Has John Bell Hood been treated fairly by modern historians?

Second in a series of interview with Sam Hood ? Part One

QUESTION: In your view, JBH has been treated unfairly, especially by historians in the past 40 years. How so? Why do you think he has been?

Sam Hood: The degree to which JB Hood has been treated unfairly by modern authors is astonishing. Anyone who reads the first major book on the Tennessee Campaign by Thomas Hay (1921) and then reads Wiley Sword’s 1992 book on the same event would think that the Army of Tennessee’s commander was two different men. The first harsh criticisms of Hood appeared in Stanley Horn’s 1941 Army of Tennessee, followed by Thomas Connelly’s caustic portrayal of Hood in Autumn of Glory (1971), and Wiley Sword went completely off the deep end with The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah in 1992. Between Connelly and Sword’s book was Connelly and James McDonough’s collaboration in Five Tragic Hours which was as equally biased as Sword’s. The evolution of the decline in JB Hood’s legacy closely tracks these five books.

Sadly, most books written in the last 20 years are heavily influenced by Sword’s eloquent polemic, and new authors innocently cite his book excessively in their own books. This is how common legends are created. My forthcoming book John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General is over 100,000 words and approximately 1,000 endnotes that detail the hyperbole, inaccurate paraphrasing, mischaracterization of events, factual errors, and fact-filtering that many modern authors have done in their portrayals of Hood. I could have written 500,000 words and still not exposed all the instances.

6 thoughts on “Has John Bell Hood been treated fairly by modern historians?

  1. I look forward to reading it. I have Wiley’s book, and indeed my impression of Hood is completely on the negative. He seems like a dunce, one sided commander that had one tactic in mind, all the time; frontal assaults with no regard for men under his command, even contempt for his men at times (Kentuckians in particular).

  2. In my opinion there are too many instances of unfair treatment among authors of the last 40 years, or so. As Sam has already pointed out there has been a tendency for latter day writers to reference those that precede them without thorough research into sourcing.

    If a reader approaches historical reference as I do the tendency is to trust at face value an author’s sources; isn’t there an unwritten principle that by definition bona-fide historians are honest? Dozens of pages of references usually defy any timely attempt to confirm accuracy. Few, if any, of us have a library at our fingertips with which to confirm or reject all the bibliographical references provided. I’ve learned from Sam to question more and accept less without thorough research. Now, when I read, “perhaps”, “probably”, “might have” and “if’, etc., I go “on point” and endeavor to clarify. If an author wants to offer an educated opinion and qualifies it as such that is somewhat more acceptable. But, too much of some of these modern works border upon historical fiction as it relates to General Hood.

    Lastly, the further distant in time we become from a historical event of importance the more difficult it becomes to confirm accuracy. It is my hope that this valuable trove of documentation will clear some of the “fog of war”, erase 150 years of conjecture, and round out a fair and objective record of General Hood as man and a soldier.

  3. Dale and Nathan,

    I agree with what you say about historical perceptions being soiled by the opinions of earlier authors being presented as a facts by later authors. But this is only one problem.

    Another problem is the distortion of legitimate, credible primary sources; opportunistic authors taking such advantage of artistic license as to paint a false picture of the character or event. A classic illustration comes from–not suprisingly–Mr Sword. On page 315 of “The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah”, Sword claims that Hood was angry (a recurring claim in his book) because only 164 Tennesseans had voluntarily joined Hood’s invading army. Sword wrote, “Hood reacted angrily and resolved ‘to bring into the army all men liable to military duty.’ If recruits wouldn’t voluntarily flock to his standards, he intended to bring them in at the point of the bayonet.” As a source Sword cites a dispatch that Hood sent to James Seddon from outside Nashville, wherein Hood wrote only the following SINGE SENTENCE on the subject of conscription: “As yet I have not had time to adopt a general plan of conscription, but hope soon to do so, and to bring into the Army all men liable to military duty.” In the rest of the dispatch Hood discussed only routine issues such as railroad repairs and enemy troop strength. Nowhere in Hood’s letter is there the slightest hint of anger, nor is there any comment about intending to bring in draftees “at the point of the bayonet.” Contrary to Sword’s baseless and dramatized depiction, Hood was simply going to gather conscripts, a common and routine practice by Confederate authorities throughout the South.

    Another example of Sword’s propensity to abuse artistic license and create drama and facts where none existed is the subject of Hood’s fiancee’ Sally “Buck” Preston. According to Sword, virtually every thought; every acttion; every reaction by Hood was either directly or indirectly related somehow to his fascination with her, making her a prominent character in his book. In Thomas Hay’s and Stanley Horn’s acclaimed books on the the Army of Tennessee and Tennessee Campaign, Preston is not mentioned at all, and Thomas Connelly mentions her once in “Autumn of Glory.” However, in Wiley Sword’s 1992 book on the Tennessee Campaign, she appears in the index more often than four generals killed at the Battle of Franklin–Otho Strahl, John Carter, States Rights Gist, and John Adams–COMBINED! Were Hay, Horn, and Connelly negligent, or was Sword’s use of artistic license excessive?

    Sadly, although Sword may be the worst offender, he is not the only Civil War author to engage in such historiographical misconduct.

  4. Pingback: Do all historians have bias and does it impact their doing history? «

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  6. Pingback: How do the recently discovered John Bell Hood papers compare to other recent Civil War discoveries? «

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