John Bell Hood’s performance in the latter part of the Atlanta Campaign and the entire Franklin-Nashville campaign was one of utter failure for the Confederacy.

When Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with Hood on July 17th 1864 in Atlanta, no doubt Davis wanted and needed a fighter.  But he also needed a fighter who could deliver results. Measured against even that simple mark, John Bell Hood’s performance between mid July 1864, in the latter half of the Atlanta Campaign (which had begun in May 1864), and late December 1864 was an abysmal failure personally and militarily.

In short, in those entire six months, Hood lost every single engagement that was of any importance. Worse, Hood virtually destroyed his own army – the glorious and proud Army of Tennessee – by constantly throwing it against perilous frontal assaults, failing to reconnoiter the battlefield prior to an engagement, and losing some of his best and most competent senior commanders in the process.

I don’t lay all the blame on Hood in that Davis must surely be held accountable for a ridiculous strategy that Hood was apparently all too-willingly obliged to pursue.

Here is my summary of Hood’s performance in the last half of 1864, the twilight of his military career:

1. The AOT is reduced to a shell of its former self by the end of Nashville. It is no longer a serious or vital fighting force after Dec 1864.

2. He loses Atlanta to Sherman, thus resulting in Abraham Lincoln being re-elected in November.

3. He allows Sherman to execute the famous March to the Sea.

4. Hood does not win one vital or strategic engagement during this entire period, from July – Dec 1864.

5. Hood completely fails in his objective to prevent Schofield form reaching Nashville, and thus from executing whatever plans he did have after securing Nashville again.

6. He does nothing – in six months – to (a) either slow the Union war machine in the Western theater, or (b) to actually gain some strategic military wins that could lead to Confederate momentum in the Western theater.

7. He gained a reputation as a reckless commander, suffering staggering casualties when the AOT could hardly afford it.

8. He resigns in disgrace in early January 1865.

12 thoughts on “John Bell Hood’s performance in the latter part of the Atlanta Campaign and the entire Franklin-Nashville campaign was one of utter failure for the Confederacy.

  1. grumblejones

    Well stated and supported by the facts. I have personally run afoul of many a Hood supporter, but again the historical facts show Hood to have been a reckless commander in those final six months.

    Reply
    1. Betty Callis

      Kraig, it makes me sad that you are so hard on General Hood. Most of the terrible things that are written about him cannot be traced as factual. Many authors do not even date their footnotes beyond 1940 or list other authors who did not even footnote their remarks.
      I have read contemporary remarks from fellow civil war participants who have had nothing but good to say about him. Schofield was one.
      I do not have the exact remarks at my fingertips, but I know what I have read and researched.
      I have seen Eric Jacobson and Thomas Carwright, after researching more thoroughly, change their opinions, as have other historians.
      I have hopes that a book will be published that will help refute some of these rumor…and that it will have all the proof that anyone can desire. I also pray that people will read it with an open mind.
      Just think of all the ways that our opinions have changed pertaining to many historical events, as more facts emerge.
      Kraig, you know I admire you, and I hope you will give the General another look.

      Reply
  2. Sam Hood

    Replies to Kraig’s comments:

    1) The reduction began long before Hood took command. The “destruction” of the AOT was no different than the destruction of the ANV. At one time over 100,000 strong, only 7,900 soldiers were on hand for the surrender at Appomattox. Hood and Lee didn’t destroy their armies, the Yankees did.

    2) Sherman pushed Johnston from Dalton to the gates of Atlanta in 100 days. Hood held Atlanta for 45 days. Johnston and Hood didn’t lose Atlanta; Sherman won it.

    3) Hood went precisely where the CSA War Department, Jefferson Davis and PGT Beuaregard sent him. When Beauregard and Hood learned of Sherman’s movement to the coast, Sherman had a 100 mile head start, destroying all subsistence, bridges, railroads in his wake. Hood could not have caught up with Sherman so invaded Tennessee in an attempt to force a retrograde by Sherman. (Beauregard explained this in a letter to Davis. It’s in the OR.)

