The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah

ConfederacysLastHurrah

First published as Embrace an Angry Wind:  The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah:  Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, this is Wiley Sword’s account of Spring Hill and the battles of Franklin, and Nashville.  For the most part, Sword crafted a lucid account of these three actions from the latter part of 1864.  In making the case for the importance of this part of the war, Sword claims, “To draw a historical parallel, the battles of Franklin and Nashville may well represent the Civil War equivalent of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  As surely as the nuclear devastation of these two Japanese cities led to the surrender of Japan, the destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee became the real basis for the demise of the Southern Confederacy.  With the devastating loss of the Confederacy’s second most formidable army, not only was one of the most vital productive regions of the Deep South stripped of essential military protection, but thereafter an overwhelming concentration of Northern armies was imminent against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  The Confederacy had suffered a fatal wound.  It was an end to reasonable hope for Southern independence.  What had begun as a bold campaign, an invasion to restore a disastrously lost military balance, had instead become an ultimate disaster.” [p. xi]  With all due respect to Mr. Sword, this is ridiculous.  He should first do more study of World War II before trying to make such a comparison.  The bombing campaign against Japan, along with Douglas MacArthur’s island hopping campaign, had already ensured the defeat of Japan.  The atomic bombings served to convince the Japanese of that fact without the need for a costly invasion.  The Japanese surrendered just days after the two atomic bombings.  The Battle of Nashville was December 16, 1864.  The confederacy certainly had more life left in it than Mr. Sword appears to believe, since it wasn’t until four months later that Lee surrendered.  Franklin and Nashville didn’t convince the confederates it was time to quit.  The two cases are not comparable at all.  Also, it wasn’t Franklin and Nashville that would make it possible to begin uniting Federal armies.  It was Sherman’s march to the sea, followed by his march through the Carolinas that showed the confederacy was an empty shell.  This is not to say Franklin and Nashville weren’t important, but the Army of Tennessee wasn’t completely lost as Mr. Sword appears to want us to believe.  They seem to have popped up again under Joe Johnston in North Carolina.  Certainly they weren’t as formidable as they would have been without their losses at Franklin and Nashville, but even without those losses, Sherman’s army group would still have been able to handle them.

As Stephen M. Hood already documented in his biography of General Hood, Sword takes every opportunity to denigrate John Bell Hood, whether by innuendo, suggestion, or misuse of evidence.  For example, in one paragraph Sword writes, “Hood had barely managed to prod and squirm his way through West Point with the Class of 1853, accumulating in his senior year 196 demerits, four short of expulsion.  His grades were low, particularly in mathematics, and when he graduated as a brevet second lieutenant in July 1853 he stood forty-fourth in his class of fifty-two.  Part of the problem may have been a lackluster education at a ‘subscription’ school in rural Kentucky.  Thanks to this bare-bones high school equivalency, Hood appeared to be relatively simplistic in his thinking and was not regarded as having a refined or calculating mind.  Moreover, his meager academic foundation provided a disadvantaged background for any future association with the sophisticated and elite, a matter he seemed later to well understand.” [p. 7]  His footnote references Richard M. McMurry’s John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence, p. 9, and John P. Dyer, The Gallant Hood, p. 25.  The cited part of Dyer’s book confirms the “subscription” school, but nothing else.  The cited part of McMurry’s book confirms Hood’s overall class standing and his demerits in his senior year.  McMurry has this to say about Hood’s academic record at graduation:  “By hard work, Hood barely passed his January examinations and graduated, in July 1853, forty-fourth among the fifty-two survivors of his class.  He stood last in his class in ethics.  In no way did Hood distinguish himself nor did West Point make any permanent change in his personality.  He remained what he had been–a young, carefree boy, ‘a jolly good fellow,’ Schofield later remembered.  Like many Southern cadets, he encountered serious academic problems, or, as he later admitted, he had been ‘more wedded to boyish sports than to books.’  Overall, his disciplinary record (374 demerits over four years) was about average.  However, the fact that more than half of these demerits had been accumulated in his senior year while he was a cadet officer indicates that he had failed to develop a sense of responsibility.” [Richard M. McMurry, John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence, p. 9]  Neither McMurry nor Dyer talks about any particular problem with mathematics, nor do they talk about simplistic thinking or his not being regarded as having a fine or calculating mind.  Neither source mentions any social handicap as a result of his academic background.  This appears to be Sword trying to make Hood look as stupid as possible, even if he has to go beyond his cited evidence to do so.  While he doesn’t, in the text of the book, expressly make the claim that Hood used laudanum, he suggests Hood may have used it on several occasions.  He says things like “By about 9:00 P.M. Hood had unstrapped his artificial leg, perhaps swallowed some laudanum (a tincture of opium), and was soon in bed and asleep.” [p. 136]  In another passage, “His mind clouded by fatigue and perhaps laudanum, he merely told Stewart that it was not of importance.” [p. 147]A caption of one of the photographs opposite page 244, though, reads, “His crippled left arm (Gettysburg) and missing right leg (Chickamauga) drained him physically, and he often resorted to the use of laudanum.”  There is no evidence at all that Hood used laudanum in that manner or at those times.  This is another case of going beyond the evidence.

In his discussion of Union commanders George H. Thomas and Ulysses S. Grant, Sword claims, “Thomas’ difficult personal relationship with the rough-hewn and more youthful Grant was evidently founded upon the resentment Grant felt when he had been displaced and Thomas appointed in his place during the Siege of Corinth.  These two generals were of widely varying temperament and personality.  Neither liked the other, nor seemed even to trust the other’s motives.  Their cool relationship was accentuated by the arrival at Chattanooga during the siege of that city in October 1863 of Grant and his highly favored friend since Shiloh, William Tecumseh Sherman.  Following the raising of the siege, despite Thomas’s yeoman work in assaulting Missionary Ridge in late November, Grant got most of the credit.” [pp. 76-77]  His cited source is Freeman Cleaves, Rock of Chickamauga:  The Life of General George H. Thomas, pages 185, 187, and 191.  This is another case of Sword going beyond his cited evidence.  Cleaves does not support the idea that Grant felt any resentment toward Thomas due to events at Corinth.  Cleaves does assert that Thomas and Grant didn’t like or trust each other, but he does not claim that Thomas did “yeoman work” during the Missionary Ridge assault.  Thomas wasn’t appointed in Grant’s place.  Four of Grant’s divisions were placed under Thomas and Grant was made Halleck’s second-in-command for Corinth [See Brooks D. Simpson, Triumph Over Adversity:  Ulysses S. Grant, 1822-1865, p. 141]  Sherman didn’t arrive at Chattanooga until about a month after Grant arrived.

While Sword’s descriptions of the actual movements during the battles is cogent and easily followed, the several times he misuses evidence and goes beyond his sources, in addition to his overreliance on secondary sources, plus his palpable hatred of John Bell Hood clouding his understanding of the man, all mean I can’t recommend this book in good conscience.  There are just too many cases of his saying things that are either not true or are not supported by the available evidence.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Pat Young · · Reply

    A note of disagreement; Stephen Hood’s book is not a biography.

    1. Technically true, Pat, though he does get into Hood’s life story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: