Winston Groom focuses on Confederate General John Bell Hood's decisive actions in the western theater of operations during the final moments of the Civil War. The rich narrative takes us on a journey through the ravaged South to the once-vibrant city of Nashville, where General Hood makes a last, futile attempt to preserve the Confederacy.
Shrouds of Glory brings the reader into the general's tent, where Grant, Sherman, Lee, and others plot out their often unorthodox strategies for winning the war. At its center is the courageous but reckless Hood, prematurely thrust into the spotlight by a combination of destiny and fate. We witness the unlikely rise of this young Confederate, who graduated 44th out of a class of 52 at West Point, as he overcomes a nearly fatal amputation of his shattered leg and eventually devises a strategy to turn the tide of the war. From the fall of Atlanta, during which Hood assumed command, to the eventual decimation of his troops on the outskirts of Nashville, Groom presents Gen Hood and his nemesesUnion generals Sherman, Schofield, and Thomason their bizarre cat-and-mouse chase through Georgia and Tennessee to the horrors of the heroic charge at Franklin, where five Confederate generals died and the great Confederate army of of Tennessee marched into legend.
Weaving eyewitness accounts, journal entries, military communiques, and newspaper headlines with his own straightforward narrative style, Groom constructs a meticulous and atmospheric re-creation of the war especially the charged battlefields where general and foot soldier alike were thrown into the fray. Groom paints vivid portraits of the major players in the conflict, revealing the character, the faults, the emotions, and most of all the doubts that molded the course of the war.
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About the Author
Winston Groom is the author of eleven books, including Forrest Gump, Better Times Than These, As Summers Die, and the prize-winning Civil War history Shrouds of Glory. He served in the Vietnam War as a lieutenant with the Fourth Infantry Division. His non-fiction book, Conversations With the Enemy was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
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A Midsummer's Change
In the midnight mists on a red clay hill in northwest Georgia on May 11, 1864, a bizarre, almost Druid-like ceremony took place. There, in a candlelit tent, a man was baptized. It was unusual for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that at that moment in the hills and valleys around them, more than one hundred fifty thousand armed men slept fitfully, awaiting the dawn that would open the final and perhaps bitterest campaign of the American Civil War.
The man doing the baptizing was Leonidas Polk, the fifty-eightyear-old Episcopal bishop of the state of Louisiana, who also served his Lord as an infantry corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, the main Confederate battle force in the western theater of the war. The candidate for confirmation into the church was also a lieutenant general, John Bell Hood, a gigantic young Kentuckian who, at thirty-three, was among the second generation of Confederate leaders to bear the weight of the national madness that had already cost more than half a million dead and nearly wrecked the fabric of American society. Using a horse water bucket and a tin washpan, Bishop-General Polk began to administer the solemn rites to his fellow general. When it proved awkward for Hood to kneel because of the horrible mutilations inflicted on him at Gettysburg, where his arm was mangled, and at Chickamauga, where just ten months earlier his leg was amputated at the hip, Bishop-General Polk gently suggested to the youthful and still handsome general that he remain in his chair. But struggling for his crutches, Hood declared that if he could not kneel, he could at least stand and, with the blue battle-light still flashing in his eyes, got to his feet to be received into the church.
Why Hood wished to be baptized at this odd juncture is not recorded. It might have been the wave of revivalism that had recently swept the Confederate winter quarters in those cold hills near the Tennessee border. Or it could have had something to do with Hood's volatile love affair with a beautiful young socialite from South Carolina and the embarrassment of being unable to take communion with her in her church. Then again, it may have been some premonition or omen Hood had seen or felt, warning him of his destiny and telling him to get right with his God. In any event, within two months, grave changes were in store for the participants in this midnight baptismal rite. General Polk would be dead, blown nearly in half by a Union cannonball, and Hood, the young Christian soldier, would be poised to march the Army of Tennessee and, indeed, the Southern Confederacy itself, into the battles of Atlanta and Nashville and on into oblivion.
In spite of a disheartening string of military reversals during 1863, the Confederacy was not yet washed up, as some supposed. To be sure, its losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and Robert E. Lee's bitter and bloody Forty Days retreat through Virginia to the Richmond-Petersburg salient were crippling. And now, with William Tecumseh Sherman's Union army bracing to rattle the gates of Atlanta, a darkness was spreading across the South that foretold of "miserable anxiety."
But in the North, many did not see it that way at all. In fact, many Northerners actually feared they were losing the war and wished to be rid of it.
