Your RDA of Irony

Dubious Namesakes

With the recent tragedy from Ft. Hood, you might have wondered for whom the fort was named.  And if you were familiar with John Bell Hood, you would be completely mystified.  Hood was a Confederate general conspicuous for his recklessness.  Perhaps he so contributed to the Union victory that the U.S. government felt a certain gratitude to his incompetence. 

Hood was a man of formidable courage.  He certainly knew how to lead men–if only for target practice.  Hood himself had lost an arm and a leg on the battlefield, and he expected no less from his men.  If subordinate to a capable commander like Lee or Jackson, Hood performed well enough.  But on his own, he was an obtuse thug applying his sledgehammer mentality to any and every situation.  When informed that Hood would be entrusted with an entire army, Lee ruefully said of the Texan “he is all lion, none of the fox.”

In the summer of 1864, Hood was given command of the Army of Tennessee.  If it is any indication of the tide of the war, the Army of Tennessee was in Georgia.  Its 60,000 men had been defending Atlanta against Sherman, but Hood was going on the attack.  True, the Union force was twice the size, better-armed and entrenched but a Napoleon could have triumphed.  Of course, Hood was no Bonaparte–and judging from his grades at West Point, Hood probably never heard of Napoleon.  The Southern assaults failed; only Hood was surprised at the defeats–and he blamed his men for their cravenness.  

Then the general decided upon an audacious strategy: he would march his army into Tennessee and he presumed that Sherman would have to follow him.  Yes, Georgia and the Carolinas would be left defenseless, but would Sherman risk letting Hood rampage through Tennessee, Kentucky, then through the Cumberland Gap to attack Grant in Virginia?  (Hood never lacked vision, just the ability to accomplish it.)  And Sherman did not feel threaten by Hood’s strategy;  the Union general thought it deluded.  After all, there were 60,000 Union soldiers in Tennessee waiting for Hood, and the autumn and approaching winter would not be charitable to a southern army hungry and conspicuously short of shoes.

So Sherman began his “March to the Sea”.  Unimpeded by organized resistance, the Union army could spread itself and wreak a sixty-mile wide path of destruction through Georgia and South Carolina.  Hood marched 40,000 men into Tennessee; 20,000 came back.  At the battle of Franklin, Hood ordered  repeated frontal assaults against an entrenched and larger Union force.  Some historians believe that Hood’s suicidal tactics were intended to rouse a fighting spirit in his men.  It certainly is a tribute to his men that none of them tried killing him.  Hood lost a fifth of his force that day. 

Hood survived the war and went into the insurance business.  With the same tactical brilliance he demonstrated in war, Hood set up his business in the clement and healthy climate of New Orleans.  One of the routine outbreaks of Yellow Fever not only bankrupted but killed him and much of his family. 

So why would an army fort be named for him?  Well, he was from Texas–and you can’t named everything for Sam Houston.

And let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

  1. SwanShadow says:

    he was an obtuse thug applying his sledgehammer mentality to any and every situation.

    If Hood had come along a century and a third later, he might have been elected Governor of Texas. Perhaps even President of the United States.

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