Category Archives: Lost Cause

Historian-author Wiley Sword weighs in on Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin

I recently emailed historian and author Wiley Sword to see if he’d like to weigh in on the current discussion regarding Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin.  He offered this commentary.

Confederacys Last HurrahThere are a variety of modern viewpoints involving Gen. John Bell Hood’s performance at Spring Hill and Franklin,and there often is some merit with each opinion. On the positive side, Hood was a physically brave soldier, had a burning desire to succeed, and planned his operations on the basis of his considerable experience in combat.

From a negative perspective, Hood was not very adaptive of the innovation required in confronting a new era in the methodology of war, his stubborn nature disallowed constructive criticism , and being prone to blame others he could not accept responsibility for his mistakes. This led, in my opinion, to the ultimate disaster to his army at Franklin. Based upon my extensive research for my book Embrace an Angry Wind, Hood’s greatest critics were his own soldiers. Anyone wishing to explore this aspect should look at the sources listed in my book for each statement, which is based on contemporaneously written materials, not some “Lost Cause” postwar musings.

Hood at Franklin is perhaps best put into perspective by a modern observer asking himself: If I were a member of Hood’s army at Franklin, what would I think; would I willingly go; would I like my chances of surviving?

Or, would I rather have the likes of Robert E. Lee, Pat Cleburne, or Nathan Bedford Forrest calling the shots as to fighting that battle?

There are a variety of modern viewpoints involving Gen. John Bell Hood’s performance at Spring Hill and Franklin,

and there often is some merit with each opinion. On the positive side, Hood was a physically brave soldier, had a

burning desire to succeed, and planned his operations on the basis of his considerable experience in combat.

From a negative perspective, Hood was not very adaptive of the innovation required in confronting a new era

in the methodology of war, his stubborn nature disallowed constructive criticism , and being prone to blame others

he could not accept responsibility for his mistakes. This led, in my opinion, to the ultimate disaster to his army at

Franklin. Based upon my extensive research for my book Embrace an Angry Wind, Hood’s greatest critics were his

own soldiers. Anyone wishing to explore this aspect should look at the sources listed in my book for each statement,

which is based on contemporaneously written materials, not some “Lost Cause” postwar musings.

Hood at Franklin is perhaps best put into perspective by a modern observer asking himself: If I were a member

of Hood’s army at Franklin, what would I think; would I willingly go; would I like my chances of surviving?

Or, would I rather have the likes of Robert E. Lee, Pat Cleburne, or Nathan Bedford Forrest calling the shots

as to fighting that battle?

Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin?

I understand I’m treading on thin ice here with some folk when it comes to critiquing John Bell Hood, especially for his actions at Franklin.  So let me clearly state my biases because we all have them; I’m just honest enough to admit them.

My biases and background?

  • I was born in Kentucky, which was neutral in the Civil War officially.
  • Until ten years ago (late 30s), I was very ‘pro-Southern’ and totally leaned to the so-called States’ rights side of the aisle. I espoused the Lost Cause ideology with conviction then, though I was not even aware how much I had descended into it.
  • Today, I have completely shed the Neo-Confederate mindset and its accompanying arguments.
  • I now believe that the American Civil War, at least for the last two years, was mostly (but not entirely) fought over the issue of slavery.
  • I believe that human slavery was a moral scourge on this nation and wished it would have been effaced from our landscape without the shedding of blood.

If you still have an objective bone in your body I submit the following six items as evidence that John Bell Hood made at least six fatal errors at Franklin. These six are mainly related to his direct frontal massed assault at Franklin.

Hood’s blunder-failure (i.e., his frontal assault) at Franklin can be summed up thus:

a. His assault had virtually zero artillery support.
b. He had too large an army to perform an assault that only had roughly 1.7 miles of width-to-width from flanks once the works were reached.  His columns were terribly constrained and inter-mixed.
c. He went against the better judgment of his subordinate commanding generals.
d. His cavalry played virtually no role in the assault strategically.
e. He started the assault too late in the day.
f.  He apparently had very little true knowledge of the topography of Franklin, and/or had the knowledge and ignored it.

John Bell Hood

a. His massed assault had virtually zero artillery support.

b. He had too large an army to perform an assault that only had roughly 1.7 miles of width-to-width from flanks once the works were reached.  His columns were terribly constrained and inter-mixed.

c. He went against the better judgment of his top subordinate commanding generals.

d. His cavalry played virtually no role in the assault strategically.

e. He started the assault too late in the day.  By the time his men reached the works it was nearly dark.

f.  He apparently had very little true knowledge of the topography of Franklin, and/or if he had the knowledge, he ignored it.

I’d love to know your opinion. Please comment.

However, I will NOT approve any comment that descends into plain silliness and ad hominem attacks.  I revealed my biases so fair-play suggests you will too , then lay out your arguments.

Let the readers make up their own minds.

By the way, don’t forget the Hood Legacy Discussion at Carnton coming November 6th.