In those grim days of spring and summer, a maelstrom of public and political discontent swirled over much of the United States. There were threats of a renewal of the vicious draft riots of the previous summer that left hundreds dead in New York. The price of gold had soared to an incredible $250 an ounce, reflecting an ominous lack of public confidence in the U.S. government. From the Midwest wafted unsettling rumors of something called the Order of American Knights, alleged to be a pro-Southern quarter-million-man clandestine group promising to overthrow the government. Many were so weary of the war and the mounting casualty lists and a wallowing economy it seemed nearly plausible that the South could succeed in freeing itself from the Union politically where it had so far failed militarily. Horace Greeley, the sanguinary editor of the New York Tribune, wrote that nine-tenths of all Americans were "anxious for peace — peace on almost any terms — and utterly sick of human slaughter and devastation." Predicting that President Abraham Lincoln would be defeated in the elections that fall, Greeley railed, "We must have another ticket to save us from utter overthrow." Not that the newspaperman wished to capitulate the Union and give up — in fact, he was calling for a sterner leader than Lincoln — but his articles summed up much of the mood of the North.
Lincoln himself was dodging fire not only from the opposition Democrats but also from prominent members of his own Republican party. At a cabinet meeting August 23, 1864, Lincoln wrote forlornly: "This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward." The despondent president had each cabinet member sign the back of the note as a witness, and he put it away for future use, if necessary.
For their part, the Democrats nominated as president former general in chief George B. ("Little Mac") McClellan, who had been fired by Lincoln not once but twice for getting whipped by Robert E. Lee. McClellan had expressed himself as being against the abolition of slavery and was considered to be a man who would treat with the South for peace. In fact, Lincoln had drafted a confidential document, in his "own peculiar style," so he said, proposing that a "peace commission" be appointed to see if the Confederates would agree to a restoration of the Union, with or without slavery — and this after issuing his Emancipation Proclamation. Though nothing came of the peace commission, its very concept surely indicated the depths of the government's despair over the course of the war.
Naturally, all this — at least what could be known of it — was being followed with great zeal in the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. The leaders of that beleaguered cause probably read into it more than was there — after all, much of the Confederate intelligence respecting the Northern mood came from reading northern newspapers. But practically everybody south of the Mason-Dixon Line realized that a Confederate victory, an important one, was necessary somewhere soon if Lincoln and the war-stubborn Republicans were to be swept out of office. The man ultimately chosen to give them that victory was none other than the newly confirmed Episcopalian, John Bell Hood.
By the early spring of 1864 the military situation between the two warring powers had boiled down to a bloody stalemate. In the eastern theater — principally in Virginia — Ulysses S. Grant, latest of five generals in chief of the Union forces, had, by a series of crablike turning movements, forced Confederate general Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia from its entrenchments near Fredericksburg — some fifty miles from the capital at Washington — and into a defensive perimeter around Richmond and Petersburg. But those Forty Days, as the battles would come to be known, were costly for Grant in the extreme — not so much for the fifty-four thousand casualties he sustained; with a one-hundred-fifty-thousand-man army he could afford that — but rather because of the mounting horror and dissatisfaction in the North when the casualty lists began coming in. Most earlier Civil War battles had been fought as one-or two-day affairs — Bull Run, Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and so on — fangslashing dog fights in which the stronger dog quickly established himself and the loser ran off to fight another day. But Grant's spring offensive introduced a new kind of war, a grinding nightmare of armed embrace in which the victorious dog never turns loose of his victim, but pursues him relentlessly, attacking whenever he can.
But Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was not finished yet. His forces were still intact, and Lee, even in retreat, was a cunning commander who picked and chose his battlefields shrewdly, making Grant pay for every inch of his new strategy. Cold Harbor, for example, cost Grant seven thousand men in a charge that lasted less than an hour. The new commander in chief of the U.S. armies was earning a reputation in certain quarters on both sides as a "butcher" or "murderer" rather than a general. Grant "had such a low idea of the contest," bawled one editor, "that he proposed to decide it by a mere competition in the sacrifice of human life." Deserved or undeserved as such sobriquets might have been, the fact was that the North was becoming war wearier by the day, prompting even such stalwart Unionists as Charles Francis Adams, Jr., son of the U.S. ambassador to England, to complain that while he felt confidence in the federal government's ultimate ability to crush the Confederacy, "For all I can see, we must go floundering on indefinitely through torrents of blood and unfathomable bankruptcy."
