The Yellow Rose of Texas

Something for the weekend.  The Yellow Rose of Texas.  The song was quite popular with Confederate troops during the Civil War.  After the Nashville campaign where General John Bell Hood largely destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee, bitter troops under his command added this stanza to the song:

Oh my feet are torn and bloody, and my heart is full of woe,
I’m going back to Georgia, to find my Uncle Joe,
You may talk about your Beauregard, sing of General Lee,
But the gallant Hood of Texas, played hell in Tennessee. 

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (25)  
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  1. There is no primary source evidence that the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee ever sang this song. Modern authors always include the song in their books and articles, but credit the lyrics to an previous author. The earliest known printing of the lyrics is from “The Story of the Confederacy” by Robert S Henry in 1931, and Henry gave no source for the lyrics. Although the song is cute and witty, and the soldiers of the AOT were surely dispirited by the defeats at Franklin and Nashville, modern authors should refrain from asserting, without qualification, that the corrupted Yellow Rose of Texas song was sung by any soldier.

    • Another view of Hood’s 1864 invasion of Tennessee, was given in “The Civil War in Middle Tennessee, Commemorating the Centennial, Part III, 1864” featured in the Feb. 22, 1964, Nashville Banner newspaper. The article quotes a passage in Stanley Horn’s book on the Battle of Nashville where Hood’s Tennessee Campaign was described by Horn as “fantastic” (in the sense of being a major, desperate gamble.) Noting Horn’s criticism of Hood, the 36 page feature ends with this poem:

      Fantastic, Middle Tennessee?
      No! I saw you lift your weary head
      To the windrows of my dead;
      To Hood, the headlong, dead-wrong man-
      How mad could I be?

      Well before you hiss
      When you think of me,
      Remember this-
      I was trying to set you free.

      Fantastic, Nashville?
      No, not then!
      When I saw you captive, trembling,
      At the end of Johnson’s rope.
      For I, Hood, the one-legged man,
      I and my ragged, shoeless men-
      I was your only hope.

  2. Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, who accompanied the Army of Tennessee during the campaign, wrote to Jefferson Davis on December 25, 1864, “I have been with General Hood from the beginning of the campaign, and beg to say, disastrous as it has ended, I am not able to see anything that General Hood has done that he should not, nor neglected anything that he should have done which it was possible to do. Indeed, the more that I have seen and known of him and his policy, the more that I have been pleased with him and regret to say that if all had performed their parts as well as he, the results would have been very different.”

    Dr. Samuel Thompson of the 41st Tennessee wrote after the war, “Many, we know, will disagree with us, but we think to calmly and impartially view General Hood’s course we will be forced to accord to him abilities of the highest order and a military commander with but few superiors. What became of General Hood for the remainder of the war we do not know, but if he was removed for failure in Tennessee, he was treated very unjustly. That he did so, we believe was no fault of his. He failed simply because he had not men and supplies to contend with the immense force that was against him.”

    Private Sam Watkins said much about Gen Hood in his memoirs, “Company Aytch.” Although critical of Hood’s generalship at times, he also wrote:

    “He (Hood) was a noble, brave and good man, and we loved him for his many virtues and goodness of heart.”

    “We all loved Hood, he was such a clever fellow, and a good man.”

    “Poor fellow, I loved him, not as a general, but as a good man. I knew that when that army order was read, that (he) had been deceived, and that the poor fellow was only trying to encourage his men. Every impulse of his nature was to do good, and to serve his country as best he could.”

    “General John B. Hood did all that he could. The die had been cast. Our cause had been lost before he took command. He fought with the fierceness of the wounded tiger and the everlasting grip of the bulldog. The army had been decimated until it was a mere skeleton…when he commenced his march into Tennessee.”

  3. Now you have me intrigued Sam! It is true that Mr. Henry gives no citation for the stanzas of the Yellow Rose variant which he quotes:

    As time allows me this week I am going to do some research on this and I will report back to the readers of Almost Chosen People if I can trace this back beyond Henry’s quote.

  4. Now we’ve stirred the pot I suppose:-)

    I checked several sources trying to come up with the original, primary source of the “played hell in Tennessee” stanza to the Yellow Rose of Texas. I thought for sure a soldier had written it in a diary or memoir, or a newspaper reporter had heard it being sung, or something, but I came up empty, with RS Henry’s mention of it in 1931 being the earliest I could find. If a primary source is out there somewhere I would surely like to know.