    4) Other than Bragg at Chickamauga (with Longstreet’s corps and Hood’s division on hand), no AOT commander won a major battle during the entire war, including Joe Johnston, who didn’t win a battle either before Hood took command, or afterward (Bentonville.)

    5) Had Hood’s orders been followed at Spring Hill, his objective would have been accomplished. Later at Franklin, Hood tried to destroy Schofield rather than allow him to march unmolested to Nashville. He wasn’t trying to teach any lessons, he wasn’t punishing his army; he wasn’t high on dope; and he wasn’t trying to impress his girlfriend. He was trying to win a battle and win a war.

    6) See numbers 4 and 5 above.

    7) Was Hood reckless at Cassville? Was Hood reckless at Decatur (AL)? Was Hood reckless at Columbia? Notwithstanding his “reputation” Hood’s casualties (accurately calculated, using the OR and medical reports, not Sherman’s bombastic inflated figures) at Atlanta and in the TN Campaign are not substantially higher than the ANV’s during their major campaigns.

    8) He did the honorable thing and resigned. “Disgrace” is a subjective term used by his detractors. And again, notwithstanding his reputation, after his resignation Hood took full responsibility for the defeat in TN, and complimented and praised his soldiers.
    ________________________________________________________

    All the above is in the historical records. Hood’s poor repuation is largely the result of fact-filtering by certain influential authors.

    Reply
    1. tellinghistory Post author

      1. The AOT is reduced to a shell of its former self by the end of Nashville. It is no longer a serious or vital fighting force after Dec 1864.

      Sam replied:
      1) The reduction began long before Hood took command. The “destruction” of the AOT was no different than the destruction of the ANV. At one time over 100,000 strong, only 7,900 soldiers were on hand for the surrender at Appomattox. Hood and Lee didn’t destroy their armies, the Yankees did.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      Maybe the reduction did begin long before Hood took over, but it remains that (1) Hood not only failed in his primary military objective, but (2) his leadership eventually resulted in the total collapse of the AOT. I agree that the Yankees destroyed the Confederate armies but lets also be cognizant these armies were led by men, flawed and all-too human. If one is going to give Hood credit for some of his earlier successes, then one must be willing to give him blame for the poor performances too.

      2. He loses Atlanta to Sherman, thus resulting in Abraham Lincoln being re-elected in November.

      Sam replied:
      2) Sherman pushed Johnston from Dalton to the gates of Atlanta in 100 days. Hood held Atlanta for 45 days. Johnston and Hood didn’t lose Atlanta; Sherman won it.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      Granted, Hood inherited a tough mess from Johnston. This may be where the real issue is so much above Hood’s pay-grade. Davis should have realized that losing Atlanta would likely result in Lincoln’s re-election. Davis clearly wanted a fighter in contradistinction to Johnston. He got that in Hood for sure. Hood lost almost 13,000 men in his first eight days in the Atlanta campaign.

      3. He allows Sherman to execute the famous March to the Sea.

      Sam replied:
      3) Hood went precisely where the CSA War Department, Jefferson Davis and PGT Beuaregard sent him. When Beauregard and Hood learned of Sherman’s movement to the coast, Sherman had a 100 mile head start, destroying all subsistence, bridges, railroads in his wake. Hood could not have caught up with Sherman so invaded Tennessee in an attempt to force a retrograde by Sherman. (Beauregard explained this in a letter to Davis. It’s in the OR.)

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      Fair point Sam. No one would have stopped Sherman. This goes back to my pay=grade comment in #2.

      4. Hood does not win one vital or strategic engagement during this entire period, from July – Dec 1864.

      Sam’s replied:
      4) Other than Bragg at Chickamauga (with Longstreet’s corps and Hood’s division on hand), no AOT commander won a major battle during the entire war, including Joe Johnston, who didn’t win a battle either before Hood took command, or afterward (Bentonville.)

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      Respectfully, my point still stands. I don’t think Davis installed Hood as commander of the AOT in late July 1864 thinking that Hood would (a) not win a major engagement the next six months, )b) fail to accomplish the military objective of preventing Schofield from hooking up with Thomas in Nashville, and (c) effectually losing the AOT as a fighting machine by January. The key to winning a campaign is to win successive important and strategic battles. Hood was out-matched, as any Rebel commander leading there AOT would have been.

      5. Hood completely fails in his objective to prevent Schofield form reaching Nashville, and thus from executing whatever plans he did have after securing Nashville again.

      Sam’s replied:
      5) Had Hood’s orders been followed at Spring Hill, his objective would have been accomplished. Later at Franklin, Hood tried to destroy Schofield rather than allow him to march unmolested to Nashville. He wasn’t trying to teach any lessons, he wasn’t punishing his army; he wasn’t high on dope; and he wasn’t trying to impress his girlfriend. He was trying to win a battle and win a war.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      I certainly agree with Sam’s points that, He wasn’t trying to teach any lessons, he wasn’t punishing his army; he wasn’t high on dope; and he wasn’t trying to impress his girlfriend. He was trying to win a battle and win a war. However, to say categorically that had Hood’s orders at Sprong Hill been followed his objective would’ve been accomplished. This is a strong case of “coulda, woulda, shoulda”). In reality, we will never know what might have happened had Hood’s orders been followed at SH. One still can rightly criticize Hood for failing to see that his orders were carried out properly at SH. He has some blame to bear at Spring Hill.

      6. He does nothing – in six months – to (a) either slow the Union war machine in the Western theater, or (b) to actually gain some strategic military wins that could lead to Confederate momentum in the Western theater.

      Sam replied:
      6) See numbers 4 and 5 above.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      See my rebuttals as well.

      7. He gained a reputation as a reckless commander, suffering staggering casualties when the AOT could hardly afford it.

      Sam replied:
      7) Was Hood reckless at Cassville? Was Hood reckless at Decatur (AL)? Was Hood reckless at Columbia? Notwithstanding his “reputation” Hood’s casualties (accurately calculated, using the OR and medical reports, not Sherman’s bombastic inflated figures) at Atlanta and in the TN Campaign are not substantially higher than the ANV’s during their major campaigns.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      Granted, the casualties in Hood’s late 1864 campaign do reflect similar casualty numbers across the board for the entire Civil War. However, Hood lost 13,000 men in his first 8 days and that set the tone for the reckless charges; and losing that many men in his first week was reckless in my opinion. Also, Hood should’ve realized where the AOT was in the overall wars progress. It was the setting sun, especially after Lincoln’s re-election. Notwithstanding that Davis’s late war strategy was seriously flawed, Hood took command and believed he could accomplish the objectives Davis set forth in July 1864. Simply put, the casualties Hood took in the last several weeks in the Atlanta campaign were reckless compared to what the AOT needed to stop Schofield, then proceed into Louisville, then Cincy, and fancifully perhaps on to Richmond.

      8. He resigns in disgrace in early January 1865.

      Sam replied:
      8) He did the honorable thing and resigned. “Disgrace” is a subjective term used by his detractors. And again, notwithstanding his reputation, after his resignation Hood took full responsibility for the defeat in TN, and complimented and praised his soldiers.

      Kraig’s rebuttal:
      I concur that my “disgrace” comment is subjective. Let me revise my wording. I respect that he resigned. That was honorable. However, from the myriad of accounts I have read, there does seem to be a lot of AOT soldiers who felt he had ‘fallen from grace’ (i.e., disgrace) due to his Franklin-Nashville performance.

      Disclaimer:

      I have a lot of respect and appreciation for Sam Hood and I am very proud of my ancestor’s who fought in the ACW too. Sam clearly has a big dog in the fight being a direct descendant of Gen John Bell Hood. I’m sure Sam would agree that he is biased toward Hood. I would be.

