Gen. Hood Unlucky in Battle, Unlucky in Love

By Bean, David J. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

Gen. Hood Unlucky in Battle, Unlucky in Love


Bean, David J., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was a fighter who acquired a reputation for daring and sometimes reckless action. His military career extended over the entire Civil War, offering many opportunities to show his willingness to undertake challenges, usually at great odds. None of his military exploits, however, was as challenging as his attempt to court and marry one of the Preston girls he met on a Richmond street corner on a wet March day in 1862.

"You stand on your feet like a thoroughbred," the general commented when he was introduced to Sarah Buchanan Campbell Preston, known as "Buck." She was with a group of prominent Richmond people, including her sister Mary, invited by Hood to a picnic at Drewry's Bluff There they were to meet the heroes of the March 9 naval engagement between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia and then dine at Hood's Texian camp.

The outing was canceled, however, when Hood's division was ordered back to the Rappahannock. When notified of the cancellation, the civilians decided to watch the soldiers march out of the city. The group included Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut, who was chaperoning the Preston girls in Richmond and described this meeting in her diary. It marked the beginning of a courtship between Hood and Buck.

Buck's sister Mary was seriously interested in Hood's chief surgeon, Dr. John Darby, and it was he who introduced the general to Buck's group. The troop movement was prompted by Union Gen. George McClellan's embarkation of his huge army for what became the Peninsula Campaign. After Hood's men had reached Ashland, 15 miles north of Richmond, the Confederate countermovement was canceled and Hood and his men marched back to Richmond the next day through a spring snow-and-ice storm.

After their meeting on the Richmond sidewalk, Hood later confessed that he had "surrendered [to Buck] at first sight." Buck also showed an undeniable interest in the handsome general, though some people thought him more a country bumpkin. Nevertheless, the relationship soon blossomed into an engagement of sorts, at least on Hood's part. Many years later, it was said that author Margaret Mitchell patterned her heroine Scarlett and her sisters in "Gone With the Wind" after Buck and her two sisters.

A DARING OFFICER

Hood was born on June 29, 1831 in Owingsville, Ky. He was admitted to West Point in 1849 and barely graduated in 1853; there were criticisms that that he had failed to develop a sense of responsibility. He was assigned to Texas and served with Robert E. Lee. Hood wanted to become a Southern aristocrat, but as historian Richard M. McMurry wrote: "In effect, Hood's lack of intelligence, character, background, and self-confidence all mitigated against his becoming a young Robert E. Lee."

Still, when war came, Hood's daring and energy got his superiors' attention. By October of 1861, he was a colonel commanding the the 4th Texas and was stationed near Richmond.

Darby, a native South Carolinian, returned to Columbia after serving with Gen. Wade Hampton as a surgeon, and there he assisted in setting up a hospital. Enthusiastic assistants included Sally Hampton and her cousins, Mary and Susan Preston, Mary Manning and Annie Hampton. At the end of his leave, Darby was assigned to now-Gen. Hood.

Buck and her two sisters, Mary, known as Mamie, and Susan, known as Tudie, were educated in Europe and considered top catches for Southern bachelors. Mary and Susan did not have the flirtatious nature exhibited by Buck, who was said to have lost more suitors in the war than anyone.

While the sisters were in school in France, a famous American sculptor, Hiram Powers, did a bust of Sarah - Buck - that is on display at the Hampton-Preston Mansion in Columbia, S.C. She was a superb horsewoman and after the war so impressed Emperor Napoleon III with her equestrian abilities that he gave her a riding crop with a silver head engraved "Buckie. …

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