John Bell Hood: Early Life and Military Service
The son of a physician, John Bell Hood was born in Owingsville, Kentucky on June 1, 1831. In 1849 Hood received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he studied alongside future Civil War generals James B. McPherson and Philip H. Sheridan. Hood struggled to meet the strict demands of life at West Point and finished 44th out of 52 cadets upon graduation in 1853.
Appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry, Hood was assigned to garrison duty at Fort Jones in northern California. In 1855 he secured a transfer to the Second United States Cavalry in Jefferson Banks, Missouri, where he served under future Confederate generals Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee. The unit was moved to Texas later that year, and Hood spent the next five years patrolling the frontier. In 1857 he was wounded in the hand by an arrow during fighting with Indians, and was later cited for bravery and promoted to first lieutenant. Hood relished the excitement of the field, and in 1860 he turned down a prestigious appointment to serve as a cavalry instructor at West Point in favor of remaining on the frontier.
John Bell Hood: Civil War
Hood was sympathetic to the Southern cause and often stated that he would resign from the U.S. Army should his home state of Kentucky join the Confederacy. Although Kentucky did not secede, Hood submitted his resignation in April 1861 and was appointed a first lieutenant of cavalry in the Confederate army. He spent the early days of the war training cavalry in Yorktown, Virginia, before being promoted to colonel and placed in command of a regiment from Texas. This unit was soon expanded to brigade strength, and in March 1862 Hood was promoted to brigadier general in command of what became known as the “Texas Brigade.”
Hood saw his first significant fighting in May 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, in which his brigade engaged a Union force during the Battle of Eltham’s Landing. He would cement his reputation as a fearless fighter a month later, when he personally led a charge that overran the Union lines during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. His courage under fire and his reputation as a leader soon earned him command of a division in General James Longstreet’s corps. Hood’s star continued to rise during the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862, when his division spearheaded a massive flanking maneuver that routed Union forces under the command of General John Pope. Less than a month later Hood’s division suffered nearly 50 percent casualties at the Battle of Antietam, in which his men reinforced troops under the command of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and blunted a Union assault. This performance earned Hood continued praise, and in October 1862 the 31-year-old became the youngest major general in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Hood participated in the Confederate victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and then served under Longstreet in the Siege of Suffolk in early 1863. His division would later play a significant role in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Although he disagreed with his orders, Hood undertook an ambitious assault on the Union position at Little Round Top. His men were repulsed by Union forces, in particular the regiment led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Among the casualties was Hood, who was seriously wounded in the left arm by fragments from an artillery shell. He would lose use of the limb for the rest of his life.
John Bell Hood: Western Theater and the Atlanta Campaign
After spending two months convalescing in Richmond, Hood rejoined Longstreet’s corps, which had been transferred to the Western Theater to assist General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Only days after rejoining his old unit in September 1863, Hood led a charge during the Battle of Chickamauga. While the assault succeeded, Hood was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball, sustaining his second major injury in less than three months. The severity of the wound required his right leg to be amputated, but Hood survived against extreme odds and was promoted to lieutenant general for his bravery.
Hood returned to the field in the spring of 1864 despite his injuries, which required him to wear an artificial leg and ride strapped to his horse. He assumed a corps command in General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, which was then attempting to slow General William T. Sherman’s march toward Atlanta. The aggressive Hood was quick to criticize Johnston, whose strategy of strategic withdrawal had allowed Sherman to close in on the city. Furious at his commander’s cautious tactics, Hood wrote a series of letters to Richmond demanding that Johnston be relieved. His campaign succeeded, and in July 1864 Hood replaced Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee.
Temporarily promoted to full general, Hood promptly launched a series of bold offensives on Sherman’s forces at the Battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Ezra Church and Jonesborough, all of which failed. Hood abandoned Atlanta to Union control in September 1864, having suffered over 50 percent casualties in his once 65,000-strong force. Hood then moved the remnants of his army to the northwest, hoping to draw Sherman to Tennessee. The plan proved unsuccessful, as Sherman merely dispatched General George H. Thomas to take control of Union forces in Tennessee while he remained in Georgia to undertake his March to the Sea.
During the subsequent Franklin-Nashville Campaign, Hood was initially successful in driving back General John M. Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, but he suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Franklin in late November of 1864. In what is often known as the “Pickett’s Charge of the West,” Hood made the brash decision to dispatch almost 20,000 men in an offensive against a fortified Union position. The attack resulted in staggering casualties, and Schofield then succeeded in linking up with General George H. Thomas in Nashville. Despite his inferior numbers and battered army, Hood attempted to lay siege to the city. Thomas would eventually launch a major assault on Hood during the Battle of Nashville in mid-December 1864, crippling Hood’s forces and inflicting over 6,000 casualties. Having been decisively defeated, Hood was replaced as commander of the Army of Tennessee in January 1865. He was later sent to report on military affairs in Mississippi, where he surrendered to Union forces in May 1865.
John Bell Hood: Later Life
Hood spent his later years in New Orleans as a cotton merchant and president of a life insurance company. In 1868 he married a Louisiana woman named Anna Marie Hennen, with whom he would eventually have 11 children including three sets of twins. Hood’s wife and one of his children died during a yellow fever epidemic in 1879, and he succumbed to the disease shortly thereafter at the age of 48. While Hood’s remaining 10 children were initially left orphaned, they were assisted by income from his posthumous memoir and were eventually adopted by families across the South and in New York.