DECEMBER 23, 2009
[A number of factual errors in the material below corrected by the courtesy of Sam Hood at the John Bell Hood Historical Society in Lexington, Kentucky.]
JOHN BELL HOOD
Born 1831 in Owingsville, Kentucky. Died August 30, 1879 in Louisiana during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 and 1879 which claimed approximately 20,000 victims. Both Hood County and Fort Hood U. S. Army base of Texas are named after him.
During the American civil war, John Bell Hood is best known for first serving as a brigadier general commanding a brigade and division under Lieutenant General James Longstreet's First Army Corps.
During the battle of "Second Bull Run" (or in Southern histories "Second Manassas"), Hood's men lead the attack on the flank of John Pope's Union army, which thought it was closing in to destroy Stonewall Jackson's troops trapped at Stony Ridge. They were completely surprised when Longstreet's combined force of 25,000 men from five divisions came down on them from the right.He was arrested after a conflict with fellow brigadier Shanks Evans for which he refused to apologize. Longstreet had taken Evans side and demanded Hood's resignation. General Robert E. Lee instead kept Hood in a reserve capacity and then suspended the arrest when Hood's Texas soldiers demanded Hood lead them during the "Maryland Campaign" of September, 1862.
Hood continued to serve as the most aggressive of the southern commanders, frequently being called upon to lead rescues for faltering attacks under other leaders or to save Confederate troops on the verge of being trapped by stronger Union forces.
At the age of 33, Hood was given charge of the Army of Tennessee by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis was frustrated with General Joseph Johnston's inconsistent communications and his cautiousness against Union General William T. Sherman in Georgia. Taking charge, Hood immediately launched a series of four attacks that failed to dislodge Sherman's siege around Atlanta. Hood then attempted to lure Sherman into Alabama and then Tennessee, hoping to defeat Sherman there and return to Virginia through the Cumberland Gap to breakup Union General Ulysses Grant's siege of Lee's army at Petersburg. This complex strategy to overcome these pivotal weaknesses in the overall Confederate situation was not implemented because Sherman never followed.
In November, 1864, Hood then plunged into a string of three battles in Tennessee (Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville) which reduced his army of 33,000 men to exhaustion and their numbers to approximately 20,000. Though he had defeated larger Union forces and had cleared middle Tennessee in conjunction with Confederate General Nathan Forrest, Hood was unable to deal with an overwhelming Union counter attack of 55,000 in December outside Nashville which eliminated what was left of his army. Remnants of the Army of Tennessee eventually reorganized under Joseph Johnston in North Carolina. Hood was ordered by Davis to Texas to raise another army, and so he began to trek West. Before reaching this goal, Hood learned that Lee had surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, and Jefferson Davis had been captured on May 10. Hood followed by surrendering to Union forces at Natchez, Mississippi, on May 30, 1865.
After the war, he married and lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he fathered eleven children including three sets of twins.
During his service to the United States and then the Confederate States armies, Hood had his left hand mangled by an arrow, then his left arm destroyed by artillery and finally his right leg amputated from a severe bullet wound. He was famous for these wounds and for his offensive battle strategies which are either called "brave" or "reckless"- depending upon the critic.
For a thorough defense of Hood's actions and character, see the web site A Defense of John Bell Hood and the 1864 Tennessee Campaign.
Old Wooden Head, Old Wooden Leg and Old Pegleg
I had correspondence with Sam Hood, who is president of the John Bell Hood Historical Society in Lexington, Kentucky:
...you state that Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was nicknamed "Old Wooden Head" by his Texas troops. This is absolutely untrue. Gen Hood never was called 'Old Wooden Head' by either the Texas Brigade, or any other soldiers at any time in the war. There is not a single bit of evidence in any historical record.
The Old Wooden Head moniker was given to Gen Hood in the mid 1950s by an author who actually made a typographical error when meaning to type "Old Wooden Leg".
Also, Robert E Lee did not say Gen Hood was 'all lion no fox'. That came from a 1930 poem "The Army of Northern Virginia" by [Stephen Vincent] Benet. The lion/fox thing has been attributed to Lee but he never said it.
In another email, Hood wrote:
No character in Civil War history is so widely misrepresented as John B Hood, due almost entirely to two books, Thomas Connelly's "Autumn of Glory" and Wiley Sword's "Confederacy's Last Hurrah." Both were hatchet jobs intending to sell books and not be scholarly works.
They set the tone for his reputation, which then begat the receptiveness by the broad Civil War history to accept as fact anything negative that is heard about Gen Hood.
The fact is that Hood never received a nickname by the Texas Brigade, who worshipped him. They actually renamed their brigade "Hood's Texas Brigade" after he was promoted and left. The only nickname I have ever seen written by a soldier serving under Hood was "Old Pegleg" by some soldiers of the Army of Tennessee in 1864. (Even "Old Wooden Leg" has never been recorded, but it is the same as Old Pegleg so what the heck.)
As for Lee, the only thing he ever wrote or spoke about Hood after Hood went to the Army of Tennessee is pasted below. The lion/fox words were never spoken by Lee about Hood. Because Benet titled his 1930 poem "Army of Northern Virginia" someone apparently connected Lee to Benet's words.
Jefferson Davis was considering Hood for promotion and asked Robert E. Lee his opinion of Hood. On July 12, 1864, Lee replied: "...Hood is a good 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 very high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal. General Hardee has more experience in managing an army. May God give you wisdom to decide in this momentous matter."
Mr. Hood also mentioned this book:
A great new book was just published titled "War Like the Thunderbolt: The Burning and Battle of Atlanta" by Russell Bonds. There is much about Gen Hood and his attempts to save Atlanta. Three early chapters in the book introduce the three main characters, Sherman, Johnston and Hood. The Sherman chapter is titled "Crazy Bill", the Johnston chapter is titled "The Gamecock" and the Hood chapter is titled "Old Wooden Head." The author then explains the irony that these nicknames are incorrect with the realities of Sherman, Johnston and Hood, and that the JB Hood nickname has no basis in fact and that Hood has been the victim of many myths and rumors that are simply not true. The author explains that regardless of his nicknames Sherman was not "crazy", Johnston not a "gamecock" (fighter) and that not only was Hood never called Old Wooden Head by his men, but that he was far from stupid, rather, a gifted and resourceful tactician.
Among the Confederate officers who lived through that terrible war there can hardly be found a more emblematic personality of Southern manhood than John Bell Hood. Those intimately acquainted with him, in victory or defeat, spoke without hesitation of a man of stainless character, wholly devoted to his country, his cause, his army, and after the war, to his friends and family.
Bibliography: In writing here about General John Bell Hood, I used the following sources: Atlas of the Civil War; Month by Month By Mark Swanson, published by University of Georgia Press, 2004; Illustrated Atlas of the Civil War, published by Time-Life Books, 1998; April 1865, by Jay Winik, published by Harper Perennial, 2001. I also consulted the Wikipedia online article.
Original Graphic from previous 2008 page version: