Friday, August 17, 2012

General John Bell Hood in his glory

From pages 26-28 of Hood's Advance and Retreat, published in 1880:

". . . In a moment I determined to advance from that point, to make a strenuous effort to pierce the enemy's fortifications, and if possible put him to flight. I therefore marched the Fourth Texas by the right flank into this open field, halted and dressed the line whilst under fire of the long range guns, and gave positive instructions that no man should fire until I gave the order; for I knew full well that if the men were allowed to fire, they would halt to load, break the alignment, and, very likely, never reach the breastworks. I moreover ordered them not only to keep together, but also in line, and announced to them that I would lead them in the charge. . ."

"Onward we marched under a constantly increasing shower of shot and shell . . Our ranks were thinned at almost every step forward and proportionately to the growing fury of the storm of projectiles. . . . already the gallant Colonel Marshall, together with many other brave men, had fallen victims in this bloody onset. At a quickened pace we continued to advance, without firing a shot, down the slope, over a body of our soldiers lying on the ground, to and across Powhite creek, when, amid the fearful roar of musketry and artillery, I gave the order to fix bayonets and charge. With a ringing shout we dashed up the steep hill, through the abatis, and over the breastworks, upon the very heads of the enemy. . . the long line of blue and steel to the right and left wavered, and finally, gave way . . . Simultaneously with this movement burst forth a tumultuous shout of victory, which was taken up along the whole Confederate line. . . Many were the deeds of valor upon that memorable field.

"General Jackson, in reference to this onset, says in his official report:

'In this charge in which upwards of a thousand men fell, killed and wounded, before the fire of the enemy, and in which fourteen pieces of artillery and nearly a regiment were captured, the Fourth Texas, under the lead of General Hood, was the first to pierce these strongholds and seize the guns. Although swept from their defences by this rapid and almost matchless display of daring and desperate valor, the well disciplined Federals continued in retreat to fight with stubborn resistance.'

"On the following day, as he surveyed the ground over which my brave men charged, he rendered them a just tribute when he exclaimed: 'The men who carried this position were soldiers indeed!'
"Major Warwick, of the Fourth Texas, a brave and efficient officer, fell mortally wounded near the works, whilst urging his men forward to the charge; over one-half of this regiment lay dead or wounded along a distance of one mile. Major Haskell, son-in-law of General Hampton, won my admiration by his indomitable courage: just after my troops had broken the adversary's line, and I was sorely in need of staff officers, he reported to me for duty, sword in hand, notwithstanding one of his arms had by a shot been completely severed from his body. . ."

Comment: While reading some reviews of a book written in 1960, one reviewer disparaged another by saying something along the lines of anyone would be foolish if he expected to get valid information from a book as old as that. I wonder if in the case of the Civil War if the opposite might be true. All the best information may have been written by those who were in the war.

I read three biographies of John Bell Hood and all three biographers disparage Hood's Advance and Retreat. Nevertheless they all quote from it, countering it with quotes from other memoirs and writings. Should someone interested in Hood take the words of his biographers over Hood himself? Perhaps, but the serious reader should at least hear Hood out -- it seems to me.

Hood's debacle at Franklin and Nashville destroyed his reputation, but in such sections as the one quoted above we can see him in his prime -- in the days when even Stonewall Jackson praised him. Not only does this validate Hood's reputation as a "fighting general," but it describes the sort of "charge" that he ordered at Franklin. It provides insight into why he would value this sort of attack. It also casts doubt upon biographical assessments that condemn hood for wanting to "punish his men" by sending them against entrenched positions.

Hood had seen that sort of attack work in the past. In fact he had even led such an attack, and had he more than one leg and one arm at Franklin he would have been delighted to lead another one.

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