Besides General Robert E. Lee, at the time of Gettysburg there was no greater celebrity in the Confederate army than Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood. Called "Sam" by his intimates, the magnificent Kentuckian was still a bachelor at thirty-two, over six feet tall and lanky, with a booming, rich voice and a particularly grave face. When he appeared in Richmond, Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut was completely transfixed by him: "When he came with his sad face--the face of an old crusader who believed in his cause, his cross, and his crown--we were not prepared for that type as a beau ideal of wild Texans. He is tall, thin, shy, with blue eyes and light hair, a tawny beard and a vast amount of it covering the lower part of his face. He wars an appearance of awkward strength. Someone said that his great reserve of manner he carried only into the society of ladies." He combed his long blond hair straight back. Combined with his unparalleled record in battle, the whole effect, particularly on the women of Richmond, was electric.

Against the wishes of his father, a doctor who wanted John to follow in his footsteps, he had entered West Point, and graduated an undistinguished 44th out of 53 students in the Class of 1853. He served before the Civil War in frontier Texas with the cavalry unit commanded by Robert E. Lee. Lee became a mentor for the young Hood, a relationship which would be reestablished later when the two fought together in the Army of Northern Virginia. In Texas, Hood established his reputation as a brave, fierce soldier. In an Indian fight in 1857, when an arrow pinned his left hand to his bridle, he broke off the arrowhead and pulled out the shaft by the feathers and continued fighting. He was partially incapacitated by the wound for the next two years.

Hood was serving near the Rio Grande when the Civil War broke out, and when his native Kentucky did not secede, he linked himself with his Texas troops. Sent to the Peninsula defenses, he began as a lowly cavalry lieutenant, but he was rapidly promoted, and by March 1862, when the Army of the Potomac arrived to threaten Richmond, he was a brigadier general at the head of the only brigade of Texans in the Virginia army, a brigade which he had personally drilled and instructed to high efficiency. He achieved his first notice for "conspicuous gallantry" out in front of his men in the skirmish at Eltham's Landing on May 7. At Gaines' Mill on June 27, he led a charge by the Texans that broke the Army of the Potomac's strong line, the most brilliant achievement of the entire Seven Days and one which won them renown as the fiercest combat troops in Lee's army.

After his notable performance on the Peninsula, Hood was given command of a division of two brigades, his own Texans and one other. His men added to their reputation as superior shock troops in August 1862 at Second Manassas. There Hood spearheaded the crushing attack of Maj. Gen. James Longstreet's wing, which nearly destroyed John Pope's Federal army.

In the pursuit of the Federals after that battle, Hood became embroiled in a dispute over captured Yankee ambulances with fellow brigadier Shanks Evans. Corps commander Longstreet side with Evans, and had Hood arrested and ordered him to leave the army, but Lee wisely intervened, and let Hood ride at the rear of the Texans' column during the ensuing Maryland Campaign. As the Yankee army's approach threatened them at South Mountain, the Texans buzzed with resentment at being deprived of their leader, and began to yell, "Give us Hood!" Lee agreed completely, and he raised his hat and told them, "You shall have him, gentlemen!" He brought Hood up from the rear of the column and offered him his command back if he would offer a simple statement of regret. Hood flatly refused. Lee, undaunted, announced that the arrest was suspended while there was fighting to be done, and put the charismatic general back at the head of the division. The Texans gave a great shout and hurried on toward the battle. A few days after that episode, at the height of the bloody fighting in the Cornfield at Sharpsburg, Hood's men were thrown in to stop the Confederate left from being crushed. "It was here that I witnessed the most terrible clash of arms, by far, that has occurred during the war," Hood wrote after the battle. Suffering some of the War's heaviest casualties, his men held and the army survived. After Sharpsburg, Hood's promotion could not be denied--his combat record was unequaled by any in the army--and Jackson recommended him. He was made a major general in October 1862. Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's aide, entered his opinion that the tall, gangly Hood was the "ideal" soldier.

At Fredericksburg in December, Hood's division, now expanded to four brigades, occupied a relatively quiet section of front, losing less that 400 men.

In the spring of 1863, Hood's and Pickett's divisions were detached to the "Suffolk Campaign" in southeastern Virginia, where they languished while Lee and Jackson won a dramatic victory at Chancellorsville against Joe Hooker's army. Every available soldier was called on for the following Gettysburg Campaign, however, and the two divisions were again attached to the Army of Northern Virginia for the war's climactic chapter.

Hood was not a talented administrator. When his division was in bivouac he relaxed and was inclined to be careless--an inspection of the Texas Brigade in November 1862 revealed a dirty camp, with arms in bad order and only a third of its men decently clad. Hood had a positive taste for battle, however, and there he shone as a great leader of men. Venable, of Lee's staff, who had experienced many battles, said he had often heard of the "light of battle shining in a man's eyes," but had seen it only once, when he approached Hood with an order from Lee in the middle of heavy fighting. The man was transfigured. "The fierce light in Hood's eyes I can never forget." Later in the war, Union Maj. Gens. James McPherson and John Schofield, who had been in Hood's class at West Point, summed him up thusly: "Though not deemed much of a scholar, or of great mental capacity, [he] was undoubtedly a brave, determined and rash man."

At the time of Gettysburg, it was the universal opinion in the Confederacy (Richmond society especially) that, of any division commander in the army, the most likely to have a brilliant future was Hood.

