American Civil War: Lieutenant General John Bell Hood

John Bell Hood
Lieutenant General John B. Hood. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Early Life & Career:

John Bell Hood was born either June 1 or 29, 1831, to Dr. John W. Hood and Theodosia French Hood at Owingsville, KY. Though his father did not wish a military career for his son, Hood was inspired by his grandfather, Lucas Hood, who, in 1794, had fought with Major General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers during the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795). Obtaining an appointment to West Point from his uncle, Representative Richard French, he entered school in 1849.

An average student, he was nearly expelled by Superintendent Colonel Robert E. Lee for an unauthorized visit to a local tavern. In the same class as Philip H. Sheridan, James B. McPherson, and John Schofield, Hood also received instruction from future adversary George H. Thomas

Nicknamed "Sam" and ranked 44th of 52, Hood graduated in 1853, and was assigned to the 4th US Infantry in California. Following peaceful duty on the West Coast, he was reunited with Lee in 1855, as part of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston's 2nd US Cavalry in Texas. Adopting the struck in the hand by a Comanche arrow near Devil's River, TX during a routine patrol from Fort Mason. The following year, Hood received a promotion to first lieutenant. Three years later, he was assigned to West Point as Chief Instructor of Cavalry. Concerned about the growing tensions between the states, Hood requested to remain with the 2nd Cavalry.

This was granted by the US Army Adjutant General, Colonel Samuel Cooper, and he stayed in Texas.

Early Campaigns of the Civil War:

With the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Hood immediately resigned from the US Army. Enlisting in the Confederate Army at Montgomery, AL, he quickly moved through the ranks.

Ordered to Virginia to serve with Brigadier General John B. Magruder's cavalry, Hood earned early fame for a skirmish near Newport News on July 12, 1861. As his native Kentucky remained in the Union, Hood elected to represent his adopted state of Texas and on September 30, 1861, was appointed as colonel of the 4th Texas Infantry. After a brief period in this post, he was given command of the Texas Brigade on February 20, 1862, and promoted to brigadier general the following month. Assigned to General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Northern Virginia, Hood's men were in reserve at Seven Pines in late May as Confederate forces worked to halt Major General George McClellan's advance up the Peninsula. In the fighting, Johnston was wounded and replaced by Lee.

Taking a more aggressive approach, Lee soon commenced an offensive against the Union troops outside Richmond. During the resulting Seven Days Battles in late June, Hood established himself as a daring, aggressive commander who led from the front. Serving under Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, the highlight of Hood's performance during the fighting was a decisive charge by his men at the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27. With the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula, Hood was promoted and given command of a division under Major General James Longstreet.

Taking parting the Northern Virginia Campaign, he further developed his reputation as a gifted leader of assault troops at the Second Battle of Manassas in late August. In the course of the battle, Hood and his men played a key role in Longstreet's decisive attack on Major General John Pope's left flank and the defeat of Union forces.

The Antietam Campaign:

In the wake of the battle, Hood became involved in a dispute over captured ambulances with Brigadier General Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans. Reluctantly placed under arrest by Longstreet, Hood was ordered to leave the army. This was countered by Lee who allowed Hood to travel with the troops as they began the invasion of Maryland. Just prior to the Battle of South Mountain, Lee returned Hood to his post after the Texas Brigade marched by chanting "Give us Hood!" At no point did Hood ever apologize for his conduct in the dispute with Evans.

In the battle on September 14, Hood held the line at Turner's Gap and covered the army's retreat to Sharpsburg.

Three days later at the Battle of Antietam, Hood's division raced to the relief of Jackson's troops on the Confederate left flank. Putting in a brilliant performance, his men prevented the collapse of the Confederate left and succeeded in driving back Major General Joseph Hooker's I Corps. Attacking with ferocity, the division suffered over 60% casualties in the fighting. For Hood's efforts, Jackson recommended that he be elevated to major general. Lee concurred and Hood was promoted on October 10. That December, Hood and his division were present at the Battle of Fredericksburg but saw little fighting on their front. With the arrival of spring, Hood missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as Longstreet's First Corps had been detached for duty around Suffolk, VA.

