John Bell (Stephen) Hood, Ted Savas and Civil War Marketing

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 7.27.16 PMTed Savas is having a field day marketing his new book about John Bell Hood by author Stephen Hood. He has gone out of his way to emphasize how the book breaks new ground, specifically in reference to the popular claim that Hood was both an alcoholic and drug addict. In one of his latest posts he takes author Allen Guelzo to task for casually referencing this little piece of Hood lore in his new book about Gettysburg. I will let Savas take it from here.

General Hood did not sustain himself or even use alcohol or opiates as Sword and others continue to endlessly prevaricate about, and historians who should know better copy without curiosity or question.  Stephen Hood’s John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013) unhorses these (and other) untruths and buries them under a flurry of stomping hooves. He does this in two ways: with newly found original firsthand sources, and a simple if time-consuming comparison of the “sources” originally used by Sword and others to characterize Hood as a drunk, crippled, drugged, hack of a leader.

This new book conclusively demonstrates that, even WITHOUT these newly discovered documents, the sources used by Sword and others were all hearsay or misread or intentionally misused (readers can decide, and the plentiful reviews on Amazon and elsewhere demonstrate that they are shocked by the mountain of evidence). The record is one secondary slander built upon another, piled upon a third, each with its own new purple adjectives thrown in for good measure. If Stephen Hood had left this subject alone, there is no doubt some author would have soon described an inebriated General Hood selling crack and meth in an Atlanta ghetto during leave.

The Civil War is filled with little stories that are told and re-told often with little attention to whether there is sufficient evidence. I’ve fallen into that trap on numerous occasions and I suspect that many of you have done so as well. Most historians welcome being corrected. Here’s the problem. Savas seems to be on some kind of crusade with this particular title as if it alone offers the necessary corrective regarding Hood’s drug and alcohol use. Not so fast; in fact, Stephen Hood is fairly late to the game.

In 2010 Brian Craig Miller published John Bell Hood and the Fight for Civil War Memory (University of Tennessee Press). The book offers a thorough overview of Hood historiography, including an analysis of claims made about Hood’s supposed drug and alcohol abuse.

Another dominant myth swirls around Hood’s life-threatening injuries and how they may have altered his psychological makeup in a significant manner. In order to deal with the physical and emotional trauma, some historians have suggested that Hood drank liquor to the point of intoxication and used drugs, specifically laudanum, to cope with his wounds from Chickamauga and Gettysburg, which relieved pain but supposedly clouded Hood’s judgment. Once more, rumors supplant facts, and no documentation is offered to prove Hood ever drank or abused drugs during the war. The rumor of substance abuse began with an undocumented assertion in 1940 and has continued to be reiterated time and time again in the wide range of Civil War scholarship.

If Hood had been under the influence of narcotics, why did his contemporaries fail to mention it? Mary Chesnut and Jefferson Davis, who left a wealth of postwar interpretations about the war and their interactions with Hood, never mentioned any drug usage or excessive alcohol consumption that may have impaired judgment. Hood’s personal surgeon’s records are unavailable, leaving the idea of laudanum use as nothing more than a fabricated offering to explain defeat. Some artificial limbs arrived from Europe with a bottle of laudanum encased with the limb; yet, no sources have emerged to argue if Hood’s artificial leg came with laudanum and no documents indicate Hood took the drug if he had access. These are a set of allegations that have been passed through the historiography without careful examination or foundation and need to cease until evidence surfaces. (xx)

Regarding Hood’s performance at Spring Hill.

Any analysis that bases failure at Spring Hill on alcohol and drug usage is problematic, particularly with the limited amount of evidence. Though it is documented that drinking took place among the officers, there are no specific references to Hood being drunk. Furthermore, there are no sources indicating that Hood had taken any painkillers to alleviate the constant pain from his injuries. Thus, until evidence appears directly indicating that Hood had been drunk or under the influence of narcotics, they cannot be included in the analysis of why the Army of Tennessee failed at Spring Hill. (153)

The remarkable thing about Miller’s analysis is that he doesn’t make any attempt to challenge the motives of other historians who have asserted the addiction narrative. He allows his argument to do the work. If Stephen Hood’s book helps to correct this particular aspect of the history than more power to it, but let’s move beyond this nonsense about how it is the first to do so.

