SAM M. HOOD: Former Confederates were honored for a reason

SAM M. HOOD: Former Confederates were honored for a reason

In response to the current hysteria over the names of landmarks and public installations recognizing or honoring former Confederates, it is informative and instructive to look at the individuals who are honored, not the causes for which they served for a brief period of their lives or careers.

In response to the current hysteria over the names of landmarks and public installations recognizing or honoring former Confederates, it is informative and instructive to look at the individuals who are honored, not the causes for which they served for a brief period of their lives or careers.

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon and West Virginia senator Robert C. Byrd, whose name adorns numerous public buildings, institutions, and landmarks, was judged by his later years, and his changed values and public service after his transformation. Why aren’t former Confederates offered the same acknowledgment of their values and citizenship after the war?

An example is former Confederate General John Bell Hood, namesake of the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood in Texas. In Middle Tennessee, streets are named in Hood’s honor — including Franklin, Brentwood, Oak Hill and Nashville.

Most 21st century Americans have no clue who John Bell Hood was, and those who do perhaps only know that he was a Confederate general in the American Civil War. Even when his name is Googled, it is likely that only basic biographical information will appear. Little public information is available that reveals John Bell Hood’s personal integrity and moral character that inspired earlier generations of Americans to honor him.

Until recently it was assumed that the character and moral integrity of historical characters was sufficiently established, but deficient public education in history — and political correctness — has drastically changed the standards by which our predecessors are judged.

Hood was an 1853 West Point graduate who was wounded three times in combat, the first as a member of the famous U.S. Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Devil’s River, Texas in 1857. Hood, a native Kentuckian, adopted Texas as his home and after the Lone Star State’s secession in 1861, he resigned from the U.S. Army and volunteered for service in the Confederate army.

Quickly rising to the rank of brigadier and then major general, Hood was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, losing much of the use of his left arm. Returning to duty in the fall of 1863, Hood was then wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. After losing half his limbs, Hood recovered and continued to serve, eventually attaining the rank of full (4-star) general — at age 33 the youngest full general in American military history.

If Hood’s peerless resolve and dedication to his adopted home state and nation were not enough, his postwar conduct as an American citizen became a model among ex-Confederates.

After the war, Hood took the oath of allegiance to the United States and with his citizenship restored became a vocal advocate of reconciliation, urging Southerners to be patriotic Americans. In a speech to Confederate veterans in 1874, Hood said, “We must, my comrades, turn from the past, and meet with courage the mighty issues of the present and the future.”

Urging reconciliation and patriotism, Hood added, “With a majority of Americans favoring peace and good-will to all, there will be a strong minority constantly probing the wound and arousing old enmities. Let us, nevertheless, welcome reconciliation upon a fair basis, for the sake of humanity and all that is dear to us, but remain steadfast to principle. Obey the law, and make as good citizens as we proved soldiers.”

An often unspoken modern reality is that any historical character who was in any way associated with slavery — whether a slave owner or not — or even affiliated with any past Federal or State government that recognized the institution of slavery, is now a target of derision and scorn.

After the war, Hood spoke of the subject of race and was a vocal advocate of the newly won rights of African-Americans. Hood advocated integration of African-Americans, and urged the rejection of racism, imploring Southerners, “To frown upon all such organizations – if they indeed exist – as that of Ku-Klux; encourage the education of the black man, wean him from those who would instill into his mind distrust and resentment, and make him our friend – for he has become an element of power, and we can ill afford to foster such an enemy in our midst.”

After the war, Hood was imminently respected by his former adversaries, most prominently General William T. Sherman, who defeated Hood’s army at Atlanta and in Tennessee in 1864. Hood and Sherman — who served as U.S. Army General-in-Chief from 1869-1883 — became close friends after the war.

Sherman visited Hood’s home in New Orleans in 1878, and Hood visited Sherman in Washington D.C. in February 1879. While there Sherman introduced Hood to President Rutherford B. Hayes (himself a former Union soldier), Vice President William A. Wheeler, Secretary of War George W. McCray, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison Waite.

Sherman’s respect for his former enemy John Bell Hood should be sufficient testimony to Hood’s character, and is illustrated in a condolence letter Sherman sent to Hood upon learning of the death of Hood’s wife.

Headquarters Army of the United States,
Washington D.C., Aug 26, 1879
General J. B. Hood
New Orleans
Dear General-

My family is all in the Allegheny Mountains and I am here alone at breakfast this morning at a hotel nearby. A friend read aloud the notice of the death of Mrs. General Hood.

Even yet though some hours have passed I cannot help thinking of that wonderful and beautiful group of children you paraded before us last winter at your home in New Orleans, and that you took my daughters Lizzie and Elly up to see Mrs. Hood in her sick bed. I know not why but I cannot banish the sight from my mind, and now write you this simple note to tell you that here in Washington there is one who thinks of you in your bereavement, and of those motherless children.

All we can do is to bow to the inevitable, and go on with the duties of life till we ourselves mark the Common destiny the Grave.

Accept the assurance of my heartfelt sympathy and of great respect.

Truly your friend,
W.T. Sherman

Hood was also a man of deep faith, stating “The foot-prints of God upon earth are not the work purely of man. The almighty King of Kings controls and shapes the destinies of nations; and if, as a people, we seek to follow His word and truth, remembering that the end of man is an action and not a thought and that will is the measure of power, He will bless our efforts with prosperity, and bring unto us once more, hope, joy, and peace.”

The U.S. Army named Fort Hood in his honor. Other institutions and landmarks are named in Hood’s honor in several states. Before his name is removed and replaced from public places, those in authority and positions of influence should educate themselves about John Bell Hood, the man, soldier, and citizen, and do likewise for other former Confederates. Modern critics should also pray that their own beliefs and deeds are not judged by standards of society 150 years from today.

Stephen M. “Sam” Hood
Sam, a resident of Huntington, West Virginia and distant relative of General Hood, is author of John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (Savas Beatie 2013) and The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood (Savas Beatie 2015)

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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