Friday, July 19, 2013

Hood, Johnston and Self-Deception

The American Civil War isn't over insofar as historians are concerned, and in reading revisionist works none of these historians seem to consider the possibility of self-deception. If there is evidence that contradicts the memoirs or writings of Grant, Longstreet, Hood, Johnston, etc. Well they are liars trying to make their records and the records of their cronies something they were not.

I've dropped out of the American History forum but I am still interested in the ACW and have books still coming in the mail. One I got yesterday is entitled John Bell Hood, The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. It was written by Stephen M. 'Sam' Hood, a "distant relative of the general." Stephen M. doesn't appear to have written anything else. In his introduction he writes that his book is going to sound like a hagiography because attacks against General Hood are too well known to need repeating; so he is only going to write about things they missed (often for perverse reasons), things which he believes "resurrect" General Hood's reputation.

Frankly I previously leaned toward thinking the anti-Hood historians had overdone their attacks. After all, Hood wasn't defeated until he inherited the army of Tennessee from General Johnston, who made retreat after retreat before the advancing Sherman (at Atlanta). Maybe Hood would have been better off retreating some more but that wasn't why President Davis sent him to replace Johnston. And given the egos of most Civil War generals (on both sides) it wouldn't take much of a fortune-teller to predict that Johnston was later going to say, "see, if you'd only left me in charge I could eventually have defeated Sherman."

Johnston's reputation suffered at the hands of Civil War historians almost as much as Hood, and at the moment I have the schizophrenic problem of suspending disbelief while I read a revisionist work defending Hood and a revisionist work defending Johnston and discovering that their respective historians defend their subject at the expense of the other. The fact that Hood and Johnston attacked each other (verbally) detracts a bit from my belief that their writings that diverge from evidence are a result of self-deception and not "wickedness"; bringing to mind here Jeremiah 17:9. But honest forgetting and honest "self-deception," if there is such a thing, can readily give way to something stronger when anger enters the equation.

Hood was writing his memoirs, Advance and Retreat when he read a Joe Johnston attacking him; so a huge segment of this book is devoted to Hood's "Reply to General Johnston" on various points. His descendent, Stephen Hood suggests that John B. would have revised his book to leave that sort of thing out, or at least put it in an appendix had he lived. (General Hood and his wife died of yellow fever on August 30, 1879).

I don't recall an historian ever allowing for self-deception, and this would be something I would remember (unless I'm deceiving myself) because I am a believer in Collingwood in regard to the writing of history. We all have "preconceptions" so the historian's job is to understand his and compensate for them as he writes his history, striving to be as true to the situation he is writing about as possible. Interestingly (sort of) this was the crux upon which my argument was based that caused me to eventually abandon the American History Forum. None of the individuals discussing these matters with me believed that they had "preconceptions." They all were devotees of the truth, and if I would only abandon my perverse beliefs in preconceptions and self-deception; which I exercised not because they were true but because I believed they supported whatever position I was arguing, they would be able to educate me. They believed in the unvarnished truth. There was only one truth and they had it. The idea of preconceptions and self-deception were red herrings I was throwing out to support my argument.

Ah, there, now I recall why I called myself a misanthropist.

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