John Bell Hood, commanding general of the Army of Tennessee, was born June 1, 1831, at Owingsville, Kentucky. The son of a physician-planter, Hood grew up in the comfortable life his family's position offered. After private schooling, Hood's congressman uncle secured him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. While at the academy, Hood accumulated 374 demerits, 196 in his senior year alone, suggesting an early lack of responsibility and command.
Following his 1853 graduation, Hood served with the Fourth Infantry Regiment in California. In 1855, he was reassigned to a new cavalry regiment, the Second Cavalry, being organized at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The unit owed its distinction to the officers associated with it in the 1850s. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston commanded; Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee served as second in command; and William J. Hardee and George H. Thomas were majors in the new regiment. The Second Cavalry marched to Texas and served there until sectional differences led to the Civil War.
In 1861 Hood requested and received an eight-week furlough. From his home in Kentucky, Hood resigned his commission; three days later, on April 20, 1861, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant of cavalry in the Confederate army.
Hood's fighting reputation followed him into the Confederate ranks and served him well. By the early spring of 1862, he had risen to the rank of general and commanded a brigade of Texans in the Army of Northern Virginia. After seven months, he received a promotion to major general. Hood performed well as a division commander, and Robert E. Lee trusted his judgment. He exhibited a tenacity on the battlefield that enhanced his reputation as a hard fighter. Under the watchful eye of his corps commander, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Hood delivered the battlefield punch when needed. Longstreet recognized Hood's limitations, however, and always halted the general's impetuous advance before he overextended his line. This command and control system worked well for the Army of Northern Virginia as long as Hood served under Longstreet and Lee.
Hood received two life-threatening wounds. The first came at Gettysburg, when an artillery shell left him without the use of his left arm. During Hood's convalescence in Richmond, Confederate authorities sent Longstreet's corps to northern Georgia to assist General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee in halting the Union advance through Middle Tennessee. Hood, recovering from his wound, accompanied the division into Georgia.
On September 18, 1863, Longstreet's corps reached the banks of Chickamauga Creek. The next day, as Hood rode forward, a minie ball pierced the upper portion of his right thigh. Doctors amputated his leg just below the hip. In less than seven weeks, Hood lost the use of one arm and underwent the amputation of his leg. The injuries entitled him to a medical discharge, but Hood remained in the army and received a promotion to corps commander in the Army of Tennessee on February 1, 1864.
Throughout the summer of 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Army of Tennessee, conducted a campaign to slow the advance of General William T. Sherman's march to Atlanta. Disgusted with Johnston's inability to stop Sherman's progress, President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with Hood.
In July 1864, when Hood assumed command of the Army of Tennessee, he had more than 50,000 soldiers. By November, battle casualties reduced the number to less than 30,000. The worst was yet to come. Hood's campaign through Middle Tennessee in the early winter of 1864 reduced the Army of Tennessee by another 13,500 men. The army accumulated 7,000 casualties assaulting the Union's earthworks at Franklin. Two weeks later, on the outskirts of Nashville, the Confederate army lost another 6,500 men in a vain attempt to defeat a Union army three times its size. By Christmas 1864, the Army of Tennessee had been reduced to a mob of armed men.
In January 1865 Hood requested to be relieved of command. He died in New Orleans of yellow fever in 1879.