Finally, I assume that Miller’s book is cited in Hood’s study on this particular issue given its place in the historiography. Later today I may comment on chapter 11 of the book, which Savas has made available online.

39 responses... add one

There is also a column from a 1990s issue of Blue & Gray which cast a lot of doubt on the drugs and alcohol allegations.

One of the things that is noticeable in the chapter that Savas made available is the sparseness of footnotes. The book claims to engage the historiography, but apart from Wiley Sword and two or three others I don’t see much engagement at all. And even when those historians are referenced their arguments are passed over with very little analysis.

I’ll echo the importance of that Steve Davis article from Blue and Gray Magazine. I remember reading it back when I was in high school (add emphasis). Stephen Hood was not the first historian to question the addiction-myth, nor was Brian Craig Miller. Davis beat them both, doing so by more than a decade. (His article–although terribly short–appeared in 1998.) If we look at the new biography in the context of Miller’s and Davis’s work, it paints the picture of scholarship moving in a better direction for the reputation of General Hood. It is quite an exaggeration to say that, if left alone, historians were going make General Hood into (I cannot believe I typing this) an Atlanta meth dealer. Those words might have been better selected.

Hi Tim,

First congrats on your new blog. Admittedly, I am woefully unfamiliar with the Hood scholarship. I certainly would have cited the Davis article had I been aware of it. Thanks for doing so. Brian’s work, however, shows that Savas’s over the top characterizations of Stephen Davis’s work is simply false. I still can’t get the image of Hood dealing meth out of my head. :-)

And as Davis pointed out, Richard McMurry had dropped the laudanum theory by 1992, when his biography of Hood came out without reference to it. Not finding it in McMurry, I quit teaching it years ago.

Wow. Ken, I just finished going through McMurry’s biography and was quite surprised not to find any reference to laudanum.

McMurry’s book has been on my list of things to get and read for a long time. Given that he did not mention laudanum, the underlying thesis of the book under discussion is kinda torpedoed.

Kevin,

McMurry makes no references to laudanum in his revised addition. In the first addition, published in 1983, he hedges, offering a qualifier (“it has been said” or “it is possible” or something along those lines) with regards to the laudanum controversy. He did accept the myth at face value however in his fist book on the Atlanta campaign published in 1972 however.

McMurry’s bio is btw, in my opinion, the best existing biography of Hood, although there is a tremendous amount of room for a dramatically enhanced study.

Nathan Towne

That book came up earlier in the comment thread. I was actually leafing through it earlier today and was struck by the lack of any reference to laudanum.

There’s another point to consider: barring a miracle, Hood had to be in constant, intense pain. If he chose not to take any pain killers, that raises the issue of whether the pain itself was sufficiently intense to, at best, distract him intermittently or, at worst, impair his judgment. Does Stephen Hood deal with that?

Here is where we get into territory that I don’t think a good writer or scholar should venture. Why? Because for the average reader or guest to a Civil War site terms like “had to be” or “might have” or “could have” are often morphed into fact over time, if not almost immediately. This was the type of terminology used by many authors in regards to Hood and laudanum. The facts (or lack thereof) are clear. There is no evidence at all that Hood either took laudanum, nor any that he was in any constant or intense pain As a writer I tend to stay away from anything that is speculative or leading. I have established ideas or conclusions based on limited facts, but if there are none my opinion is that a non-fiction writer or scholar should never make assumptions.

On a side note I spoke at length several years ago with Jack Welsh, who wrote the two volume medical histories of Confederate and Union Generals. I asked him, in his opinion, which injury would have caused Hood greater problems – the arm or the leg. I asked because folks tend to focus on the leg. Welsh (who was a doctor) said there was no doubt in his mind the arm would have caused more problems because it was NOT amputated. I asked about phantom limb pain re: the leg. He said well over half of amputees suffer no such symptoms. I then asked about the arm. He said possible nerve damage, in addition to muscle damage, would have been much more problematic long term. I even asked if Hood did take laudanum would it have definitively affected him? He said no way. He said every case is different, and without evidence of consumption, and without a basic understanding of how medication affects the body, he suggested folks should not even go down that road.