Anyway, that was back east. On the other major battlefield of the war, the western theater, things were looking somewhat rosier for the Union cause. Unlike the eastern theater, where fighting was confined mainly to Virginia, the western theater was a huge expanse of territory bounded on the west by the Mississippi River all the way from New Orleans nearly to St. Louis and stretching eastward to the Atlantic states — more than three hundred thousand square miles, much of it wilderness or farmland, badly connected by roads or rail tracks. Union strategy in this vast department was to strangle the Confederacy by blockading its southern ports and force the capture of the Mississippi, and at the same time to chew up Southern armies state by state. By midsummer, 1863, the Mississippi River had been retaken, and federal armies had pushed Confederate forces out of Kentucky and most of Tennessee. But in autumn of that year, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, then under General Braxton Bragg, won its first significant victory of the war by routing the Union army at Chickamauga, in north Georgia, and advancing back into Tennessee near Chattanooga. However, by winter of 1864, the Union army had shoved the Confederates out again in the battle of Missionary Ridge, and so the two hostile armies faced each other near the Georgia-Tennessee line, waiting for spring and a new offensive. From the halls of the U.S. capitol in Washington to the drawing rooms of Richmond and Charleston, those who had studied the war knew the next moves would probably spell the end of the conflict, one way or the other. And so did many in the two opposing forces, including the newly baptized general, John Bell Hood.
By this stage of the war, both Northern and Southern armies had become highly modernized in technology and refined in tactics and strategy. Both relied heavily on the telegraph, steamboats, and railroads for communication and transportation, although by mid-1864 the Confederacy had been depleted of many of those valuable tools. Still, the South's practice of destroying Union-used rails, boats, and wires had evened things up to some extent.
At a first glance, the federal armies would appear to be much superior to the ragtag Confederates. Northern manufacturies had been churning out mountains of supplies ever since the war began — everything from uniforms to weapons to such accoutrements as saddlebags, frying pans, haversacks, shoes and boots, razors, wagons, ambulances, medical supplies, and field glasses — all the things that keep an army on the move. The Confederacy, on the other hand, had fewer and fewer of such manufacturies as the war progressed, less and less of necessary raw materials, and, owing to the Union blockade of its ports, even scantier ways to purchase them from abroad, now that its vast wealth of cotton lay rotting on its docks.
But until just before the end of the war, the Southerners made do. In its victories in the early years, the Confederates — especially the cavalry — captured vast stores of federal equipment, which they turned to their own use. In the east, Lee's army somehow managed to keep many of its soldiers in "Confederate gray" uniforms, but in the west, where the clothing fashion was more relaxed, most enlisted troops dressed in "butternut homespun," rough-weaved clothing dyed a sort of brownish yellow. Many men with captured Union blue overcoats boiled them in bleach and then again in a butternut or grayish dye. Shoes were a major problem, and the ill-shod Southerners often took the boots of dead federal soldiers after battle, as well as anything else they could use. As long as they obeyed the orders of their generals, kept their weapons well served and their battle morale high, these ragamuffins proved that uniforms do not make soldiers.
Except for manpower — in which the federals enjoyed a large advantage — the armies were about evenly matched. Confederate esprit tended to offset federal superiority in numbers and manufacturing. To cope with any disparities, the Confederates evolved a strategy of trying to strike with enough force to surprise, isolate, and destroy crucial segments of the Union armies and then exploit the ensuing confusion and panic into victory. Stonewall Jackson wrote the book on this technique. Northern armies, on the other hand, had come to rely on their overwhelming numbers to wreck the Confederates' logistics system, then simply grind their armies down by attrition.
By 1864, it had increasingly become the practice of both armies to fight from behind entrenchments. After the first year or so of the war, troops concluded that entrenchments were rarely taken by assault, and that the attackers as opposed to the defenders usually suffered horrible casualties. Fredericksburg was a classic example of this; the assaulting federal army suffered nearly eleven thousand casualties, compared to less than half that for the defending Confederates. In Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, the reverse was true, with the Confederates being slaughtered. Still, the Confederate practice was almost always to assume the offensive, and the South bled itself nearly dry on this policy.
Most Confederate leaders still relied on the Napoleonic strategy of massed forces, rapid movements, and attacking the enemy. This offensive policy worked well enough in the first half of the war, for a number of reasons. First, the Southern soldier was more apt to be willing to face the greater danger of assault because he was fighting for his family's very home and hearth, repelling what he considered to be an invasion of his sovereign country. He was also likely to be more experienced in shooting, horsemanship, and other arts of war. Furthermore, he believed his cause was just — that his people had the right to form their own government and be let alone by the North. Union soldiers often had vaguer motives to drive them and frequently disagreed among themselves on the merits of those motives — restoration of the Union, abolition of slavery, for example.
In fact, in what were then considered western states of the Union — Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota — there was a large body of public opinion very much opposed to the war, and it carried over to the sons who were fighting it. These westerners resented the powerful influence of the New England states — which they charged had started the war in the first place with their strident anti-slavery rhetoric. These westerners were further disenchanted by the hardships the war had placed upon their lives — in particular, the inability to use the Mississippi River to transport their crops and the concomitant price gouging by the Northern railways, most of which were owned by northeasterners — principally New Englanders. These feelings became so intense that by 1864 there was serious talk of a "western Confederacy" seceding from the Union, which would have fragmented the United States, instead of just splitting it. In any case, all these factors were very important in the individual soldiers' lives, because, other things being even — or relatively even — in an infantry attack, where every second could be deadly, morale was always a critical element.
