Civil War papers contradict popular account

Hood’s descendant, historians, transcribe letters and documents
Oct 20, 2012

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood, often blamed for the Confederacy’s staggering loss during the battles of Franklin and Nashville, might finally get his due 148 years later.

A never-seen-before cache of Hood’s personal papers — including handwritten notes, letters and field orders written by Hood and other Civil War luminaries — is now being pored over by historians who say they paint a fuller, more sympathetic picture of Hood.

Sam Hood, a retired West Virginia businessman and “collateral descendant” of the general, and Eric Jacobson, Battle of Franklin Trust chief operating officer, discussed the papers on Friday. They are in the midst of transcribing the letters and documents.

Sam Hood was writing a book about Gen. Hood’s career when he was contacted by a son of one of the general’s granddaughters living in Pennsylvania. The family showed Sam Hood boxes of papers that he said contain documents from a who’s who of the Civil War, including Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

Many believed Gen. Hood’s personal papers were thrown out after his 1879 death from yellow fever.

“Everybody thought they were gone, but they weren’t gone,” Sam Hood said. “They’d been somewhere all the time, and now we know where they are.”

Papers say Hood shouldn’t bear blame

The hundreds of pages brought surprises for Sam Hood, including that Gen. John Bell Hood shouldn’t be blamed for the military debacle at Spring Hill.

Union Gen. John Schofield’s troops crept by Hood’s men camped in Spring Hill on Nov. 29, 1864, giving them time to erect fortifications in Franklin that proved devastating to attacking Confederates the next day. Sam Hood said eyewitness accounts in the papers, including Hood’s medical records, dispute the popular story that the general was under the influence of painkillers when the Union troops slipped by and put the blame on other officers.

“There’s more than one letter from eyewitnesses (identifying) who it was on the Confederate side who was responsible for Schofield’s escape at Spring Hill,” Sam Hood said.

Jacobson was surprised to discover that Hood and his Union adversary Sherman became friends after the war.

“Somehow in the postwar years they were able to put that (earlier conflict) aside and really become good friends,” Jacobson said.

Not for auction

The letters probably would fetch a high price if relatives wanted to sell them. Instead, the pages will be copied for academic use and put away in a bank deposit box.

“They don’t want to be pestered by Christie’s and Sotheby’s,” Sam Hood said.

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