Sunday, July 05, 2009

Hoodistas go off the deep end

I noticed in the last issue of Civil War News that a group of John Bell Hood worshipers, the John Bell Hood Historical Society, actually took an ad out to denounce historian and author Wiley Sword. Why? The reason given in the attack ad is because Sword called Hood's memoirs inaccurate and unreliable.

Hmmm. As the kids say, "duh!" Where have these people been? One of the first things any earnest student of the war discovers is that Hood's autobiography is a self-serving, wildly distorted rewriting of history meant to exonerate himself at the expense of others, mainly at the expense of General Joe Johnston. It is one of those primary sources so compromised by inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and tortured rationalizations, that competent historians would never consider citing it to substantiate any assertion that wasn't already thoroughly corroborated elsewhere.

To the members of the John Bell Hood Historical Society, those aren't just fighting words, they are part of an "unholy Jihad." To wit, quoting from the web site devoted to attacking Mr. Sword, "As Sword did in his acclaimed 1991 book, Embrace an Angry Wind: The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, in his latest effort he engages in an unholy Jihad against Gen. Hood, filtering from historical records any and all documented evidence that does not support his biased, agenda-based premise."

I'm no expert on radical Islam, but wouldn't an "unholy jihad" translate to an "unholy holy war"? Is it fair for me to refer to the members of a "historical society" as "worshippers"? Yes, when they respond to perceived criticism of their hero with words like "desecration" and "unholy."

But there are any number of things the Hoodites object to in at the two Sword titles mentioned above. They don't like Sword's comment that Hood was ambitious. Aren't all officers ambitious, they ask disingenuously, seemingly oblivious to Hood's shameless power grab before Atlanta, seeking to discredit Johnston and to get Hardee passed over for promotion.

Likewise, they take Sword to task for such egregious assertions as, “. . .young Hood struggled with the academic curriculum [at West Point], winding up forty-fourth in his class of fifty-two upon graduation in 1853.” Now what, you may ask, is the objection? The Hoodites think it unfair of Sword not to have mentioned that Hood's class originally had 93 cadets, and that 41 of them dropped out. Some representative of the historical society writes, "It would be more fair and accurate to view Hood as ranked 44th out of 93 original cadets in his class." Nevermind that the 41 drop-outs are not part of Hood's graduating class. They don't rank non-graduating cadets. What would be the point of that? How ridiculous that the Hoodites feel they must add 41 to the rolls in order to mitigate Hood's pedestrian academic record.

The "Sword Exposed" website is a long exercise in nit-picking, rationalization, and selective highlighting of comments from contemporaries that compliment Hood. For example, the site challenges Sword's assertion that Hood's "decision to sacrifice the lives of so many in an unlikely military gambit was condemned as ‘murder’ by some of his men.” To counter that, the site admits that some men did feel that way, and then quotes Sam Watkins from Co Aytch: ". . .We all loved Hood, he was such a clever fellow, and a good man. . . Poor fellow, I loved him, not as a general, but as a good man. . ." So where's the contradiction? If anything, Watkins is validating the notion that the men did not consider Hood a great general.

It's one thing to take issue with a historian's work. By all means, put up a web page and point out your problems with it. There's nothing wrong with hard-hitting book reviews, as long as they are honest, substantiated critiques, but acting as apologist destroys credibility. For a self-described historical society to take out an ad in response to "desecration"disagreements with an authoris just embarrassing. Sort of in the same way that Hood's book, Advance and Retreat, is an embarrassing entry in the realm of Civil War memoirs. At least Hood's book generated proceeds which helped care for his 11 orphans, and that is a positive good. Conversely, what's the value of a historical society that engages in character assassination against Civil War historians?


James F. Epperson said...

Careful, David! They'll come after you, next ;-)

Anonymous said...

Don't give the fans of George H. Thomas any ideas.

dw said...

Jim -- that did cross my mind. If necessary, I'll try to think of some way to blame it on Kevin Levin.

Kevin said...