    What originally tweaked my interest to where I started researching such an admittedly unimportant historical tidbit came in the form of an email I received in 2008 from an active duty US Navy Captain from Mississippi. He wrote:

    “I just happened upon your web site on General John B. Hood – the Lion. Two of my great-great grandfathers went north with him to Nashville. The stories were told to me by my mother’s father. His grandfather was one George W. Bell of the 3rd Miss Infrantry (Featherstons Brigade.) I do not know how widespread was the Army’s admiration for Gen. Hood, but I DO know they made up a song as they marched south. I am guessing this was after Nashville but I do not know.

    It was something like this:

    They can talk about their Jackson

    and sing of General Lee,

    But one-legged Hood gave em Hell in Tennessee.

    I have held that jewel close, it was given to me by my grandfather, Elwin Livingston of Pulaski Mississippi. My grandfather, a member of the Mississippi Legislature from Scott County, stated that his grandfather (George Bell) had taught him that song. I am afraid I am the only one who still has knowledge of it and I do not want it lost to history.”

    This stanza about Hood “giving them Hell in Tennessee” is of course quite different from the widely known and accepted “played Hell in Tennessee” verse. As shakey a source as the first lyrics might have, they are more legitimate than the second, which has absolutely no source; primary, secondary or otherwise.

    Food for thought and fuel for debate.

  5. …”John Bell Hood largely destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee”.

    Dang me…I’ve been deceived again…all the history books I have tell me an enemy Army was involved.

    Back to the drawing board! ;o)

  6. Good point Dale! However, I do contend that Hood’s generalship from the attack at Franklin to the futile attempted siege at Nashville left much to be desired, although I quite understand that this topic is open to debate.

    Fascinating information Sam. These type of questions as to sources of historical contentions always intrigue me. One source I am going to attempt to look at are reunions of the Army of Tennessee and see if there are records of the song being sung at any of these reunions.

  7. I appreciate your response and objectivity, Donald. I wonder what the reaction(s) would be if we couched our expressions of Lee’s failure at Gettysburg (and many other classic examples available in Civil War history) with the same kind of venomous rhetoric that some authors have aimed (without bona-fide references or validation) at General JB Hood? And, to verify my own objectivity my ancestors fought against him…at Chickamauga…at Franklin…and many other battles.

  8. In regard to Lee of course he performed magnificently both before and after Gettysburg, while the same could not be said for Hood I think during his tenure of command at the head of the Army of Tennessee. To be fair to Hood however, I think his situation was hopeless no matter what he did. The way in which the Union was able to launch Sherman’s March to the Sea and simultaneously checkmate Hood’s movement into Tennessee demonstrated how completely overmatched in numbers and resources the Confederates were by this stage in the war. The battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864, where the Confederates faced two to one odds shows the extent of the military problem facing Hood, one probably with no positive solution for Hood no matter what he did. If he hadn’t moved into Tennessee, he could have shadowed Sherman on his march, but Sherman would not have given him an opportunity to defeat his army in detail, and that is the only way Hood could have beaten the larger army of Sherman.

    • Thanks Donald, I agree. This is a discussion that can go on forever. I just feel that some have given Hood a much distorted appraisal. I don’t know what option he really had other than to attack and press on. To prevail against those odds and (for the most part) a tested veteran army proved impossible. For me, that’s all that need be said. He did his best with what he had and lost. May he rest in peace.

  9. Excellent comment, Don, regarding Union superiority in late 1864. I am currently writing my masters thesis on Hood’s Tennessee Campaign and his subsequent treatment in history. So far I have not seen any reference to Hood’s army setting up its lines in the hills outside Nashville as a “siege.” Hood, in his discussion of options (Advance and Retreat, pp. 299-300) never mentions the word, nor does it appear in OR,I, XLV, part II, which contains all of the official messages, Union and Confederate, from November 30 through Hood’s retreat.
    Hood states that digging in and awaiting reinforcements or attack stood as a better option than withdrawing with Thomas’s superior force on his heels. Atrocious weather conditions had rendered any roads hard to travel on, and Hood’s engineers faced the task of constructing a pontoon bridge at some point to get back across the Tennessee River, running high and fast from constant storms(something they wound up doing around Christmas Day during the retreat anyway). In short, Hood tried to avoid retreating under pressure as Napoleon had done as the Grand Army left Russia, but as you said it was inevitable. What is most important here is that we try to place ourselves in December 1864, try to imagine the way Hood thought at the time. For me, the fate of the AOT is founded upon that three week delay waiting for supplies at Florence, Alabama.
    Dale, I met you in Monterey a few years ago. My 3xGreat Uncle is General Thomas

  10. Thomas,

    Of course I remember – and hope that the planets line up right one of these days for another meeting. I must also say I’m impressed that you’re working on your master’s thesis.

