- Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit by Susannah J. Ural
Susannah J. Ural’s claim that Hood’s Texas Brigade was the most celebrated unit in the Confederate army might be dismissed as yet another example of Texas exceptionalism. But she makes a convincing case for that distinction. Her study of this storied brigade, she demonstrates, “does not fit trends seen in larger historiography” (6).
The brigade proved faithful to the valorous Alamo defenders, as Jefferson Davis had predicted. But it also established its character as the premier shock troops of what was to become the Army of Northern Virginia by breaking George B. McClellan’s line at Gaines’s Mill in June, 1862. After other brigades had repeatedly failed, Hood’s Texans surged forward, captured fourteen cannon, collapsed the Union left flank, and destroyed McClellan’s hope of securing the Confederate capital. Three months later it almost single-handedly held the Rebel left at Sharpsburg, sustaining more than 550 casualties of the 850 troops engaged. The First Texas Infantry suffered a casualty rate said to be the second highest in a single regiment in any Civil War battle.
The brigade, in fact, played a conspicuous part in almost every major campaign in the Eastern Theater, including Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness, at which Robert E. Lee rode to the [End Page 118] front of the Texans to lead them in a desperate charge. The men were more than willing to attack, but took the general’s horse by the reins and led him to the rear, unwilling that Lee place himself in danger. In addition, the brigade was detached to the Western Theater under its corps commander, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, where it shattered the line of Union major general William S. Rosecrans at the battle of Chickamauga.
Thus, Hood’s Texans earned their reputation as the finest fighting force in Lee’s army and perhaps in the entire war. But in this book Ural asks—and quite satisfactorily answers—the question, what made this unit stand out among so many famous brigades, North and South?
Hood’s Texas Brigade, the newest addition to LSU Press’s outstanding “Conflicting Worlds” series, is not a conventional unit history of battles and leaders, strategy and tactics. It is a meticulously researched analysis of the social history of communities at war, focused on the motivations of soldiers and their families and their dedication to the cause of Southern independence. The extraordinary commitment that the men and their families felt for their cause was based on a number of factors. Although the majority of Hood’s men, Ural found, were of the middle class, and most owned few, if any, slaves, they were, nevertheless, staunch supporters of the Southern ideology of white racial superiority and an agrarian economy based on chattel slavery. In addition to this identity as free white Texans, she argues, the men derived their élan from the strong cohesiveness they built in their companies, regiments, and brigade, as well as with the hometowns and families from which they came.
In addition, Ural finds, the brigade benefited from the leadership of a remarkably fine cadre of junior—company and field grade—officers and from their devotion to their senior officers, particularly John Bell Hood and Robert E. Lee. Paradoxically, however, they were an ill-disciplined lot, perhaps even more than ordinarily found among citizen-soldiers resistant to what they regarded as arbitrary military authority.
Nevertheless, Hood’s brigade remained faithful to their colors, cause, and comrades throughout the war. While Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered from a desertion rate of some 15 per cent, only 6 per cent of Hood’s brigade deserted; most of those left when the brigade was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and served under Braxton Bragg in Tennessee.
This extraordinary sense of unity continued into the postbellum era. Ural attributes this to the fact...