Last night I spent some time browsing Civil War titles on Amazon to redeem my book credit from last quarter. As always, thanks to those of you who purchase items on Amazon through my affiliate links. During my search I happened upon this forthcoming biography about John Bell Hood by Stephen Hood, who is apparently a distant relative. I recently learned of a new collection of personal letters and other documents about Hood that were discovered, but have been kept under close wrap by Stephen Hood. Given this development I decided to click the link for more information. I was immediately struck by the description, which I assume will appear on the dust jacket.
Outlived by most of his critics, Hood’s published version of the major events and controversies of his Confederate military career met with scorn and skepticism. Many described his memoirs as nothing more than a polemic against his arch-rival Joseph E. Johnston. These unflattering opinions persisted throughout the decades and reached their nadir in 1992 when an influential author described Hood’s memoirs as “merely a bitter, misleading, and highly distorted treatise” replete with “distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications.” Without any personal papers to contradict them, many historians took full advantage of the opportunity to portray Hood as an inept and dishonest opium addict and a conniving, vindictive cripple of a man. One writer went so far as to brand him “a fool with a license to kill his own men.” Authors misused sources and ignored or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood. Stephen M. “Sam” Hood, a distant relative of the general, embarked on a meticulous forensic study of the common perceptions and controversies of his famous kinsman. His careful use of the original sources of the broadly accepted “facts” about John Bell Hood uncovered startlingly poor scholarship by some of the most well-known and influential historians of the 20th and 21st centuries. These discoveries, coupled with his use of a large cache of recently discovered Hood papers-many penned by generals and other officers who served with General Hood-confirm accounts that originally appeared in Hood’s posthumously published memoir and resolve, for the first time, some of the most controversial aspects of Hood’s long career. “Blindly accepting historical ‘truths’ without vigorous challenge,” cautions one historian, “is a perilous path to understanding real history.” The shocking revelations in John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General will forever change our perceptions of Hood as both a man and general, and those who set out to shape his legacy.
I know in a tough economy publishers must do whatever they can to market new titles so that they stand out from the crowd, but I am not sure I would want to impart such a tone on my book. Is Mr. Hood really going to demonstrate that historians have “misused” and/or “ignored or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood”? It’s also difficult to tell whether some of these nameless historians intentionally distorted Hood’s record or simply came up short because they didn’t have access to these new sources. This just comes off as downright reckless.
John Bell Hood’s name has come up a few times on this site, most notably in connection a few years ago with the John Bell Hood Society, which took out an advertisement at Civil War News attacking Wiley Sword. Stephen Hood is the president of that organization and apparently has some real interpretive disagreements with Sword’s interpretation of John Bell Hood.
Is this the case of an author with too much of a personal investment in his subject? We shall see.