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As Brave & Dashing as Any Officer: John Bell Hood and the Limitation of Ability

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and may become a book in their own right.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s article is about Major General John Bell Hood who commanded a division in Longstreet’s First Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg. As a brigade and division commander he was as good as any in either army. However, after Gettysburg he was promoted, eventually to army command in Georgia and Tennessee in which position he failed miserably. His story is interesting because it shows that all of us probably have some limitations, that while we may excel in one arena or level, that we may very well not be suited for other things, especially high command or senior management. As Harry Callahan so wisely noted “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I do hope that you enjoy this.


Padre Steve+


Lieutenant General John Bell Hood. C.S.A.

John Bell Hood was born in Owingsville Kentucky in 1831. He attended West Point where he was a classmate of the future Union Generals James McPherson and Phillip Sheridan, and graduated fortieth of the fifty-one in the class of 1853. Hood desired a commission in the newly formed cavalry but “his low class standing resulted him entering service as a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment.” [1] However, Hood was persistent and continued to lobby for an appointment to the cavalry service, even directly corresponding with then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. The young officer’s perseverance paid off and in 1855 he received orders to serve with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.

Hood served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command with the 2nd Cavalry in Texas. There he gained a stellar reputation as a leader and Indian fighter, though he only fought in one minor engagement. He was physically imposing and “stood six feet, two inches and had a powerful chest and a giant’s shoulders.” [2]

In 1860 “he received orders to report to West Point to serve as an instructor of cavalry.” [3] His secessionist sympathies were displayed when upon receipt of the orders and went5 directly to the War Department where he told the Adjutant General that “he did not want the position, since he “feared that was would soon be declared between the States, in which event I preferred to be in a position to act with complete freedom.” [4]

When his home state of Kentucky did not secede he attached himself to his adopted state of Texas. He resigned his commission and began the war as a lieutenant of cavalry in the Confederate army. In his resignation the officer was something of a realist concerning the coming war, noting, “seeing no hope of reconciliation or adjustment, but every indication of a fierce and bloody war.” [5] Lee assigned him to Magruder on the Peninsula where he quickly developed as a reputation as a fighter and was given the task of tasking independent cavalry companies into a regiment. He was soon was given the task of forming Texans then in Virginia into a fighting regiment, the 4th Texas, which was assigned to “join a Texas brigade under ex-Senator Louis T. Wigfall.” [6] After Manassas Hood was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of Wigfall’s brigade, the only Texas brigade in the east. He took temporary command of a division during the reorganization of the army that followed the Seven Days.

Over the course of the next year he had built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [7] And the “reputation gained as commander of the Texas Brigade and as a division commander made him both a valuable general officer and a celebrity who transcended his peers.” [8] After his performance at Antietam Lee worked the personnel system to get Hood promoted to Major General and assigned to command of an enlarged division which he would command at Gettysburg. Lee wrote of him “Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battle field, careless off, & I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested on him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness & zeal.” [9]

After Gettysburg Hood went on to succeed Joseph E. Johnston in Georgia as an army commander, but in this capacity he was out of his league. Johnston had fought a defensive campaign and was deemed by Jefferson Davis to be not aggressive enough in battling the combined armies of William Tecumseh Sherman.

However, Hood’s new responsibilities were beyond his capacity, at heart he “was an executive officer, not a strategist.” [10] Hood was overly aggressive and his offensive campaigns were all marked by failure. Hood saw his army shattered at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. Afterward he asked to be relieved of command and “reverted to his permanent rank of Lieutenant General” in January 1865. [11]

He returned to Richmond to draft his reports on his campaigns and foreseeing the collapse and defeat of the army around Richmond “advocated that the three Confederate filed armies concentrate in central Tennessee and Kentucky.” [12] Though it was a reasonable suggestion from a strategic point of view, it was impossible for a number of reasons and rejected by Jefferson Davis. He requested another field command but instead was ordered to return to Texas. While on the way he learned of the surrenders of the various Confederate armies and “surrendered himself at Natchez, Mississippi.” [13]

After the war Hood married Anna Maria Henson and their marriage produced eleven children, who some jokingly referred to as “Hood’s brigade.” He remained in contact with James Longstreet and when Longstreet spoke to him about supporting Reconstruction and Negro suffrage Hood warned his former commander “that if he supported the congressional program that “the Southern press and people will vilify you and abuse you.” [14] While nothing is known about his own views on the subject Longstreet believed that the mirrored his own, though Hood would not publicly utter them.

He began working in the insurance business and writing his memoirs and campaign narratives, but in 1879 he business interests failed and in August of that year he, his wife and one of his children died in a Yellow Fever outbreak, he was just forty-eight years old.