      Every bias leads to fact-filtering. The way we see the problem, IS the problem. There is no such thing as un unfiltered, unbiased view.

      Where’s my dog or my bias? Do I have a bias? Surely. I was born in Kentucky, a neutral, border-state. I lived many years in Indiana. I did my undergrad and a graduate degree in Indiana. My wife has over 40 relatives who were Union Hoosier boys, who fought mostly in the Western theater. I’ve been a Williamson County/Franklin resident for twelve years now. I’v been blogging seriously on Franklin for over six years.

      I hope my readers have enjoyed this respectful debate. One thing I know for sure; I would not have wanted to be John Bell Hood in late 1864 especially.

      Kraig

      Reply
      1. Sam Hood

        I was clearly alluding to large, general full army engagements, not the successful repelling of attacks by portions of the enemy’s force.

  3. Betty Callis

    I did not think that Sam Hood was a direct descendant of John Bell Hood. However,his being kin, and interested in correcting any false facts, he has studied and researched his material. I guess we lovers of history, and civil war history in this instance, gives us all a “dog in this fight”. I am glad it is a respectful one! But Kraig, respectfully,you have still not convinced me.

    Reply
  4. Sam Hood

    1.1) Not to parse words Kraig, but Hood was–like all military commanders in all instances–ordered to try to accomplish a mission (in this case hold Atlanta) and try he did. Although I’ve never seen it written anywhere, no doubt Jeff Davis and the CS government wanted Atlanta held until the Northern elections, hoping that Sherman’s lack of success, coupled with Grant’s high casualties and Banks’, Butler’s, and Sigel’s defeats would lead to Lincoln’s election defeat. The stakes could not have been higher for the Confederacy, and Hood was, rightly, prepared to risk all, thus his relatively high losses around Atlanta.

    On July 20 Hood told Mobile Advertiser and Register reporter Felix De Fontaine, “At once I attack the enemy. He has pressed our lines until he is within a short distance of Atlanta and I must fight or evacuate. I am going to fight.” Davis and Bragg never voiced displeasure or disagreement with Hood’s public statements. Even after Peachtree Creek, Decatur, and Ezra Church, Hood kept telling Richmond he was going to continue to resist Sherman. He wired Bragg on August 4, “I beg to assure you that I have no intention of abandoning this place, and that if no other recourse be left, I shall certainly give the enemy battle before I leave it.” Hood’s persistence and investment of blood and materiel was precisely what he was ordered to do.

    By the way (not that this is a subject in this particular ddiscussion) it has been proven conclusively that Johnston was indeed going to abandon Atlanta. Capt. Samuel Foster wrote in his diary in August, angry that Hood was trying to save Atlanta, “trying to do what Joe Johnston said could not be done.” An infantry captain knew that Johnston was saying Atlanta was untenable even before the first big battle at Peachtree Creek.

    2.1) See number 1 above. (Your 13,000 casualty figure is incorrect, it should be 11,200, which is of course still very high. In the case of Ezra Church his instructions to SD Lee [issued both the night before the battle and repeated the day of the battle] were disregarded or misunderstood by Lee, whose independent decisions caused the unusually high casualties. Nevertheless, correctly I suppose, those losses are Hood’s responsibility.)

    3.1) Agreed

    4.1) Agreed

    5.1) Hood’s error at Spring Hill was indeed failing to personally confirm that his instructions had been carried out, although military commanders routinely rely on their competent, loyal, and reliable subordinates. After Cheatham failed to block the road (for whatever reason) it is a documented fact that Forrest was personally ordered by Hood to block the road, and then departed Hood’s HQ. Forrest in turn sent Sul Ross to Thompson’s Station, where he failed to hold the pike. Ross apparently never informed Forrest of the failure, so is Forrest—like Hood—guilty of not confirming that his critically important orders were followed? Or perhaps Ross did tell Forrest, who in turn never sent word back to Hood that the road was still open. Hood ordered Forrest to block the road, went to sleep, and hearing nothing more from Forrest, why would Hood even suspect that the road was not held? Why does all blame for Spring Hill go to Hood and not a single critical word is cast at Forrest, who not only failed to hold the pike (which is forgivable,) but more importantly, never told Hood of the failure, (which is unforgiveable)?