    All is well with me and mine – I trust with you too! I should add that I’ve done some more reading about your ancestor General Thomas and my admiration grows. He definitely stands a cut above other Union generals…especially in terms of integrity and native skill on the battlefield.

    Best Regards (Keep in touch!)

  11. Donald;

    Thanks for allowing this polite and intellectual exchange. You are a gentleman.

    Since Thomas and Dale have disclosed their relationships, I am a distant cousin of Gen Hood who was blessed with his surname and have taken up his cause in recent years. What has always distressed me about the portrayal of Hood by the main purveyors of the history of the Army of Tennessee, namely messers Connelly, McDonough and Sword, is their concealment of all historical evidence sympathetic or supportive of Hood’s tenure as commander of the AOT.

    A few quotes that might interest you:

    Hood’s movement into Tennessee was not a unilateral quixotic venture as many have described it. Not only did PGT Beuaregard and Jeff Davis endorse the invasion, they encouraged it. PGTB wrote to Davis from Macon GA, Nov 24, 1864, “Have ordered Gen Hood to take active offensive in Middle Tennessee to relieve Gen. Lee.” (OR Series I, Vol 45 part 1, p 1242) Davis replied on Nov. 30, encouraging Hood to hurry, “Until Hood reaches the country proper of the enemy, he can scarcely change the plans of Sherman’s or Grant’s campaigns.” (PGTB memoirs, Vol II, page 303)

    Hood was sent to attack Nashville because it would have been impossible for the AOT to catch Sherman, who was on his way to the coast. Beuaregard explained the decision in detail in a letter to Davis on Dec. 6, 1864. (Note that PGTB is backpeddling a bit by saying he “did not countermand” the order to invade TN after news of Hood’s defeat at Franklin was received.)

    “…I did not countermand the campaign in Tennessee to pursue Sherman with Hood’s army for the following reasons:

    1st. The Roads and creeks from the Tennessee to the Coosa river across Sand and Lookout Mountains had been, by the prevailing heavy rains, rendered almost impassable to artillery and the wagon trains.

    2nd. General Sherman, with an army better appointed, had already the start about two hundred seventy five miles on comparatively good roads. The transfer of Hood’s army into Georgia could not have been more expeditious by railway than by marching through the country, on account of the delays unavoidably resulting from the condition of the railroads.

    3rd. To pursue Sherman, the passage of the Army of Tennessee would, necessarily, have been over roads with all the bridges destroyed, and through a devastated country, affording no subsistence or forage; and, moreover, it was feared that a retrograde movement on our part would seriously deplete the army by desertions.

    4th. To have sent off the most or the whole of the Army of Tennessee in pursuit of Sherman, would have opened to Thomas’s force the richest portion of the State of Alabama, and would have made nearly certain the capture of Montgomery, Selma, and Mobile, without insuring the defeat of Sherman.

    …Under these circumstances, after consultation with General Hood, I concluded to allow him to prosecute with vigor his campaign into Tennessee and Kentucky, hoping that by defeating Thomas’s army and such other forces as might hastily be sent against him, he would compel Sherman, should he reach the coast of Georgia or South Carolina, to repair at once to the defense of Kentucky and, perhaps, Ohio, and thus prevent him from reinforcing Grant. Meanwhile, supplies might be sent to Virginia from Middle and East Tennessee, thus relieving Georgia from the present constant drain upon it’s limited resources.”