At Gettysburg
On July 1, while the men of Hill's and Ewell's corps were fighting the battle on the first day, Hood was with his division (minus Law's brigade, which was detached) in Greenwood, about 17 miles west of Gettysburg, on the west slope of South Mountain. After waiting all day for Ewell's wagons to pass on the lone road toward Gettysburg, Hood's men finally got moving from Greenwood around 4:00 P.M. and trod 13 miles over the mountain, halting at midnight at Marsh Creek, about 3_ miles west of Gettysburg.

Early the next morning, July 2, Hood's division led McLaws's as both approached Gettysburg. They fell out in the fields west of Seminary Ridge near the Chambersburg Pike while Hood went a short distance forward to Lee's headquarters to confer with Lee and others. Lee's plan was for Hood to follow behind McLaws's men in an attack up the Emmitsburg Road toward Gettysburg, driving in the Union left after a two-mile march to the south to get astride the Union flank--a reprise of Chancellorsville. (This was a curious aspect of the plan, placing Hood's hard-driving division behind McLaws's, who were not noted for the potency of their attacks.) Hood's men spent the rest of the morning filing back toward Herr Ridge, then indulging the dawdling Longstreet in a three-hour wait while he fretted and waited for Law's brigade.

At noon Law arrived, and Longstreet's two divisions began what was to be a hidden march toward their jump-off positions. They moved south, along the west side of Herr Ridge, with Hood at the rear of the column with Lee and Longstreet. Shortly after the march started, the column stopped. Evidently the head of the column had come to a place at the Black Horse Tavern where the road was visible to enemy scouts on Little Round Top. McLaws suggested starting over and using a new route, and insisted on keeping his place at the head of the procession. So Hood and his men waited while McLaws's men filed back along the column.

The march began again using the new route, south down Willoughby Run. As he neared the end of the march, Hood sent some of his Texan scouts ahead to locate the enemy flank. It soon became clear that the Union left was not where Lee had said it would be--the Yankee line extended much further south than expected. To adjust to the new situation, Longstreet sent Hood and his men further south, into Biesecker's Woods, and changed the attack plan. Hood's division would now attack first up the Emmitsburg Road, drive in the Yankee left, and assist McLaws's men when they attacked later.

Hood deployed his division in Biesecker's Woods in two lines of two brigades each, one line behind the other. In the front, Law's brigade was on the right, Robertson's Texans on the left. Behind them, Benning's brigade was on the right, with "Tige" Anderson's brigade on the left. Hood's scouts had returned with news that the enemy line ended just north of Little Round Top. With this news, Hood requested a change in the attack order for the first time in his life. He asked Longstreet to be allowed to skirt the enemy left and come in behind the Union defenders. Longstreet refused--Lee's plan would be adhered to. Hood thought the Union position so strong that he asked a second time to be allowed to improvise a move around the enemy left. Again Longstreet refused. A third time Hood asked, and Longstreet's reply was a peremptory demand to attack immediately as ordered. (Afterward, Hood's proposed flank attack would remain one of the great "what ifs" of the battle of Gettysburg.)

Hood rode to his accustomed place in front of the Texas Brigade and gave a short speech, then stood in his stirrups and boomed, "Fix bayonets, my brave Texans; forward and take those heights!" Law's and Robertson's Brigades boiled out of the woods--not north along the Emmitsburg Road as Lee intended, but east toward the Round Tops, on their own initiative. Hood rode forward with Robertson for a short distance and stopped in a peach orchard to watch the progress of his brigades. There, a shell from the Union batteries about 1300 yards to the north exploded above his head, and fragments shredded the entire length of his left arm. Hood reeled in the saddle from the shock, and was lowered to the ground by his aides. He was taken to an ambulance in the Rebel rear and his arm wrapped in bandages. While there, he was so insensible from shock that he did not even notice another shell which exploded almost in his face. The blond giant was out of the battle. Lee would later refer to Hood's wounding as the moment the battle was lost.

Though he lost the use of his arm, Hood's legend was magnified by his Gettysburg wound. In September, when Hood's division passed through Richmond on their way to reinforce Bragg's Amy of Tennessee in the West, Hood joined his troops at the urging of his brigadiers, with his arm in a sling. In the following Battle of Chickamauga, he lost his right leg to a bullet in the thigh. With his mangled body thus hewn by combat, his aura of unbowed ferocity burned at its brightest, as Mary Chesnut attested breathlessly in her diary. Placed at the head of the Army of Tennessee in front of Atlanta in 1864, he finished the war a victim of the Peter Principle. He led that proud army into disaster after disaster, until it was left with only a cadre. Heartbroken after the Battle of Nashville in December 1864, he resigned his commission the next month.

For further reading:
Dyer, John. The Gallant Hood. Indianapolis, 1950
Keenan, Jerry "The Gallant Hood of Texas." America's Civil War, Mar 1994
McMurry, Richard M. John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence. Lexington, KY, 1982
O'Connor, Richard. Hood: Cavalier General. New York, 1949
Polley, Joseph B. Hood's Texas Brigade: Its Marches, Its Battles, Its Achievements. New York, 1910
Simpson, Harold B. Hood's Texas Brigade: Lee's Grenadier Guard. Waco, 1970

Excerpted from "The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle" by Larry Tagg