Get in line. This is truly amazing. I am definitely going to link to it later today.

Eric Wittenberg said...


The leader of this organization is a fellow named Sam Hood, who is a collateral descendant of the general. I actually know Sam personally and can vouch for the fact that he's a good guy. Sam is quite dedicated to the rehabilitation of his ancestor's historical reputation, and he really takes a great deal of issue with Wiley Sword's portrayal of Hood conduct during the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, including the idea that Hood was a laudanum addict. Sam is very sincere about what he believes and what he does, and I respect that.

Having said that, I'm not sure that taking out an ad in a national publication announcing that you're attacking someone is an especially wise thing to do. I also know Wiley Sword, and wouldn't be surprised if Wiley didn't take steps to respond.

This could well turn ugly.


dw said...

Thanks for the input, Eric. Your comments do serve to humanize one of the principal people behind the organization. I'm sure he feels he's defending his ancestor's honor, but his public attack on Sword will have more negative effects than positive.

Unfortunately, he personalized it (and if his name is Hood, I suppose it's hard for him not to), and some of the points in his argument were just silly (like defending Hood's class rank by adding cadets who never finished).

It will be interesting to see if Sword responds forcefully, or chooses to ignore it (I would recommend that latter).


M Hightower said...

I think the Hoodistas' article is very informative and thus educational. I can get past the tone.

It's clear from the article and from the new book "For Cause and For Country" that Wiley Sword errs and conceals much. I want to know if an author does this before I spend $30 on his books.

I think the article is not as rough on Sword as Sword is on Gen Hood. Sword hides his bias, the Hoodistas are open about theirs.

Sword shouldn't be beyond criticism, especially when he deserves it. Seems the Hoodites are being held to a higher standard than Sword when Sword sells books and collects speaking fees while the Hoodies apparently want nothing than to give the other side of the story.

PS: Why is the article criticized for "nitpicking" Sword when the blog author nitpicks the article (the part about Hood's class rank at West Point) and the technical meaning of the term "Unholy Jihad." Seems there is a lot of nitpicking going on.

Kygirl said...

I read Wiley Sword's first book "Embrace an Angry Wind: The Confederacy's Last Hurrah" and was persuaded that Hood was a villain.
I read the SwordExposed article and was persuaded that Mr Sword has been very misleading in his portrayals of Hood.I have not read "Courage Under Fire" because I will not buy it and give Mr Sword my money.

I have no problem with anyone giving another side to a story, especially if it "exposes" misconduct by an author.

Thanks to the Hood Society, and the Pickett Society, Longstreet Society and Cleburne Society. They keep professional writers and historians honest.

Naim Peress said...

This historical society can rationalize all it wants. John Bell Hood's reputation will never survive the Battle of Franklin.

dw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dw said...

M. Hightower: thanks for the comments, and the measured tone. I agree the article is interesting, but for those parts of it that overreach and substitute emotion for substance.

Sword is not above criticism. All historians are subject to critical scrutiny. My objections stem first from the fact that the Society took out an advertisement to engage in what is really just base character assassination. The ad refers you to an article that continues the attack in the same vein (as if speaking harshly of Hood's generalship amounts to sacrilege).

The article at the web site DOES nitpick. It also disingenuously takes harmless sentences from Sword and presents them as insults. The author of the article was indignant that Sword called Hood ambitious.

My focus on the class rank complaint was not nitpicking. It was an example of why the apologist article is so bizarre. The Society author wanted to sugarcoat Hood's class ranking by ADDING 40-some people to Hood's graduating class. Don't you see how absurd that is?

Anonymous Kygirl: thanks for admitting that you're apparently persuaded by everything you read, so that the sequence in which you read things determines your final opinion. No one objects to hearing "another side to a story." That's a silly straw man argument. It's ALL about substantiation. People mount an argument and support it with documentation.

Your Sword critic does not keep writers and historians honest. Rather, he elevates Sword's position by making his detractors seem more interested in defending an image of Hood at the expense of objective analysis.