The tune was catchy and lively. In the days before the Top 40, this one was at the top of the charts. Soldiers in the Civil War knew the song and sung it often: “The Yellow Rose of Texas” spoke of home—especially for Texans—and of the girl back home. It was also easy to add more verses to the song, and this helped out when soldiers sang while marching or sitting around during the lulls between battles. Late in the War, the love song became a subtle war protest song with some new verses added.
My feet are torn and bloody
My heart is full of woe.
I’m going back to Georgia
To see my Uncle Joe.
You may talk about your Beauregard,
You may sing of Bobby Lee
But the gallant Hood of Texas
He played hell in Tennessee.
There was more than a hint of irony in calling General John B. Hood “gallant,” and there was much bitterness in his having “played hell in Tennessee.”
The reference here was to one of the most audacious—but poorly planned—and disastrous campaigns of the Civil War. It was General Hood’s chance to overturn the loss of Atlanta, Georgia, and to give the South one last opportunity to win the War. Taking place in the last months of 1864, this campaign was a futile attempt to stave off a final defeat. Instead, it likely hastened that result.
At the center of the story, the man in charge and the ultimate one at blame for the defeat was General Hood. His career as an officer in the Confederacy basically had three stages. First he rose to great rank due to his battlefield successes. Then he suffered some severe injuries that increasingly hampered his mobility and perhaps his battlefield psychology. Finally, he became the youngest man to become a commander of an army—only to witness a series of devastating defeats.
Hood was a Kentuckian by birth and a Texas by choice. Graduating from West Point where he excelled more in demerits than achievements, Hood served in the U. S. Army in California and Texas. When Kentucky opted to stay in the Union, Hood resigned his commission with the army and joined the Confederate service in Texas, which he referred to as “my adopted land.” Along with his military training and service, Hood had connections with Robert E. Lee, who had been the Superintendent at West Point during Hood’s time there. Later Hood served in the Second U. S. Cavalry whose officers included Lee and a number of others who became prominent Confederate leaders.
It was in the heat of battle where Hood excelled. When the occasion called for bold aggression, front-line leadership, and unflinching valor, Hood rose to the top. At Gaines Mill, which was a portion of the bigger battle known as Seven Days Battle, Hood led his brigade in a charge that broke the enemy’s line. Battlefield successes and advancements in rank continued. At one point, a dispute with a superior resulted in Hood’s being temporarily suspended. But when his Texans shouted, “Give us Hood!” to General Lee, Hood resumed command.
The second stage of Hood’s career began at the Battle of Gettysburg. Against his advice and objections, he was ordered to stage an attack on the Union left. This flanking maneuver put Hood’s troops under direct enemy fire. To make matters worse, the area was strewn with rocks that aided the defenders. The attack fell short, but even worse for Hood was an injury he received that left his left arm useless.
When Longstreet’s Corps was sent to the west to aid Gen. Braxton Bragg, Hood had both his greatest personal triumph and his worst injury. It was Hood who led the assault when a gap opened up in the Union line at the Battle of Chickamauga. In the heat of the battle, Hood had grabbed up the brigade flag of his Texas unit. Almost immediately, he was hit in the right leg by what was called an “exploding bullet.” Even then, he insisted on staying on the battlefield until the enemy was retreating. Once the surgeons saw his condition, they realized his leg would have to be amputated just below the thigh.
Always the fighter, Hood returned to battle about a half a year later. He was made a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, which was then commanded by General Joe Johnston. Due to his injuries, Hood had to be helped on and strapped to the horse he was riding. He had to ride up to twenty miles a day.
The key objective at that time for the Confederacy in the west was holding the city of Atlanta against the forces of General William T. Sherman. When it became evident that Gen. Johnston either could not or would not hold that vital city, he was relieved of command. John B. Hood, age 33, replaced him and became the youngest army commander in the Confederacy. This success in promotion was followed, however, by his own inability to hold Atlanta.
After Atlanta, Hood, with little explanation to his superiors, with limited supplies, and with great visions of success, embarked on a campaign to recapture Tennessee and unite his forces with Lee in Virginia. First Hood swung his army far to the west of the northern forces and crossed back over the state lines into Tennessee. One of his goals was to destroy the supply lines for Sherman’s army and stop his movements into the Deep South. Sherman, planning his infamous March to the Sea, anticipated his army’s need to live off the land, and so he was largely unconcerned with Hood’s ventures. Having plenty of troops, he did send forces back toward Nashville to bolster defenses there.
When Hood missed the opportunity to crush the Union forces that Sherman had sent his way, he determined to make up for it at the town of Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. In a war filled with failed frontal attacks, the one that Hood ordered at Franklin exceeds even Pickett’s Charge for its futility. The Union forces were able to take a strong defensive position south of the Harpeth River, which runs through Franklin.
Hood’s divisional commanders cautioned him against attacking the fortified Union line. Hood overruled the objections and ordered his army forward across nearly two miles of open ground. The results were devastating. Historian Richard McMurry notes, “Casualties were staggering. Over 6,000 men were dead and wounded. One brigade lost 419 of its 600 men; one of its companies, ten of its eighteen men. In part of the ditch along the Federal works, the Confederate dead were piled seven deep.” McMurry went on to point out that the loss of commands, including six generals, was even more serious for the South.
The Union forces left the field, not in defeat, but in order to join with other forces defending Nashville. Unbelievably, Hood pressed his shattered army on toward Nashville. Once there, they dug in, vainly hoping for reinforcements. Instead, being December, they got cold and wet weather. Then the Union forces under George Thomas attacked and drove Hood and his men back through Franklin. Soldiers crossing the battlefield from a few weeks earlier found their feet sinking in the graves of their fallen comrades.
With well over half of his army destroyed, Hood led his men back across the Tennessee border. There were no more illusions of victory. The soldiers and the remaining officers were clamoring for the reinstatement of Joe Johnston, the man Hood replaced, as the commander.
As the song says, “I’m going back to Georgia to see my Uncle Joe.” Whatever gallantry Hood possessed as an individual soldier was now lost upon those he had led into Tennessee.
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