    6.1) Agreed

    7.1) Kraig, again, in Richmond’s mind, Atlanta was the key to Lincoln’s reelection, and thus Atlanta was the key to Confederate independence. Hood was going “all in” and kept Bragg and Davis informed and nobody in Richmond instructed him to stop fighting and evacuate! I also respectfully take exception to your characterization that, if successful in Tennessee, Hood would “fancifully” march to Richmond. This was the ultimate mission from day one, approved (perhaps even conceived) by Davis, Bragg, and Beauregard. In fact Davis wired Beauregard on November 24, “Have ordered Gen. Hood to take active offensive action in Middle Tennessee to relieve Gen. Lee.” In reply, Davis urged Hood forward, “Until Hood reaches the country proper of the enemy, he can scarcely change the plans of Sherman’s and Grant’s campaigns.” Davis didn’t consider a march to relieve Lee in Virginia fanciful. Similarly, neither Lincoln nor Grant considered Sherman’s plan to march to Savannah, then up to Virginia to reinforce Grant “fanciful” even though Sherman’s march was much longer and every mile of it through enemy held territory.

    It is very disturbing to me that Hood, in his Tennessee Campaign and his defense of Atlanta defense, is criticized—perhaps maligned is a more accurate term—for simply following the orders of his superiors. Should he have refused? Should he have blatantly disobeyed orders and walked away from Atlanta and refuse to invade Tennessee? If any individuals should be blamed for Atlanta and Tennessee it should be Davis, or Bragg, or whomever. Why does a 33 year-old who has lost an arm and a leg in serving his country catch so much Hell for simply doing what he was ordered to do by his Commander-in-Chief?

    8.1) Fair enough Kraig. If all that you (or anyone) have read are books by Wiley Sword and Thomas Connelly (and authors who echo them) then it is understandable that you are under the impression that Hood was unanimously disliked and disapproved of by the soldiers of the AOT after his resignation. I could copy-and-paste herein page upon page of words of praise and gratitude for Hood. But perhaps the best illustration would be to look at how John Bell Hood was viewed in the first several decades after the war, before Connelly and McDonough and Sword published their fact-filtered books. In Nashville there is a General Hood Trail; in Oak Hill there is a General Hood Drive; in Brentwood there is a Hood Drive. Atlanta has a Hood Avenue and in Cuthbert GA there was, at one time, a Hood Hospital. Why would people in Georgia and Middle Tennessee from 1864-1970 name streets and landmarks in honor of a Confederate commander who was as inept, ruthless, conniving, stupid, vindictive, etc. as the John Bell Hood of today? The folks who named those streets and landmarks had an impression of Hood that was influenced more by those who served under him—veterans, memoirists, and diarists—than by latter day authors.

    Finally Kraig, yes, I am biased, but not because of my kinship to JB Hood, which is not direct. I am only a second cousin. I have the distinct honor of sharing his surname, but he isn’t a close kinsman to me. Nor am I some sort of neo-Confederate. In my family tree I have only three direct ancestors who fought in the Civil War: 2 great x2 grandfathers and 1 great x3 grandfather—all Yankees. My nearest Rebel kin is a great grand uncle who was a Virginia cavalryman.

    I originally became interested in Hood because of his last name, but my incentive now is to try and speak up for a defenseless man who gave half his limbs in war and who lies rotting in a box in a New Orleans cemetery unable to explain himself. It also bothers me in no small measure that many people who love and study Civil War history are misinformed, or perhaps under-informed is a better word, about an important character and two important campaigns.

    Great blog exchange here. Thanks for indulging me.

    Reply
  5. tellinghistory Post author

    I really appreciate your fair-mindedness and willingness to engage on the subject Sam. I’ve learned more than I ever expected. BTW, I’ve not read Connelly but did Sword. I’ve read quite a bit more in terms of books and every letter I can get my hands on. You definitely make some good points I need to process. I’m again humbled and struck by the reality of how difficult a decision Hood had at Franklin. The entire Spring Hill – Franklin – Nashville campaign was an “event” that never needed to happen. Had Schofield reached Nashville and joined up with Thomas before Hood caught up, I find it hard to believe Hood would’ve fought Thomas at Nashville. Who knows. Maybe we could converse at another time on why Hood did not wait for his entire artillery to arrive at Franklin, why he seemed to have constricted Forrest so much in terms of a cavalry flank maneuver, and why he also appears to have lacked a vital recon operation prior to the battle as well. Thanks for engaging me. BTW, you are more than willing to submit a series of brief posts defending Hood and I will publish them on my blog. I want all points of view to be accessible. Thanks. Kraig

    Reply
    1. Sam Hood

      Thanks for the invitation to provide a series of posts. I might take you up on it.

      Very quickly though, the reason Hood didn’t await his artillery at Franklin and didn’t allow Forrest to attempt a flank is simple; time, or I should say, the lack of time. At 2:00 PM–around the time all major decisions had to have been made, there was only 3 hours of daylight remaining, and the head of Lee’s long column had yet to arrive. Similarly, Forrest and his requested division of Stewart’s infantry would, in only 3 hours, had to have crossed a rain-swollen river, make a cross-country ride/march of 8-12 miles (swinging wide to the east to avoid Federal guns at Ft Granger), being resisted by 5,000 of Wilson’s cavalry and Wood’s 4,500 infantry, plus some of Stanley’s troops already across the river. The fastest movement of infantry in the entire Civil War was on Sept. 17, 1862, when AP Hill’s Light Division marched 17 miles, unmolested, up a good, dry road from Harper’s Ferry to Sharpsburg in 7 hours, or approximately 2.5 miles per hour. Even at that record pace–impossible for Forrest at Franklin–Forrest wouldn’t have been able to get behind Schofield before dark.

      If Hood had allowed Schofield to proceed to Nashville, would he have attacked Thomas? There is no doubt in my mind that he would have because that’s why he invaded Tennessee. He had 30,000 men behind him, all motivated and excited for the first time in many months. How would that have turned out? In my opinion, due to its heavy fortifications, I don’t think Nashville would have fallen. But Hood was bound to either win at Nashville or lose a third of his army before giving up the cause. Robert E Lee only retreated from his PA and MD invasions after losing 1/4-1/3 of his force. If the AOT investment in blood hadn’t been paid, as it turned out, at Franklin and Nashville, it would have all been at Nashville, in my opinion.

      War sucks. Or as Lee said, it’s good that war is so terrible, lest we should grow fond of it.

      Again Kraig, thanks for your patience and courtesy.

      Reply
  6. Bops

    What a refreshing discussion…objective, respectful, unemotional and heartfelt!

    There is an additional factor worthy of mention relative to the AOT campaign into Tennessee. Hood was operating independently, that is with minimal supply/logistics support. Deliberate movement was not an option; he had to strike quickly, decisively and continue moving north as fast as the physical limitations of his men would allow. His adversary on the other hand (while caught somewhat unprepared by Sherman’s departure) had the benefit of established lines of supply from the north and its war machine. It seems to me that Lee succeeded for two to three years in the eastern theater with just such brazen, calculated and swift movement. Both leaders eventually lost the “battle” under the overwhelming weight of the larger Union armies; neither Hood’s nor Lee’s efforts were less honorable for the attempt.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful discussion.

    Reply
  7. Betty Callis

    Thanks, BOPS, for your thoughtful and insightful remark. I agree with your comment.
    Kraig, I wonder what you would have had Hood do? You think his decision to obey orders and march into Tn was wrong.
    Of course, we discuss this with plenty of hindsight, but I am curious what your decision would have been. Just wondering, because I am definitely the beginner here.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s