What Jack did not know (nor I) at the time, was that the arm injury was not as serious as was long accepted. Based on the recent findings in Hood’s papers, it is now known that Hood did not have a mangled or useless arm. In fact, he had a remarkable recover and regained relative mobility of the arm.

I wish we could simply move beyond this issue, which only detracts from who Hood was, how he performed as a commander, and how important Spring Hill and Franklin are to understanding how the Civil War came to its violent conclusion.

Just out of curiosity and since you are familiar with the book, does Stephen Hood acknowledge Miller’s book in any way? Thanks.

Kevin,

Sam Hood does acknowledge Miller’s study in the book. As I am not at home, I don’t have my copy on me to quote Hood’s exact words but into the books introduction he states that his book is intended as a refutation of the persistent historiographical myths/distortions e.t.c. that plague the literature. Books that tend to avoid these traps, specifically noting Miller’s study, he states he will deal with less frequently.

As for the book, I received my copy back on July 16th and I read up through the culmination of the 1864 Georgia campaign, along with the last several chapters with regards to Hood’s writings and his statements with regards to the rank and file and the laudanum myth. I didn’t read the entire middle of the book yet, but I will get to it some point.

To be honest, as for the sections that I have read, taken as a whole, I was not thoroughly impressed, although admittedly I came in with extremely high expectations. As soon as I get home tonight and have the time (and the book on hand) I will lay out here in detail what I believe are serious analytical and presentational problems with his work and the areas (astonishingly in some cases) that receive little or no treatment despite the presence of significant historiographical debates. Furthermore, the Sam Hood’s tone in the work, as well as his partisan readings of certain issues is really distracting.

Nathan Towne

Looking forward to it. Someone else mentioned that Hood lists Miller in his bibliography. Looking forward to hearing more from you on this topic. I read through chapter 11 and there are a number of analytical and presentational problems that I may get to.

Kevin,

I apologize about the other night. I have been insanely busy and I was caught up unexpectedly. I haven’t forgotten though. I promise that I will get back to you really soon.

Nathan Towne

I do not jump to conclusions nor make assumptions. I spent a considerable amount of time doing workers compensation law, primarily as an attorney for what was then District 5 of the UMWA (Pittsburgh area) with massive underground mines. We dealt with a lot of crush injuries and amputations.

I agree. I don’t care about the taking of opiates.

I’m more fascinated by the disastrous leadership of Hood at Franklin and Nashville. And how within a couple of months a commander could go from having a viable army to fleeing back to Corinth in wreckage. That is a epic story.

Chris

I am not up on all the history of General Hood, but did Hood himself ever address the allegations?
If not, is it possible that he would have the public think he was impaired by the drugs/alcohol instead of having a clear mind when he was defeated four times around Atlanta, lost Atlanta, was out maneuvered at Spring Hill, savagely defeated at Franklin and crushed at Nashville.
He may have thought it was better to see those defeats in the light of constant pain and pain killer use than to accept defeat openly.
Just a thought.

I am always suspicious about arguments made by relatives that My Distinguished Ancestor was misunderstood, that he was actually a Really Great Guy. As Corey so ably put it, perhaps Hood preferred to hide behind arguments that he was drugged or drunk — it sounds better than to admit he was incompetent.

Savas writes, about Hood and drugs, “The record is one secondary slander built upon another, piled upon a third, each with its own new purple adjectives thrown in for good measure.”

It bears pointing out that Savas, in 1994, personally perpetuated that “slander” by publishing an essay by Steven Woodworth (“The Campaign for Atlanta,” Savas Woodbury Publishers), in which Woodworth asserts that Hood, “at times resorted to alcohol and laudanum, a derivative of opium” (p. 18).

The Steve Davis, B&G article under discussion is online here: http://johnbellhood.org/davis.htm . And yes, S. Hood does list Miller in his bibliography.

