Apr 24, 201710:51 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
One Man's War
The Saga of John Bell Hood
General John Bell Hood
Library of Congress / civilwar.org
Like many other out of work confederate officers John Bell Hood came to New Orleans after the Civil War hoping to find a future. The recent past had been tough. Early in the war, the Kentucky native had been regarded as one of the Confederacy’s best commanders, but tragic defeats under his command at Atlanta and Franklin (near Nashville) had sullied his reputation. The war had taken a physical, as well as mental toll. He lost a leg and the use of one arm.
In 1868 he met and (to her father’s chagrin) married Anna Marie Hennen, a New Orleans woman of some wealth and social standing who was smitten to be marrying a general. Over the next decade the couple had 11 children, including three sets of twins. They settled in a fine house that still stands, on the corner of Camp and 3rd streets in the Garden District. [Across the street lived the Mussons, a French family who in 1872, having moved to Esplanade Avenue, had Edgar Degas as their houseguest.] There wasn’t much need for soldiering in post-war New Orleans. Native general P.G.T. Beauregard found work heading up the local lottery. Hood became involved in a cotton brokerage and insurance business. He had some early success, but faced his own financial Appomattox in the winter of 1879 after a yellow fever epidemic forced the Cotton Exchange to close and depleted every insurance company in town. That summer there would be a smaller yellow fever outbreak that would take only eight people citywide, unfortunately three of the victims were in the Hood household – including his wife, oldest child and then, on Aug. 30, the general himself.
Originally, the parents and child were buried in Lafayette Cemetery, near the present site of Commander’s Palace. Later, the Hoods were interred forever in the Hennen family tomb in Metairie Cemetery.
Left behind were certain legacies including the ten orphaned Hood children. What to do with them became a national cause headed up by General Beauregard. Failing to find a single family to take them all, the children were gradually dispersed to different homes across the country. Another legacy was the general's name. At his prime during the war he headed the Confederacy’s Texas Brigade. In what has to be perceived as an act of national benevolence, a U.S. Army base in Texas was named after the general who once fought against the American flag. Like the namesake general himself, Fort Hood, the site of a mass shooting in 2009, would become a symbol of triumph and tragedy.
SEPTEMBER 2005: Flood ravaged New Orleans was facing its worst crisis since the yellow fever outbreaks. Robert Hicks, an author specializing in novels based on the Civil War was on a signing tour to promote “Widow of the South,” a book based on the battle of Franklin, Tennessee where Hood faced a devastating defeat. By the time Hicks’ tour reached New Orleans, he saw a city in no mood for book signings. Instead, the author becomes transfixed with the city’s plight and decided to do what authors do best, write another book.
Drawing from his knowledge of John Bell Hood, Hicks saw Katrina-like parallels of man vs. disaster. In Hicks’ novel, Hood spent his last days trying to embellish his war record, in effect facing his own recovery. The book was called “A Separate Country” partially, Hicks explained, because the New Orleans experience was a separate country for Hood.
Hicks’ work was certainly a novelty, a “Katrina-inspired” book set during Reconstruction and based on a Confederate general.
There is no moral to this story; no pointed connection to the current monument controversy. It is just an example, among many, of a person caught in the swirl of history.
Then, as now, New Orleans is a city of charm and challenges, one with possible battle lines behind every levee.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.