(June 29, 1831–August 30, 1879)
Jon L. Wakelyn
Throughout his post-Civil War life, Confederate General John Bell Hood often defended himself from others’ accusations that he had exceeded his capacity and too often had fought foolishly on the offensive in battle. Those who have commented on his written defense have questioned whether he made a proper or articulate case for himself. Few have found that Hood had redeemed his failed military career. Some who have done research beyond Hood’s memoirs maintain that during the war he at times had responded brilliantly in a subordinate position, meaning, he knew how to take orders. But when the burden of decision making was placed on him, they say, he mainly made excuses for his poor leadership. Others have found a paradox in a man who constantly defended himself but had the reputation for taking an offensive stance, often just to push forward without regard to the cost. How does one evaluate that general’s actions when the Confederacy itself behaved audaciously in a defensive posture to protect its own land? Hood entitled his memoirs Advance and Retreat, and that truly summed up his own life story.
To grasp that seeming contradiction in his title and to assess his actual wartime practices, the world that spawned him must be understood. His most thorough and compassionate biographer, Richard McMurry, has said: “The milieu in which the Hood family lived was crucial in shaping the personality of the general” (1). But McMurry also warns that Hood’s formative years have been studied poorly, that Hood himself in his memoir of the war had little to say about his youth, and that the memoirs, anyway, is a “self-serving apologia.” Indeed, Hood seemed somewhat unclear about what had formed him and instead seemed singularly intent on showing that he took his life and the development of talents into his own hands. The reality of just how that milieu shaped him bears a closer look.
The fifth child, and youngest, son of the physician John W. Hood and Theodina French, he came into this life on June 29, 1831, near Owingsville, Butler