Friday, January 10, 2020

Booknotes: Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta

New Arrival:
Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood by Stephen Davis (Mercer UP, 2019).

In Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood, "the first of two volumes, Hood's rise in rank is chronicled. In three years, 1861-1864, Hood rose from lieutenant to full general in the Confederate army."

The project is not a conventional cradle-to-grave biography. The first volume doesn't cover Hood's early life or West Point period at any length, and dispenses with its subject's antebellum army career in just a few paragraphs. Instead, it is strictly a Civil War military biography. Less than a quarter of the study's roughly 450 pages of text are devoted to Hood's 1861-63 service (the period during which he indisputably excelled as hard-hitting brigade and division commander). The great majority of the narrative addresses the general's highly controversial western stints in corps and army command during the critical 1864 campaign in North Georgia.

Author Stephen Davis "emphasizes Hood's fatal flaw: ambition. Hood constantly sought promotion, even after he had found his highest level of competence as division commander in Robert E. Lee's army. As corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, his performance was good, but no better. Promoted to succeed Johnston, Hood did his utmost to defend Atlanta against Sherman. In this latter effort he failed. But he had won his spurs, even if he had been denied greatness as a general."

It would be difficult for any individual to experience such a meteoric rise in rank without possessing broad ambition, and its also hard to blame someone too much for wanting to push their professional advancement to the utmost, so it will be interesting to see what context Davis applies to this particular case. Dissenters of the long-held popular view of Hood as unseemly intriguer have gained some strength in recent years. Davis is already well established as an Atlanta Campaign historian, and his views on Hood's character and abilities during this period will be interesting to consider.

The preface notes that Volume 2, which will cover Hood's army leadership from the fall of Atlanta to his January 1865 resignation following an infamously disastrous series of battles in Tennessee, will be titled Into Tennessee and Failure. It is currently scheduled for a late 2020 release.

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