Thanks for the comment, Robert. Nice to see that Hood does not ignore Miller even if his publisher does for the purposes of marketing.

I sit here with bated breath, waiting to see what sort of anti-intellectual response this posting will elicit from Mr. Savas.

Kevin, I recently acquired Stephen Hood’s book and it is high on my “to read” pile. A quick glance shows he references both Miller and Davis, though it’s not the Blue & Gray article but rather an essay in Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol 3, edited by Lawrence Hewitt and the late Art Bergeron.

Thanks, Al. Two other readers also mentioned that Hood listed it in his bibliography. That’s good to know, but it leaves one wondering how Savas can make the kinds of claims about this book with a straight face.

I think that’s marketing. I’m not going to hold Stephen Hood responsible for any outlandish claims made by Ted Savas. I’ll let the book speak for itself.

Okay, so I’ve read a lot of the comments over the last few weeks here on the Hood book that allege that Mr. Savas is carrying out this battle with Kevin and others as part of a marketing scheme. I don’t know Mr. Savas, so I was wondering if folks believe that this plan was set before Kevin ever wrote his first blog on the blub, or if you it was done opportunistically? In other words, in your opinion did Savas intend to provoke some bad bloggage and then engage in a war of words, or did he just seize the opportunity presented by Kevin’s blog.

Pat,

For the record, I have never insinuated anything along the lines that you are suggesting. I certainly don’t believe that I am engaged in a “battle” with Ted Savas or that he intended to provoke me specifically. That said, I do believe that Ted is taking advantage of the controversy surrounding the book that he himself has helped to promote.

I had a private conversation w/ Ted about the other book that came out at about the same time (by Varney, about Grant). My objection was to some of the way the Amazon blurb was phrased. Ted was very gracious about my objections, and kinda shrugged his shoulders (metaphorically) about the blurb, almost—but not quite—saying that you had to oversell to market books theses days.

…saying that you had to oversell to market books theses days.

Ted, pretty much said the same thing in the comments section of a previous post. I completely understand it from a marketing perspective. My problem is that the rhetoric he utilizes is incredibly mean spirited, especially in the case of the Hood book.

I read the chapter that Savas provided online and wasn’t so impressed. The footnotes are incredibly sparse considering that it’s suppose to be a commentary on the historiography. At times Hood offers very little analysis of the arguments he is changing, which creates a strawman situation. Some of the counter-arguments are interesting, but are not necessarily a game changer. Overall, much of what I read is the kind of thing that ought to be reserved for footnotes as opposed to constituting the body of a book. That’s just my take on the one chapter that I read.

Kevin, I said that folks have discussed that in the comments. I have never seen you suggest it, and since I don’t know Mr. Savas I have not suggested it either.

I read her review very carefully. I think she makes some excellent points, especially regarding the use of the letters, but I also think she misinterprets what Stephen Hood was doing and the timeline regarding the book and letters. I believe the letters came to light just as the book was going to press, and they delayed it long enough for Stephen to read through most of them and incorporate some of them into the manuscript. Also, while I think she’s spot on if this were a standard biography, I don’t believe Hood’s purpose was to write a standard biography. I don’t think he dislikes those historians so much as he dislikes what he regards as their shoddy methodology. I think he makes a strong case that Hood has not been treated fairly, and I think Dr. Emberton overestimates the effect Miller’s book has had. One can still find plenty of historians with an overly negative view of Hood, for example, that has been highly influenced by Horn and the others. Stephen Hood is very open that this was not meant to be a balanced biography but rather was intended from the start to point out where the preferred narrative has been affected by what he considers to be shoddy research and poor handling of the evidence.

I think she identifies at least two very interesting lines for further inquiry that someone could follow to improve not only the Hood historiography but also lead to a wider understanding of wounded soldiers, but that’s not the book that Stephen Hood was writing, and I’m not sure it’s fair to take him to task for not writing the book that others would like to see written.

Especially with the newly discovered letters, her review highlights that we still need a new biography of Hood that takes this cache into account and explores some new ground with him. That’s not the book Stephen Hood intended to write at this time, though. Hopefully someone will take on that task.

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