I want to start off this interview series acknowledging that Eric Wittenberg’s initial interview with Sam Hood lays the foundation for my interviews. Please start by reading Eric’s interview.
Who is Sam Hood?
Sam Hood is a graduate of Kentucky Military Institute, Marshall University (bachelor of arts, 1976), and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. A collateral descendent of General John Bell Hood, Sam is a retired industrial construction company owner, past member of the Board of Directors of the Blue Gray Education Society of Chatham, Virginia, and is a past president of the Board of Directors of Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans. Sam resides in his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with his wife of thirty-five years, Martha, and is the proud father of two sons: Derek Hood of Lexington, Kentucky, and Taylor Hood of Barboursville, West Virginia.
Sam Hood made an exciting announcement on October 19th, 2012. Using the Historic Carnton Plantation as his backdrop for a media announcement, Sam revealed that he had “discovered” an extremely important collection of papers, documents and personal items related to Confederate General John Bell Hood. The documents are presently in private hands of a Hood descendant in Pennsylvania. Sam himself is a second cousin to John Bell Hood.
Who are the historians and authors I interviewed for this series of blogposts?
Sam Hood, William T. Davis, Steven E. Woodworth, Wiley Sword, Chris Losson and Thomas Flagel.
Why are the newly discovered Hood papers important?
The news of the documents is exciting, not only for the amount of primary resources it now provides scholars and historians, but for the potentially new interpretations that could come from examining the material. Sam Hood says that he is absolutely sure the primary resources that have been revealed were personally used by John Bell Hood to construct his memoirs, Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate States Armies, “which served to justify his actions, particularly in response to what he considered misleading or false accusations made by Joseph E. Johnston, and to unfavorable portrayals in Sherman’s memoirs. (Wikipedia)”
If there are newly warranted interpretations that come from the papers, long-noted critic of John Bell Hood, author and historian Wiley Sword says that the new papers must not stand isolated, on their own:
“Since the new material must be put in context with the existing Hood materials, it should be evident from the beginning that the new documents will NOT STAND ALONE in an interpretation of Hood’s career. Hopefully, they will be a significant adjunct enabling further interpretation and insight, but care must be taken in discounting or ignoring existing original material. Once full access to the new materials (not merely their interpretation and partial reporting) is generated, we will have a better means to review what aspects of Hood’s career might be revised or reinterpreted.”
For those who would quickly conclude that the new Hood papers will significantly re-shape our understanding of John Bell Hood, esteemed T.C.U. Professor and historian Steven E. Woodworth advises:
“It’s way too early to know much about this. It might be big, might not. We just don’t know yet. I think the papers will need to be carefully studied by several well trained and/or experienced historians before we can begin to say how significant this find is.”
In the end, the Hood papers will be deemed valuable by historians from a variety of perspectives. It will largely depend on what one is (or is not) looking for. Historian and author Chris Losson (author of a book on Confederate General Frank Cheatham) states:
“I would hope that the papers contain information which will more fully explain Hood as a corps commander but particularly as commander of the Army of Tennessee.”
What does the newly revealed collection contain regarding John Bell Hood?
According to Wittenberg’s interview with Sam Hood:
Approximately 80 letters to Hood by high and lower ranked Civil War characters, Union and Confederate, wartime and postwar. Correspondents include Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee, SD Lee, Braxton Bragg, James Seddon, AP Stewart, WH Jackson, SG French, William Bate, Henry Clayton, FA Shoup, Mrs Leonidas Polk, William M Polk, WS Featherston, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, David S Terry, Matthew C Butler, GW Smith, PGT Beauregard, Louis T Wigfall, George Thomas, WT Sherman, and numerous lower ranked officers, mostly members of commanders’ staffs.
There are 61 postwar letters from Hood to his wife Anna, and 35 from Anna to him as he traveled in his insurance business. Also included are Dr John T Darby’s two highly detailed medical reports of Hood’s Gettysburg and Chickamauga wounds, and the daily log of Hood’s treatment and recovery from the day of his leg amputation until November 24 in Richmond.
The collection also includes Hood’s Orders and Dispatches log and 4 volumes of Telegram logs for his entire tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Additionally, Hood’s first and second lieutenant’s commission certificates from the US Army are in the collection, along with 4 remarkable documents: his original commission certificates for his ranks of brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general, and full general in the Confederate Army. There are also numerous photographs and other ephemera of Hood, his children, and his grandchildren.( Read Eric’s interview. )
What has been the response among historians in the field since the announcement of the collection?
Veteran and trusted author-historian William C. Davis (professor of history at Virginia Tech University and Director of Programs at Virginia Tech’s Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. ) takes a more cautionary approach:
“My immediate response is not to place too much hope for revelations in the papers, but that is based solely on the slim descriptions provided in the Tennesseean article. I would hope for some personal insights into Hood, but that would require personal letters by him, or from those who knew him very well. It sounds like this cache is mostly letters to Hood rather than from him. If I had to guess, I would suspect that the bulk of these are items he gathered while writing his memoir. As such they will be from people whow ere friends and associates most likely to support his version of events. That is the way with all memoirs, alas.”
Historian and critic of Hood, Wiley Sword hopes the collection will shed light on some of the more controversial aspects of Hood’s career:
“Since there are many controversial aspects to Hood’s career, hopefully there will be further clarification of some of the more crucial aspects of events and his intentions. For example, Tom Connelly in his Autumn of Glory cites the clandestine Hood correspondence with the Davis administration while serving under Joe Johnston in the Army of Tennessee (pp. 322-323). Much as the president’s watch dog, Hood was informing on Johnston without the later’s knowledge, in a highly prejudiced manner. This original correspondence is in the Western Reserve Historical Collection, Cleveland, Ohio (William P. Palmer Collection of Braxton Bragg papers), and perhaps in the new materials there may be an indication or further evidence of Hood’s instructions to keep Davis and Bragg informed on Johnston, whom neither trusted well. Of course, there are many other aspects of Hood’s career that need further explaining, including his thinking during the 1864 Tennessee Campaign. This would be a much desired clarification of the many disastrous decisions Hood made.”
Historian and author Thomas Flagel perhaps says it best in terms of how the recent discovery of Hood papers’ reminds us that history is still alive:
“On the recent Hood sources, I can be certain of this: it is a magnificent find because it proves once again that History is alive, and it is quite skilled in the element of surprise. Until I get into the documents, and well after, it will be difficult to gauge their magnitude. But their discovery is yet another reason why I love this profession. These are memories lost, and now they have found their way back into the collective consciousness. A few weeks ago, most of us did not know these letters existed. Now, our past, present, and future will not look quite like it did before.”