As good of Brigade and division commander as he was under the direction of Longstreet, Hood was out of his league as an Army commander. John B. Gordon, as judicious of judge of command ability of any on the Confederate side noted:

“To say he was as brave and dashing as any officer of any age would be the merest commonplace tribute to such a man; but courage and dash are not the only or even the prime requisites of the commander of a great army.” [15]

Hood is highly regarded in Texas to this day. Units of the Texas Army National Guard including some that I served in during the 1980s and 1990s trace their lineage to the regiments of Hood’s Brigade. Likewise, Fort Hood, the largest post in the United States Army is named after him.


[1] Bohannon, Keith S. “A Bold Fighter” Promoted Beyond His Abilities: John Bell Hood in Leaders of the Lost Cause: New Perspectives on the Confederate High Command edited by Gallagher, Gary W. and Glatthaar, Joseph T. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2004 p.250

[2] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.121

[3] Ibid. Bohannon “A Bold Fighter” p.251

[4] Ibid. Bohannon “A Bold Fighter” p.251

[5] Ibid. Bohannon “A Bold Fighter” p.252

[6] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.121

[7] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.224

[8] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.161

[9] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.219

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.38

[11] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders p.143

[12] Ibid. Bohannon “A Bold Fighter” p.276

[13] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders p.143

[14] Ibid. Bohannon “A Bold Fighter” p.278

[15] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals p.219

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Suicide isn’t Painless: The Epidemic of Suicide in the Military

I leave the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia tomorrow and toward the end of October report as the Command Chaplain for Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina. My last time at Camp LeJeune was as part of the Portsmouth SPRINT (Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team) mission to care for Emergency Department personnel at the Naval Hospital and Base Fire/EMS responders to a particularly gruesome suicide of a young Marine who had recently served in Iraq and was preparing for another tour.

As a Chaplain and in my previous life as a Medical Service Corps officer commanding a Medical Company in Germany and Brigade Adjutant in Texas I have dealt with a lot of suicides, attempted suicides and the lives left shattered by suicide.  Likewise I have seen the results of suicide attempts as a trauma, emergency and critical care chaplain in major medical centers. I have attended the DOD Suicide Prevention Conference on a number of occasions and gotten to know many of the experts working in the field.

As I said I began my career as an officer in the Army Medical Service Corps. We had a close connection to the movie and television series M*A*S*H and the theme music to that movie is emblematic of the feelings of many combat vets who continue to deploy even after making many combat deployments. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3444418/suicide_is_painless_johnny_mandel/

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it’s too late, and…

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.

The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat.

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin, but…

A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
‘is it to be or not to be’
and I replied ‘oh why ask me?’

‘Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
…and you can do the same thing if you choose.

Last week four soldiers, one a highly decorated senior NCO and all combat veterans are believed to have committed suicide at Fort Hood Texas.  The base which has already seen more than its fair share of tragedy with 14 confirmed suicides this year is stunned that these occurred in one weekend.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented about the stress on the all-volunteer force: “No major war in our history has been fought with a smaller percentage of this country’s citizens in uniform full-time — roughly 2.4 million active and reserve service members out of a country of over 300 million, less than 1 percent,” as a result the wars have been fought by a small proportion of the country, for many they are “a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.” While the distance grows between those that serve and the general population military families are under even more stress, with anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a growing number of suicides. Divorce rates in the Army have doubled since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

In the years prior to about 2004-2005 the military suicide rate was almost always below civilian rates in all demographics.  This is something that we took legitimate pride in.  That began to change as the war in Iraq shifted from a “Shock and Awe” campaign to a rather nasty and intractable insurgency this began to change as the deployment tempo increased and the Army increased its “boots on ground” time from a year to 15 months with a one year dwell time between deployments. Even as Iraq calmed down and the US role shifted many troops remain and Afghanistan has become a much more difficult war than it was even a few years ago. The Marines retained a 6-7 month deployment schedule but as the war went on and personnel requirements increased many Marine units were doing 6 months in country and 6 months home.  The difficult of what was described as “dwell time” for the Army and Marines was that for all intents and purposes it wasn’t. The units would get a few weeks leave and stand down time on their return home and then begin preparing for their next deployment. These preparations out of necessity entailed much time in the field training including trips to the Fort Irwin National Training Center (NTC) or the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center at 29 Palms.  Speaking from experience before 9-11 I can say that a Marine battalion going to 29 Palms in reality makes a short but intense deployment which is taxing on the organization even as it sharpens combat skills.  The same can be said for Army units going to NTC.  Thus the time that is nominally considered time at home to recuperate is not that and instead serves to keep the pressure on already stressed units, leaders and soldiers/Marines.  In the intervening time those that present to mental health providers or chaplains are provided with care to get them back in shape for the next deployment but never really get to deal with the deeper psychological and spiritual wounds. These include “moral injury”  which often involves unresolved grief for the loss of comrades and real or imagined guilt for their own actions in war.  Such wounds ultimately create despair, loss of faith and eventually cause some service members to make attempts on their life with varying degrees of “success” in “completing” the suicide.