Gettysburg:

Following the triumph at Chancellorsville, Longstreet rejoined Lee as Confederate forces again moved north. With the Battle of Gettysburg raging on July 1, 1863, Hood's division reached the battlefield late in the day. The next day, Longstreet was ordered to attack up the Emmitsburg Road and strike the Union left flank. Hood opposed the plan as it meant his troops would have to assault a boulder-strewn area known as the Devil's Den. Requesting permission to move to the right to attack the Union rear, he was refused. As the advance started around 4:00 PM, Hood was badly wounded in his left arm by shrapnel.

Taken from the field, Hood's arm was saved, but it remained disabled for the remainder of his life. Command of the division passed to Brigadier General Evander M. Law whose efforts to dislodge Union forces on Little Round Top failed.

Chickamauga:

After recuperating in Richmond, Hood was able to rejoin his men on September 18 as Longstreet's corps was shifted west to aid General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Reporting for duty on the eve of the Battle of Chickamauga, Hood directed a series of attacks on the first day before overseeing a key assault which exploited a gap in the Union line on September 20.  This advance drove much of the Union army from the field and provided the Confederacy with one of its few signature victories in the Western Theater. In the fighting, Hood was badly wounded in the right thigh which required the leg to be subsequently amputated a few inches below the hip. For his bravery, he was promoted to lieutenant general effective that date.

The Atlanta Campaign:

Returning to Richmond to recover, Hood befriended Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In the spring of 1864, Hood was given command of a corps in Johnston's Army of Tennessee. Tasked with defending Atlanta from Major General William T. Sherman, Johnston conducted a defensive campaign which included frequent retreats. Angered by his superior's approach, the aggressive Hood wrote several critical letters to Davis expressing his displeasure. The Confederate president, unhappy with Johnston's lack of initiative, replaced him with Hood on July 17.

Given the temporary rank of general, Hood was only thirty-three and became the youngest army commander of the war. Defeated on July 20 at the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Hood launched a series of offensive battles in an attempt to push back Sherman. Unsuccessful in each attempt, Hood's strategy only served to weaken his already out-numbered army. With no other options, Hood was compelled to abandon Atlanta on September 2.

The Tennessee Campaign:

As Sherman prepared for his March to the Sea, Hood and Davis planned a campaign to defeat the Union general. In this, Hood sought to move north against Sherman's supply lines in Tennessee forcing him to follow. Hood then hoped to defeat Sherman before marching north to recruit men and join Lee in the siege lines at Petersburg, VA. Aware of Hood's operations to the west, Sherman dispatched Thomas' Army of the Cumberland and Schofield's Army of the Ohio to protect Nashville while he moved towards Savannah.

Crossing into Tennessee on November 22, Hood's campaign was beset with command and communication issues. After failing to trap part of Schofield's command at Spring Hill, he fought the Battle of Franklin on November 30. Assaulting a fortified Union position without artillery support, his army was badly mauled and six generals killed. Unwilling to admit defeat, he pressed on to Nashville and was routed by Thomas on December 15-16. Retreating with the remnants of his army, he resigned on January 23, 1865.

Later Life:

In the final days of the war, Hood was dispatched to Texas by Davis with the goal of raising a new army. Learning of Davis' capture and the surrender of Texas, Hood surrendered to Union forces at Natchez, MS on May 31. After the war, Hood settled in New Orleans where he worked in insurance and as a cotton broker. Marrying, he fathered eleven children before his death from yellow fever on August 30, 1879. A gifted brigade and division commander, Hood's performance dropped as he was promoted to higher commands. Though renowned for his early successes and ferocious attacks, his failures around Atlanta and in Tennessee permanently damaged his reputation as a commander.

Selected Sources