Tri-City Ledger -

By Kevin McKinley
Guest Writer 

A tale of southern-fried romance

 

March 26, 2020

Courtesy Photo

Mary Chestnut documented the war in her personal journal

Wars can destroy not just the lives of the people directly involved on the battlefield but the people left on the home front as well. During the War Between the States many loved ones were separated by not only by the geographic distance between them but by death and destruction.

Some of the greatest figures in that war were destined for heartbreak. General John Bell Hood is one example. Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness. Arguably one of the best commanders in the Southern army, Hood became increasingly ineffective as he was promoted to lead larger, independent commands late in the war, and his career was marred by his decisive defeats at Atlanta and in the battles at Franklin and Nashville in late 1864.

His luck was no better in his personal life. Before the war, Hood had fallen in love with Anne Mitchell from Kentucky. She was known as "the belle of Central Kentucky," because of her beauty and grace. Hood's family lived near her family and the young couple would often take long walks in the Hood's garden. It was here that the two fell hopelessly in love with one another.

Yet courtship would have to wait as Hood headed off to West Point. Meanwhile back at home, a new suitor arrived on the scene. Known simply as Mr. Anderson, he promised Anne's family that if they encouraged her to marry him, he would build her a magnificent home on the property near their home so that the daughter would always be near her parents.

Anne's family began a campaign to pressure her to marry Anderson. Eventually she gave in but only on the condition that she be allowed to write a final letter to John Bell Hood and tell him goodbye. The "Dear John" letter was anything but a goodbye letter. She poured out her heart to the young man and told him she "would love him forever." She also said, "in this world or the next, I will only walk the garden path with you."

It was more than Hood could take. He immediately left school. Hood rode hard and fast for the Kentucky line. He managed to get Anne a letter and promised to meet her a few nights later near her home. On that night he had an extra horse ready for her in order to spirit her away to a new life. Unfortunately for the couple, the family had been warned and arrived as Hood was helping her into the saddle.

Confined to her room, she eventually gave in and married Mr. Anderson. Yet she refused to have anything to do with him after their wedding night. Everyone thought that perhaps the birth of her son would bring her around to accepting her new life.

Yet instead, following the child's birth she uttered, "Upon all who had any part in making me marry Anderson when my heart will always belong to John Bell Hood, I pronounce a curse upon you!"

Shortly thereafter, a strange thunderstorm arose. A lightning bolt struck the corner of the Mitchell house and a portion of the brick home collapsed killing three people. Among the dead was Anne, one of her brothers, and a servant who had disclosed her plan to run away. Today it is said that her ghostly apparition still walks the garden of the old Hood estate waiting for John Bell Hood to return.

Yet Hood would not return. Hood moved on to fame and glory in the war. During this time Hood was fighting two wars; one for the Confederacy and one for the affection of a Richmond socialite named Sally "Buck" Preston.

The tall, handsome Hood was 12 years older than Preston. Hood met her during the winter of 1862-63 in Richmond. Hood's first compliment directed at Preston was that "she stood on her feet like a thoroughbred."

The courtship was a rocky one. Further issues may have arose from the fact that Sally Preston's suitors had a knack for turning up dead. One of them was killed by his own cousin in a dual, two others died at the Battles of Gaines Mill and Fredericksburg. While Hood was pursuing Sally he himself lost the use of his left arm at Gettysburg and two months later at Chickamauga was wounded to the degree that his right leg had to be amputated at the hip.

Yet neither the wounds he received in battle, nor the full frontal assault he made for the young lady's affection, proved to be enough to win her over. One of Robert E. Lee's aides observed to Mrs. Mary Chestnut: "Sally can't help it. She must flirt....She does not care for the man. It is sympathy with the wounded soldier. Helpless Hood."

Mary Chestnut was a habitual diarist during the war and kept a running tally on the rise and fall of romances in Richmond as well as the rise and fall of the Confederacy. She was well aware of Sally Preston's flirtatious nature. She wrote that she had a "knack of being fallen in love with at sight, and of never being fallen out of love with." To that end, Sally told Mary Chestnut; "I never cared particularly for Hood....I would not marry him if he had lost a thousand legs instead of having lost just one."

Yet Hood was not as helpless as his friends may have thought. By sure weight of persistence and his over the top style of fighting for her affection (apparently he pursued his courtships with the same intensity with which he pursued the Union army) he was able to get the young lady to agree to marriage, at least in principal.

It seemed to be a strange arrangement however. Hood told Mrs. Chestnut, "I am so grateful. The sun never shone on a happier man."

Yet Mrs. Chestnut was not convinced. She wrote in her diary, "So the tragedy has been played out-for I do not think even now that she is in earnest."

Chestnut may well have been right in that shortly before Hood shipped out to Atlanta he attended church services with President Jefferson Davis in 1864. Sally Preston sat one row behind the two, but never raised her head or her veil to look at him throughout the service or took any other steps to acknowledge the man.

Following the losses Hood suffered at Atlanta, Franklin and Nashville, Hood now headed to Columbia, South Carolina where the Preston family resided to seek out his would be bride. His injuries created great difficulty in getting around yet he made the trip. In late February 1865 Hood arrived to great resistance from Preston's family as to the possibility of marriage. A demoralized and dejected Hood, suffering from losses on the battlefield, the loss of his limbs and now the loss of his love, simply rode away, never to see Sally Preston again.

After the war, Hood moved on with his life. He became a cotton broker in Louisiana and worked as President of the Life Association of America, an insurance company. In 1868, he married New Orleans native Anna Marie Hennen. The couple had 11 children over 10 years, including three pairs of twins. He served the New Orleans community in a host of philanthropic endeavors. He also wrote his memoirs in which he attempted to justify his actions on the battlefield during the War of Northern Aggression.

Yet happiness for Hood would be short-lived in that his business interests were ruined by the 1878-79 yellow fever epidemic and he died from the disease just days after his wife and oldest child had succumbed to the epidemic.

The couple left 10 destitute orphans who were adopted by families in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and New York. Hood is buried in New Orleans. The US Army military installation known as Fort Hood and Hood County Texas are named for him.

 
 

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