- John Bell Hood and the Fight for Civil War Memory
John Bell Hood and the Fight for Civil War Memory proves a slightly misleading title. Brian Craig Miller does discuss the development of the Lost Cause, but his account suggests that Hood played a minor role in the white South's construction of Civil War memory. Miller's story is less how Hood shaped the memory of the war and more the fight over how Hood's role in the war came to be remembered. Miller maintains in his introduction that Hood has been given credit for his contributions in the war's eastern theater but his defeats in the west have been blamed on his character. Hood's critics claim Hood gambled with the lives of his troops and attribute Hood's failures in battle to the excesses of his childhood—"too much gambling, drinking, and horse racing" (xix). Critics also argue that after his injuries at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Hood turned to liquor and laudanum to ease the pain, which contributed to his defeats.
Miller disagrees and provides a fairer evaluation of Hood through what he terms "a cultural biography" that puts Hood's life in "social and cultural context" (xxi). Doing so, Miller argues, allows him to compensate for an [End Page 287] absence of sources on Hood's own attitudes by extrapolating what Hood thought from the cultural context in which he lived, and, Miller further contends, it renders Hood's experiences representative of others in his society who endured the war. Before the war, Miller argues, southern culture emphasized the preservation of manhood, through the maintenance of honor and mastery. After it, though, the definition of manhood "underwent redefinition, as independence, exhibited through wealth and through physical mastery, no longer stood at the center of manhood. Manhood now could include recognition of some dependence in a loving relationship. . . . In other words, women and a supportive society could fill the 'empty sleeve' by fulfilling masculine notions of bravery and honor" (106).
The importance of manhood and honor in Hood's career forms perhaps Miller's central interpretive theme as he provides a chronological overview of Hood's life based on extensive research in the available sources. Miller describes Hood's family, his early years, and, in a particularly good section, an analysis of Hood's West Point career. Miller goes on to recount Hood's prewar service in the U.S. Army, his rapid transfer of loyalties to the Confederacy, his success in the eastern theater, and his failures in the west. Miller has interesting things to say about Hood's relationship with his troops—the close bonds that he formed with his Texas troops in the eastern theater and the difficulty of quickly establishing a similar relationship with those who served under him in the west. He also has a good discussion of the process and impact of amputation; Hood lost a leg at the Battle of Chickamauga. The analysis, however, rests on a study of other amputees because Hood left no record of his own experience.
Throughout his account of the war years, Miller carefully analyzes how various wartime reports shaped the way Hood's actions came to be interpreted. In the chapters that deal with Hood's life after the war, Miller writes of Hood's marriage and his career in first the cotton and then the insurance business but focuses most of his attention on the debate over Hood's reputation. Miller argues that in the pages of the Southern Historical Society Papers and some biographies, Hood became "a scapegoat for Confederate defeat," although certainly never to the degree that James Longstreet did (176). Miller also discusses the successful effort after Hood's death in 1879 to raise money to care for the general's children, a campaign Miller considers a monument to Hood, who never was memorialized with a statue.
Miller does not intend John Bell Hood to be "an extensive military study" [End Page...