The result is that those who have experienced the moral injuries that come as a result of combat, seeing comrades killed and wounded, participating in actions where they are directly or indirectly involved in killing the enemy, see the “collateral damage” of civilians, including children killed and maimed go right back into to fight.  Since this war has now gone on longer than any war in US history and we are fighting it with an all volunteer force of limited numbers with many making multiple deployments, some as many as 5 or more these wounds are pushed aside.  The effect of this is a cumulative grinding down of those that serve in harm’s way. Many suffer from some form of psychological, neurological or even spiritual injury that in combination with other life stressors make them particularly vulnerable to taking their lives.  In regard to moral injury “Many of the troops kill themselves because they feel that those kinds of experiences have made them unforgivable,” said Dr. William Nash, a top PTSD researcher. “It’s a lot harder for most people to forgive themselves than to forgive others.”

Unfortunately there is a stigma attached to seeking treatment or admitting that one is suffering from depression, anxiety or any other condition associated with either seeking help on their own or being “command referred” for psychological/psychiatric help.  Since that stigma is real many war fighters don’t seek help and take “refuge” in destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse (to include prescription drugs) and risky behaviors.  One wonders how many of the single vehicle accident fatalities that occur late at night to combat vets are not accidental at all but are suicides by another more “socially acceptable” means.  If a forensic psychological profile was done on every service member that dies in such events I would guess that the finding would be a lot more suicides not an accidental deaths as we would like to believe. Yes all of these deaths are tragic but it is far easier to rationalize death in an auto accident than death by gunshot, knife wounds, overdose or hanging.

I am not proposing any solutions for this problem.  I do believe that somehow the deployment tempo needs to be slowed down to allow troops to actually recover and get help.  This is one of the suggestions of the DOD Suicide Prevention Task Force.  Their report is linked here: http://www.health.mil/dhb/downloads/Suicide%20Prevention%20Task%20Force%20report%2008-21-10_V4_RLN.pdf

When I go to LeJeune I know that as a Chaplain at the Naval Hospital I will be collaborating with our mental health professionals to provide care to Marines, Sailors and their families that are living this daily.  The Marine situation is poignantly show in this article: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/military/article_3dc03ec3-6a37-5608-8563-aca88f635271.html

I have served with the Marines almost 6 years and from what I see the Corps has changed.  It is battle hardened but less resilient than it used to be.  The Marine Corps’ suicide rate has reached 24 per 100,000, a rate that surpasses all the other services. The rate was 13 per 100,000 in 2006 when I finished my tour at Marine Security Forces. The latest available figures put the civilian suicide rate at 20 per 100,000.  The problem extends past active duty as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, said the suicide rate for men aged 18-29 who have been discharged had gone up by 26% from 2005-07. Likewise, “of the more than 30,000 suicides in this country each year, fully 20% of them are acts by veterans.” This means as Shinseki said “on average 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Five of those veterans are under our care at VA. So losing five veterans who are in treatment every month, and then not having a shot at the other 13 who for some reason haven’t come under our care, means that we have a lot of work to do.”

There is also an effect on military health care providers of all kinds and chaplains. These individuals not only have to deal with their trauma but the trauma and hopelessness that they see in many of their patients or parishioners. These caregivers have no respite between deployments because their reason for being is to care for the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors that present to them be they deployed or back in a military hospital or clinic.

The work will be hard and long after the last Marine, Sailor, Soldier or Airman leaves Iraq and Afghanistan we will be dealing with this for years to come.


Padre Steve+


Filed under healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, PTSD

Fort Hood Shooting URGENT

I’ve been following the shootings at Fort Hood.  There is still very sketchy information about what is going on.  So far information on most news outlets saying at least 7 dead and 12-15 wounded.  A Sergeant Major interviewed on CNN said that there were multiple shooters of which one has been caught.  There is a manhunt underway.  The friends that I know are safe, both young chaplains and certainly involved in what is going on.  Reports say that the shooters were wearing the Army Combat Uniform and using “M-16s.”  My guess is that the weapons were AR-15’s which can be bought on the outside and are readily available for $500-$800 through legitimate sellers.  The are semi-automatic but can be modified to fire fully automatic.

No one is saying if the shooters were military or impostors or their motivation other than to kill soldiers. The shooting occurred at the “Soldier Readiness Center.”    This is a place where deployers and returning warriors are processed and appears to also house the Combat Stress treatment center.

I used to train at Fort Hood when I was in the Texas Army National Guard back in the 1980s and 1990s.  It is a huge base and the area where the shootings occurred is quite congested and heavily populated at mid-day.

I have suspicious that the shooters were impersonating Army personnel, agents of a terrorist organization planted in the military, or possibly members of a separatist or fundamentalist group that has infiltrated the Army.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is reporting close to 30 casualties.

More to follow…Pray for the the victims and their families.

Peace, Padre Steve+


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