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Friday, October 20, 2006

Book Review: John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence

I just finished last night a book entitled, John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence by Richard M. McMurry. It was an interesting book on a number of accounts for me. Mostly when you hear about the Confederate Armies it seems to be about Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. I am a big Lee fan but it was interesting to read a book that exposed me to the Army of Tennessee. As a result I have a slightly better understanding of what occasioned the burning of Atlanta and allowed Sherman’s march to the sea.

John Bell Hood was referred to throughout the book as the Texan. It is really kind of interesting that he would become known by that designation. He was actually born and raised in Kentucky. He attended and graduated from West Point, as did many of the generals engaged in the War Between the States. Upon his graduation from West Point he was assigned to Texas and the frontier. When the War Between the States broke out and Kentucky failed to secede Hood decided to enter the confederate service from Texas. Hood ultimately became commander of the 4th Texas Brigade.

Hood was a brave and daring commander and his bravery and leadership was directly attributed to turning the tide of battle at several key junctures. The 4th Texas was attached to the Army of Northern Virginia and won acclaim as a brave and undaunted brigade. This was largely due to Hood’s leadership and working with his men in drills and such.

Hood led his men into battle at Gain’s Mill and second Manassas. He was with Lee at Gettysburg and the retreat back into Virginia. Hood was severely wounded on two occasions. His left arm was rendered useless and he lost his right leg about half way up the thigh. He was fitted with a cork leg. It was even in this handicapped condition that he rose through the ranks becoming the General of the Army of Tennessee. He was promoted to this rank at the age of 33 and thus became the last and the youngest of the eight full General’s of the Confederacy.

He became General of the Army of Tennessee upon the removal of Joseph Johnston. Johnston had throughout the campaign of 1863-64 retreated before the advancing Sherman. He was vastly outnumbered and was constantly pleading for more troops. Having given up all of northern Georgia he was pressed against Atlanta. It was under these conditions that the Texan inherited the Army of Tennessee. He inherited an outnumbered army. Commanders and Generals that were less than adequate and among whom there was much jealousy. An army that had been demoralized by the continual retreat. His staff was less than adequate. It was the waning days of the Confederacy.

Hood though was inadequately prepared for such high command. The higher he rose through the ranks the less effective he was. He apparently was a master at developing a strategy that was sound and would likely be effective he was inadequate at implementing the strategy. His generals would not obey orders. He, attempting to lead like Lee, gave his Generals far too much latitude in the implementation of his strategy. Hood did not have a Jackson and a Longstreet. Consequently Atlanta was abandoned and eventually burned by the Union Army under Sherman’s command. Hood’s advance into Tennessee allowed Sherman to march to the sea and ended up being a disaster. When all was said and done he was driven back into Georgia.

Overall it was a good, informative book. The author seems to be fair in his treatment of Hood. He is defended in respect to things he had no control over and yet at the same time held responsible for his inadequacies. The chapters were longer than I like. The main fault with the book in my opinion is that there were not enough maps and the few they did have were vague. It would have been immensely helpful to have many more maps with the opposing armies positions clearly noted. It would have aided the understanding as to just what was going on.

It provided some glimpse into the political nature of war especially as it related to advancement in the Army. It was for the most part a good moving story. Only in a few places did I find myself thinking it was getting a little slow. I, of course, am a little partial because of the prominent role that Texas played in the life of Hood and addressing the Texas Brigades. The Texans were brave soldiers and courageous in battle. But to be honest they were also known for causing trouble among the citizenry of Virginia. They tended to be a bit rowdy and could on occasion be guilty of taking to plundering. General Lee in addressing this problem with Hood on one occasion said, “Wherever the Texans are the chickens have to roost mighty high.”

The book comes in at only 203 pages. I read it in about a week at night before bed. Admittedly I stayed awake longer than I should have several of those nights. I am not an especially fast reader. The fact that it kept me awake is a testimony to the interest the book generated.

Rating ***
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