Sam Hood Takes Command
By mid-July, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had seen enough of General Joseph E. Johnston‘s defensive warfare. He was looking for a commander in the mold of General Robert E. Lee and thought that he had found him in the person of John Bell Hood. Known as “Sam” to his classmates at West Point, Hood was given command of the Army of Tennessee on July 17, 1864.
Despite achieving tactical successes at the Battle of New Hope Church, the Battle of Pickett’s Mill, and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the Confederates were unable to halt Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s numerically-superior army group.
Outnumbered overall 2-to-1, the Army of Tennessee could only hope to slow down the onrushing blue wave and attempt to inflict unacceptable casualties on them. They were never able to accomplish that objective under Johnston.
Hood immediately launched a counter-offensive against the Union forces at Peachtree Creek. He was to continue his relentless attacks against the Union forces for his entire career as commander of the Army of Tennessee.
Sam Hood was a 33-year old Kentuckian who had graduated from West Point in 1853, 44th in a class of 52. Among his classmates were James B. McPherson and John M. Schofield, who would be his adversaries. His artillery instructor was George H. Thomas, who commanded the Army of the Cumberland.
Hood had risen from captain to lieutenant general in less than three years. He was known among his fellow officers and former classmates as an overly aggressive hard charger. In fact McPherson warned Sherman that Hood would take the offensive as soon as he could. Sherman demurred but McPherson was correct.
At Gettysburg, Hood was seriously wounded in the left arm, an injury that permanently incapacitated its use for the rest of his life. Returning to Chickamauga, Hood was again wounded, losing the lower part of his right leg 4 inches below the hip. Despite his injuries, Sam Hood retained his deep inner motivation as an aggressive offensive commander.
Throughout the first half of the Atlanta Campaign, Sam Hood commanded one of Johnston’s corps. Despite his two damaged limbs, Hood performed well in the field, riding as much as 20 miles a day without apparent difficulty, strapped to his horse with his artificial leg hanging stiffly, and an orderly following closely behind with crutches.
The leg, made of cork, was donated (along with a couple of spares) by members of his Texas Brigade, who had collected $3,100 in a single day for that purpose; it had been imported from Europe through the Union blockade.
Hood, who had been been befriended by Jefferson Davis, during his two recuperations in Richmond, had been sending the President letters that were critical of Johnston throughout the spring and early summer. Davis sent General Braxton Bragg, the former commander of the Army of Tennessee, to interview Johnston on the conduct of the campaign.
During his tour Bragg also interviewed Hood and another subordinate, Joseph Wheeler. They told him that they had repeatedly urged Johnston to attack. Hood presented a letter that branded Johnston as being both ineffective and weak-willed. Hood told Bragg, “I have, General, so often urged that we should force the enemy to give us battle as to almost be regarded reckless by the officers high in rank in this army [meaning Johnston and senior corps commander William J. Hardee], since their views have been so directly opposite.”
Johnston’s biographer, Craig L. Symonds, judges that Hood’s letter “stepped over the line from unprofessional to outright subversive.” Steven E. Woodworth wrote that Hood was “letting his ambition get the better of his honesty” because “the truth was that Hood, more often than Hardee, had counseled Johnston to retreat.”
When Davis decided to replace Johnston, he considered the more senior Hardee for the command, but Bragg strongly recommended Hood. He had been impressed by Hood during their meeting but he also had lingering resentments of Hardee from his days as Bragg’s subordinate.
Hood was temporarily promoted to full general on July 18th and given command of the army. He was the youngest man on either side to command an army during the Civil War. Robert E. Lee gave an ambiguous reply to Davis’s request for his opinion about the promotion, calling Hood “a bold fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off,” but he could not say whether Hood possessed all of the qualities necessary to command an army in the field.
Hood would exhibit his aggressive generalship at his first battle as army commander just two days later at Peachtree Creek.