With the loss of Tennessee in early 1862 – the capture and surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson (Feb 62) – the Union victory at Shiloh (April 62) , and the surrender of Vicksburg in July 1863; the South’s Western Theater military strategy had zero margin for error by mid/late 1864.
In light of that background, John Bell Hood seems to have singlehandedly cost the war for the South, or the Western Theater, at the very least, due to his performance in the last six months of 1864, having assumed command of the Army of Tennessee on July 17th, 1864.
a. Hood lost Atlanta on his watch, even though he’d say Johnston lost it. But, Hood wreckless, fight at any cost attitude (having assumed command in mid July 1864) resulted in losing 20,000 men in nine days after he took the AoT over. Hood hastened the loss of Atlanta and then his loss of the supply train to the Federals only showed his strategy for Atlanta was an inch thick. He then over-estimated his ability to draw Sherman out into a fight in the open. Sherman was brilliant in Atlanta.
b. Hood saw some measure of success in the Eastern Theater as a Brigade commander but seems to have had an almost racial dislike for the soldier in the Western Theater. He seemed to think the ANV soldier was superior in essence to the Western Theater soldier.
c. His loss of his leg and arm (1863) probably caused him to over-compensate for being less a man, in his own mind. Then throw in his failure to win the love of Preston Buck and you have a man with mixed passions in 1864.
d. He was no mental heavyweight. He barely survived West Point. He clearly lacked strategic and logistical/administrative abilities. He was a good Brigade Commander because he did not have to execute on those higher levels. A fighter he was. Being able to translate the will and passion to fight in light of the ‘then’-modern technologies, strategies and challenges was another thing.
e. Hood’s propensity for direct frontal assaults was simply ridiculous. He seems to have interpreted using the steel bayonet as a more manly way to fight, combined with assaulting breastworks. Henry repeating rifles could fire off about 20-30 rounds a minute compared to the 3-minute minnie ball. To fail to take this into account at Franklin was beyond my imagination to allow him room for being anything but being virtually insane after the escape of the Federals at Spring Hill.
f. Hood’s losses from Atlanta were devastating to the AoT. Losing 20,000 men in nine days – for his army – would be like Sherman losing perhaps 3-4 times that number. What was he thinking? That he’d actually defeat Sherman by fighting and winning tactically?g. The Spring Hill situation really showed his weaknesses in many ways.
g. The Spring Hill situation really showed his weaknesses in many ways.
(1) His physical disabilities prevented him from being mobile and active enough to truely lead an army. His Division and Brigade commanders exhibited some of the bravest action in war at Franklin.
(2) How much did his opium-like medicine impair his ability?
(3) He was so disingenuous in his treatment of his commanders (especially after the war) in assigning blame for Spring Hill.
(4) The performance, or lack thereof, of his division commanders at Spring Hill are a direct reflection of Hood’s own poor logistical oversight. He seems to have very poorly understood the geography of the region.
(5) His lack of and poor administration of Forrest at Spring Hill/Franklin is mysterious.The assault upon the Federals at Franklin displays Hood’s total ineptitude as a commander of an Army. Why?
The assault upon the Federals at Franklin displays Hood’s total ineptitude as a commander of an Army. Why?
1). Did he actually think he could destroy Schofield at Franklin by using just two of his three Corps and mostly not engaging his own artillery?
2). Hood really thought these AoT troops lacked the courage to assault defended breastworks. The Union – at Franklin – had the advantage of strategically placed artillery, defended breastworks, the choice of location to fight, abatis, superior numbers, superior equipment, men who were not nearly as hungry, etc.
3). He marched across two miles of open ground before his corps reached the breastworks. It was more insane than Pickett’s Charge, with a greater loss of life too.
4). His inability to size up the situation, post-battle at Franklin, also reveals he did not deserve such authority he was given. To go after Thomas two weeks later was even more insane. At Franklin, Hood lost at least 1,700 in death and nearly 5,000 in wounded, captured or missing.
5). Had Wagner’s troops not been left out in the open to take the initial beating, then having to run for their lives, resulting in the Federals not being able to shoot the Confederates, the loss of life of Hood’s men would have been even much worse.
Hood fought (late 1864) from a mixture of motives and demons that cost tens of thousands of lives. He had to prove to himself, Davis, and Buck Preston he was a real man; probably to his father as well. Not to mention proving his worthiness to the likes of Lee, Hardee, Johnston, Richard Taylor, and Stonewall Jackson. I think he was intimated by the likes of Cleburne and A.P. Stewart. He was a man of highly questionable integrity and character, as he showed in “reporting” on Johnston during Atlanta.
John Bell Hood got his time in the spotlight from July until December 1864 and the reality is that he was an abysmal failure as a commander of an army.
What a lesson?
When one is finally in a position of authority, one must be ready to execute from the foundation of a character molded in integrity, courage, and capability – birthed in humility. Anything less will reveal the deeply hidden or masked flaws of one’s character in the heat of battle.