Way back when, back when I was a young Infantry Officer attending the Infantry Officer Basic Course in the 1980’s, we had a course called “Leadership.” How do you teach leadership to a group of some 40 lieutenants? The IOBC cadre used the case method, the same method you see in Business school or law school. We looked at a wide variety of stories and examples from real life about good and bad leaders. There was no one ultimate answer to how to be a good leader. But, the point the IOBC cadre drove home with us was that in regard to United States soldiers, the best approach was egalitarian or democratic. Authoritarian leaders did not do so well in U.S. military history. The truism we arrived at was that we, as Infantry leaders, should always expect to explain to the soldiers why a given order made sense. Don’t just tell them. Expect that you will also need to explain to your soldiers why they must follow a given plan or order. We in the U.S. have a different tradition, when compared to Europe and other places.
Some leaders failed the Texas Brigade long before they saw conflict. J.J. Archer, from Maryland, was appointed the first colonel of the Fifth Texas Infantry. He was not well-liked, partly because he was from Maryland – too close to “Yankeedom” said one soldier. But, the fact that he was not from Texas probably played a greater role. The lieutenant-colonel of the regiment faced even greater scrutiny. Frank Schaller, a German émigré, on paper had all the credentials. His grandfather and father served in the French army. He graduated from a military school in Germany and college in France. He served briefly in the Crimea. But, as one descendant explained, he was shy and lacked social skills. He was short, slim and high-strung. In early October, 1861, he rode into the Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment camp. He wore gold lace and stars on his uniform, a regiment that prided itself on officers with well-worn boots and appreciated one officer who rode into battle with a pistol in one hand and a frying pan in the other. Upon seeing the elegant officer, one soldier asked “What is it? Is it a man, fish, or bird?” The last the men saw of Lieut-Col. Schaller, he was riding out of camp on his horse, the mane sheared and the tail cut off. And, the men laughed heartily at their prank. So much for one appointed officer.
John Bell Hood understood how this worked. He might be appointed, but he still had to earn the respect of his men. Not the first, but one of the best commanders of “Hood’s Texas Brigade,” he knew instinctively to treat the citizen-soldiers as equals, or as near equals. The Texans were difficult. They complained about some commanders and found ways to force them out. Not so with John Bell Hood. Gen. Hood was from Kentucky originally, but he had lived many years in Texas. He was a West Point graduate. So, he was “regular Army” when compared to the Texas volunteers. The Confederate army could elect their company grade officers, but regimental and above officers were appointed by the central government. So, the Texas Brigade did not ask for him. But, they took to him right away.
How did Gen. Hood succeed where others failed? He would say later that he devoted the entire winter quarters to show he valued his men, both as soldiers and for their pre-war status. Many men were persons of standing in their home communities, but were now just another soldier. In his way, Gen. Hood recognized they had a place of significance before the war. He made a distinct effort to make the junior officers better junior officers. He said later he lost no opportunity to “arouse” their pride and to impress upon them that they would be the best soldiers. That goal of being the best appealed to the brash Texans. He urged them to police themselves, to look out for soldiers not doing their best and to take steps to fix the problem.
Gen. Hood mentioned that his predecessors did not take the time to explain the “why” of a given order. They would just issue the order and expect instant obedience. Hood, on the other hand, would take the time to explain. For example, he had a rule that lights had to be out by ten o’clock at night. He explained to the Texans that in keeping a light on, the soldier would not just keep himself awake, but all the others in his tent or cabin. An army must have its sleep if it was to do well the next morning. The general insisted that officers had to explain the reason for orders, not simply issue the order.
One of the Texans would write years later that Gen. Hood knew much better than other officer how to lead volunteers, as opposed to leading regular soldiers. Then Col. Hood was well versed in human nature, said Joe Polley. He knew full well that volunteers would not accept the sort of restrictions regular soldiers would tolerate. He knew not to draw the “full reins of true military discipline.”
I have to say that same approach certainly worked for me during my Army time. I spent almost all my time during a drill weekend talking or counseling with soldiers. A decent soldier always responds to respect and simple listening. I learned from IOBC and Ft. Benning. Col. Hood likely learned from simple trial and error and good instincts.
Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 48-49, 79-80.