Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Call of Duty

November 11 is Veteran’s Day, when we honor the men and women who serve in our armed forces, most of whom perform honorably with little fanfare. Some go above and beyond the call of duty.

The son of a Kentucky doctor, John Bell Hood enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1849. He accumulated 196 demerits, 4 short of expulsion, and ranked 44th out of 52 in the class of 1853.

As a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, Hood was assigned to Ft. Scott, California. In October of 1855, he was reassigned to the newly formed elite Second Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Mason, Texas. In a battle at Devil’s River the following summer, his left hand was pierced by a Comanche arrow.

Three days after the outbreak of the Civil War, Hood tendered his resignation from the United States Army, then enlisted in the Confederate Army in Montgomery, Alabama, receiving a commission as a Lieutenant. He was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia where he received rapid promotions.

On March 7, 1862, Hood was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of the renowned Texas Brigade. Under his command, the Texans won important victories at Gaines Mill (called the Seven Days Battles) and Second Manassas. In September of 1862, the Texas Brigade’s heroics saved the Confederate’s left flank at Antietam, prompting his corps commander, General Stonewall Jackson, to promote Hood to Major General.

Under General James Longstreet, Hood was a division commander at Gettysburg where he was severely wounded on July 2, 1863, permanently losing the use of his left arm. In September, after recovering from his wounds, Hood was assigned to the Army of Tennessee. He joined his division as they were positioning for the ensuing Battle of Chickamauga and led them at Brotherton Cabin, breaking through the Federal line, leading to the rout of Union General Rosecran’s Army. During the battle, Hood received another serious wound, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. He was promptly promoted to Lieutenant General by Longstreet.

After recovering from his latest injury, in February of 1864, Hood assumed a corps command in the Army of Tennessee (combined with the Army of Mississippi) under General Johnston. The Confederate troops floundered under Johnston’s cautious leadership in their skirmishes with the Union Army’s advances under Gen. Sherman.

Confederacy President Jefferson Davis promoted Hood to the temporary rank of full General and relieved Johnston of his command on July 17, 1864. Two days later, Hood launched an offensive, called the Battle of Peachtree Creek. On July 21, Union forces launched a howitzer bombardment on Atlanta. Hood countered by attacking Federal troops near Decatur. On July 29, Hood led another assault at Ezra Chruch. In early August, Hood’s cavalry had killed or captured two-thirds of Sherman’s cavalry at Brown’s Mill and Sunshine Church, south of Atlanta. On August 6, Hood’s troops repulsed Union forces at Utoy Creek. But Sherman’s Army was relentless and the fate of Atlanta was sealed. Hood evacuated Atlanta on September 2, 1864.

Hood’s forces retreated into the hills, harassing Sherman’s supply and communications. In November of 1864, Hood suffered a defeat at Franklin, Tennessee. In December, another defeat at Nashville. His shattered forces relocated to northern Mississippi. On January 23, 1865, Hood resigned his command and reverted back to his permanent rank of Lieutenant General. He surrendered to Federal authorities on May 31, 1865.

After the war, Hood became a cotton broker in New Orleans where he married and fathered 11 children, including three sets of twins, over the next ten years. On August 30, 1879, John Bell Hood died of yellow fever. His wife and oldest son also died within days. Destitute from a market collapse, his ten orphaned children were adopted by seven different families in Louisiana, New York, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky.

Above and beyond the call of duty, John Bell Hood went into battle time after time with only one good arm and a missing leg, and fought like hell.

He is memorialized by Fort Hood, Texas.

The war to end all wars officially ended at 11:00 AM on the morning of November 11, 1918. It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month -- 11, 11, 11.

But freedom is not free -- it’s fragile and comes with a price. It requires dedication, perseverance and sacrifice.

On November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim and U.S. Army psychiatrist, opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding scores of others, proving once again that the world remains a dangerous place populated by self-centered, radical, deranged and evil people.

The war to end all wars would later be called World War I, as brave men and women continue to lose life and limb in a never-ending quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On November 11, we honor their dedication and sacrifice.

Quote for the Day -- “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable -- every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle.” Martin Luther King

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and once served in the U.S. Army in 1966-68. His blogs appear on several websites, including

No comments: