by Robert Hicks, 432 pages; Grand Central, $25.99
A Separate Country by Robert Hicks is a fictional look at the life of a very real Confederate general — John Bell Hood. The novel is set in post war New Orleans where Hood, his wife, Anna Marie Hennen, and their 11 children resided. Hood was promoted to general by Robert E. Lee after the battle of Antietam. He walked away from the Civil War with his life, but left a right arm and left leg behind in the fracas.
Never winning a battle under his command, Hood spent a great deal of time trying to pass the buck. Schooled at West Point, he was well-liked by his superiors more for his bravado than academics. His larger assets were his beautiful wife and his ability to read political situations, which he used to his advantage for advancements. Hood spent much of time self-promoting.
There are two sets of diaries in A Separate Country. The first is Hood’s and the second belonged to his wife, Anna. In Hood’s diary, he laments the loss of men’s lives under his watch as general. He was constantly obsessed by the horrifying battles he endured. And like many troops today, he probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He was the son of a doctor in Kentucky. But, it was through his uncle, who was in the House of Representatives, that Hood made his way into West Point. Gen. William Hardee did not share the same affection for Hood that others did. Hood had tried to blame two of his losses on Hardee. In 1856, Hardee made a notation in one of his reports that said, “It is well known that I felt unwilling to serve under General Hood upon his succession to the command of the Army of Tennessee, because I believed him, though a tried and gallant officer, to be unequal in both experience and natural ability to so important a command.”
New Orleans didn’t look any more favorably on Hood. Business attempt after business attempt failed. Yet, Anna was determined in her support for her husband. She had taught him how to be loved and how to love in return. Though he remained arrogant the rest of his life, Hood learned to be more open and honest about his emotions, which was sorely needed.
To the day, his name is well-known at Fort Hood, Texas. But, his final battle came in the form of a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans. This was one battle he could not find a scapegoat for, and another battle he would not defeat. Gen. Hood died in 1879, leaving behind nine orphaned children and a small grave where Anna was buried.
Robert Hicks is well-known for skillful and passionate writing about Civil War history. This one is no different. It is an interesting take on one of many Southern generals. In 1881, Anna’s family made the decision to “unearth them both and entombed them together in the Hennen plot,” a fitting place for these two lovers and friends.
Charlene Harris is a freelance writer in Anniston.