Carnton will host a Hood panel discussion on Friday, November 6 at 6 p.m. in the event room of the Fleming Center. It is FREE to the public and will last about 1 ½ hours. Panelists will include Eric A. Jacobson (author, historian), Sam Hood (Hood expert, descendant), Sam Elliot (author, historian) and Brandon Beck (University of Mississippi).

Interview with the curator of the John Bell Hood exhibit at Carnton

I blogged earlier about the John Bell Hood exhibit at Carnton. Hundreds of people have seen the exhibit and the feedback has been very good.You can read all my previous posts related to John Bell Hood by clicking on this link.

I recently sat down with Carnton collections manager Joanna Stephens to ask her a few questions about the exhibit.

Drawing of Hood courtesy of artist Andy Amato.

BoF: How long did it take to get this exhibit installed from it’s inception?

Stephens: It took about a year, which is really not all that long for an exhibit. We wanted this exhibit to coincide with the opening of the Fleming Center. We were originally trying to find enough items on Gen John Schofield (U.S.) and General John Bell Hood (CSA).  But there just weren’t many accessible artifacts belonging to Schofield so we ended up just with Hood artifacts.

BoF: How does this Hood exhibit compare to previous Hood exhibits around the country?

Stephens: This is the largest exhibit of John Bell Hood artifacts ever assembled for a museum exhibit.

BoF: What is your favorite item in the exhibit?

Stephens: I like the personal items best. I like daily-use things best. My favorite Hood artifact in this exhibit are the gauntlets.  It is not too hard to imagine his withered left arm still wearing the glove!

I love personal artifacts . . . Those kind of things . . . but to really see a picture of what a person was like in daily life is really important.

BoF: What does this exhibit tell us about Hood that many people might be surprised of?

Stephens: My goal was to inform people that there was a lot more to this man than the decision he made at Franklin. So much before and so much more after.  He’s a whole man. You have to take everything into consideration.

John Bell Hood's coat on display in the Museum of the Confederacy.

Accompanying this exhibit will be a panel discussion about Hood. This discussion will be held Friday, November 6 at 6 p.m. The panel will include Sam Elliott, biographer of Confederate General A.P. Stewart, Sam Hood, a descendent of General Hood’s grandfather, and Eric Jacobson, Carnton’s Interim Executive Director. Topics to be covered include the early life, military career, Tennessee Campaign, and legacy of General Hood. More information about the exhibit and panel discussion will be available at http://www.carnton.org or 615-794-0903.

Civil War soldiers ‘buried the hatchet’, have we?

As I have been involved in the past couple of weeks communicating with and learning about the two living sons of Civil War soldiers coming to visit Franklin for our reburial event this weekend I have been struck by the graciousness of the two sons and especially their fathers (who actually fought ‘against’ one another).

James Brown, Sr’s father – James H.H. Brown – did not hold ill-will against his Northern neighbors after the war:

“He was not bitter. He did not have the least bit of bitterness toward the Yankees,” Brown said about his father, who was wounded twice in fighting. (Tennessean, Oct 4th, 2009)

And Charles Conrad Becker’s magnanimous spirit equaled Brown’s:

“He saw those Confederates coming at him and in his estimation they were brave souls,” Becker said. (Tennessean, Oct 4th, 2009)

Brown_Becker_both-pic by kwmcnutt.

We can learn a lot from these fathers-sons today.

These primary participants, men who spilled one another’s blood, and watched it spilled on American soil, found the generosity of spirit to look past sectarian interests, geographic-myopia, and just plain hate as they looked one another in the eyes in the reunions for many years after the Civil War ended and saw a real human being  who was caught up in an absurd nightmare of unconscionable proportions between 1861-1865.

In short, many if not most of the actual participants in the Civil War buried the hatchet in the immediate years after the war ended.

Where is that same spirit of reconciliation and generosity today?

I’m haunted frequently by the words of Franklin’s resident-novelist Robert Hicks who seems to never miss an opportunity to ask this question, “What is the relevance of the Civil War today?”

Though some today might believe the American Civil War is NOT over, the real relevance today regarding the Civil War is how have we healed as a nation since that great divide almost 150 years ago, and perhaps there still is some reconciliation that needs to take place?

Some would still prefer to cling to symbols (on either side) that inflame, divide, and express our differences.  People do this today through the flags they still wave or fly outside their walls, the stodgy arguments they still make, the uniforms they still wear, and the hidden-agendas they bring to another board meeting.

Discussions have been taking place all over the community in Franklin regarding the identity of the unknown soldier we are reburying this Saturday.  “He was Union!”  “He was Confederate!” And the arguments take off.  There are solid cases for each side.

I suggest we all find the magnanimous spirit imbued in the very hearts of Charles Conrad Becker and James H.H. Brown – men who spilled their own blood during the Civil War – and as we welcome their sons to our community this weekend we do so with open arms from a community that continues to seek reconciliation and healing because when we rebury that unknown soldier on Saturday we first and foremost acknowledge him as an American soldier who died for a vision that he thought would make America better 150 later.

Are we a better America today?

Franklin re badge 1914 by you.

Courtesy, The Williamson County Historical Society