Identifications of Union and Confederate armies can be confusing, and were so at the time. Union armies were generally named after bodies of water — rivers mostly — thus, Army of the Ohio, Army of the Potomac, Army of the Cumberland, and Army of the Tennessee. Confederates named their armies after geographic terrain: Army of Northern Virginia, Army of Tennessee, for example. In these armies, the tactics of assault were formalized. Most times, a line of skirmishers was sent forward to "feel" the enemy positions and quickly retire to the main line when they encountered a large force. The main attack was carried out by a line of divisions abreast, the brigades of which were marched two deep toward a focal point in the enemy line. Regiments and companies in the brigades were also marched two deep, with "file closers" — lieutenants and sergeants — in the rear to prevent straggling. Rarely was an entire army thrown into the attack at one time; it was simply too unwieldy to control. A corps, consisting of perhaps fifteen to twenty thousand men in a line of battle about a half mile to a mile wide, was about the largest force that could be managed in a single assault.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Shrouds of Glory"
Copyright © 1995 Winston Groom.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Midsummer's Change,
2. I Will Go On While I Can,
3. Crazy Like a Fox,
4. This Army Is Going to Do Something Wrong,
5. If You Want It, Come and Take It,
6. They Must Be Killed,
7. To Conquer the Peace,
8. Go On As You Propose,
9. It Is Almost Worth Dying,
10. The Best Move Come to Naught,
11. Franklin, Tennessee,
12. Seeing the Elephant,
13. An Indescribable Fury,
14. All Those Dead Heroes,
15. Nashville, Tennessee,
16. Like a Lot of Beasts,
17. Didn't I Tell You We Could Lick 'Em?,
18. A River of Fire,
19. Black Care Was the Outrider,
Bibliographical Note on Sources,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Winston Groom’s first military history effort is promising. The Atlanta-Nashville campaign had its quota of drama and tragedy and John Bell Hood was a lightning rod for controversy. Groom uses his novelist’s eye to give them full play. He seems more sympathetic to Hood than most writers. As I read the book I felt his jumps back and forth in time were distracting and I detected some factual errors that I felt made it only a 3 star effort. Overall, though, this is a good debut and I plan to read more of Groom’s military histories. Those who want more authoritative accounts of the Tennessee invasion might want to check out Five Tragic Hours by James McDonough and Thomas Connelly or The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword.
Winston Groom is at his best! Every detail of the personalities,events and story is here for the reading.
in a voice reminiscent of Shelby Foot and Shaara, Père et fils, Groom carries us along a terrible journey from Tennessee to Atlanta and back to Nashville. Groom's writing is free of excuses and overstatements, so often found in memoirs. I found it hard to put this book down. Since reading this history I have added all Groom's was books to my NOOK library. Thinking of Groom as a novelist, I admit to being skeptical about accuracy before buying "Shrouds of Glory". Well, Foote was a creative writing teacher; it seems "creative writer" and "novelist" perfectly combine to make "readable history".
Groom's exploration of Hood's march into Tennessee of 1864 is a fair, but not good, analysis of the last major offensive operation by the Confederate army in the western theater. The reader is initially bogged-down in an excessive summary of prior battles of the Civil War. The author spends too much time reviewing Vicksburg, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville (where neither Sherman nor Hood were involved), etc., with more time spent in this background than is necessary to 'set the stage' for the main topic. There also exists some editing failures such as at the beginning of Chapter 10, describing Stephen Lee's artillery being 4 miles to the east of Hood's pontoon bridge, where actually Hood's flanking force was itself east of Columbia with S. Lee's artillery facing the town. Groom also spends a rather tiresome interlude describing Hood's quest for the hand of an indecisive flirt in Richmond (Buck Preston). The tangible effects of this courtship on, and its contribution to, the Nashville Campaign of 1864, I have yet to surmise. Groom in a number of places in the book pursues a literary style invoking 'flashbacks' to prior events while describing the current topic that, while adding color to a fictional novel, serves to confuse and needlessly distract a history reader's attention to detail. The Nashville Campaign of 1864 is a story that needs telling, but would be better told by an experienced history author.
At last a historical expansion on the personal letters written by my great grandfather, William Schadt, as a soldier in Hood's brigade.
After being dragged through a host of previous battles, the reader is finally subjected to a revisionist reconstruction of the incompetent John Bell Hood. Hood, an ally of the equally incompetent Braxton Bragg, was responsible for the destruction of the once proud CS Army of Tennessee, squandering officers superior to him in ability and intellect and slaughtering brave veteran troops who deserved so much better than Hood could have possibly ever offered them. Do not waste your time (or your money) on this revisionist tripe.