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 author—is 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?