    Regarding Hood’s decision to attack at Franklin after the debacle at Spring Hill, I don’t think anyone has ever explained it better that Gen John M Schofield in his postwar memoirs:

    “Hood’s assault at Franklin has been severely criticized. Even so able a general as J.E.Johnston has characterized it as ‘useless butchery’. These criticisms are based on a misapprehension of the facts, and are essentially erroneous. Hood must have been aware of our relative weakness of numbers at Franklin, and of the probable, if not certain, concentration of large reinforcements at Nashville. He could not hope to have at any future time anything like so great an advantage in that respect. The army at Franklin and the troops at Nashville were within one night’s march of each other; Hood must therefore attack on November 30 or lose the advantage of greatly superior numbers. It was impossible, after the pursuit from Spring Hill, in a short day to turn our position or make any other attack but a direct one in front. Besides our position with the river on our rear, gave him the chance of vastly greater results, if his assault were successful, than could be hoped for by any attack he could make after we had crossed the Harpeth. Still more, there was no unusual obstacle to a successful assault at Franklin. The defenses were of the slightest character, and it was not possible to make them formidable during the short time our troops were in position, after the previous exhausting operations of both day and night, which had rendered some rest on the 30th absolutely necessary.

    “The Confederate cause had reached a condition closely verging on desperation, and Hood’s commander-in-chief had called upon him to undertake operations which he thought appropriate to such an emergency. Franklin was the last opportunity he could expect to have to reap the results hoped for in his aggressive movement. He must strike there, as best he could, or give up his cause as lost.”

    As far as the movement to Nashville after the bloodbath at Franklin, Hood indeed did not lay seige to Nashville, rather, he immediately fortified his positions and then began seeking reinforcements. One thing that surprises many people is the request made to Kirby Smith for reinforcements. It is commonly said that Hood was being dishonest when he said he was hoping for reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi when it was literally impossible for any number of troops to cross the river. What is never revealed is that Hood and Beauregard further stated in their correspondence to Smith that if no troops could be sent, could he make a demonstration into southern Missouri, which would require the Federals to keep troops in St Louis and Memphis, and not be able to send them to Thomas. Astonishingly, Smith refused, saying that it would be too hard on his army to have to march in the winter! Thus, approximately 20,000 troops were sent to Nashville from Missouri and Memphis. Hood did not just sit idly outside of Nashville awaiting an onslaught from Thomas.

  12. Thank you for your kind words Sam. It has been an enjoyable thread. In regard to General Hood I remain unconvinced that his Tennessee campaign was a good idea. However, I am quite convinced that he had no good options and the Tennessee plan probably presented itself to him as the least bad option.

  13. I too am unconvinced that the Tennessee Campaign was a good idea, but neither was Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania and many other Confederate campaigns. Come to think of it, in retrospect, Southern secession itself wasn’t such a good idea:-)

    The only point I try to make about Hood at Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville is that there is much more to the campaign than what Connelly, McDonough and Sword revealed.

  14. The Tennessee Campaign stands out as a desperate measure carried out during the last desperate months of the Confederacy’s existence. I hold that had Hood been able to cross into Tennessee within a week of arriving at Florence, Alabama, his chances of isolating Schofield’s command would have been greatly enhanced. Has he been successful, Grant would have become even more nervous than he already was, and may have sent part of the force employed against Lee to the relief of Thomas. I do not believe that Hood could have defeated Thomas, even in these theoretical circumstances. After all, Old Tom stood out as one of the greatest fighters of the age. Having said that, Hood would have been able to really “Give ’em hell in Tennessee!”
    I realize that the above is counter-factual, but such discussion makes for a fun exercise. Thanks Don, for the chance to participate. Dale, I agree, let’s keep in touch!

  15. Thank you Thomas! There are few things I love more then a good civil debate among Civil War scholars!

  16. This is a great discussion.

    One thing I’d add is that Hood’s generalship at Atlanta is not as bad on a close review as it looks initially. The plan for Peachtree Creek was very sound, and came within a hairsbreadth of success. Had the attack gone off on time, Sherman’s divided command would have been in a very bad way. As it was, the attack was tardy and Hood’s assault ran smack into George Henry Thomas and his boys. The Rock of Chickamauga was not a man to be run from a battlefield under any circumstances.

    As to the Tennessee campaign, I don’t know that there was necessarily a better option, either. Though perhaps taking Sherman at a run in Georgia might have been plausible.

    Still, the attack at Franklin was utterly blinkered, and that falls entirely on Hood. I regard Hood as a tragic figure for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, but Franklin is a grave discredit to him.

    • Hood wrote, “I thereupon decided, before the enemy would be able to reach his stronghold at Nashville, to make that same afternoon anther and final effort to overtake and rout him , and drive him in the Big Harpeth river at Franklin, since I could no longer hope to get between him and Nashville, by reason of the short distance from Franklin to that city, and the advantage which the Federals enjoyed in the possession of the direct road.”
      A member of A.P. Stewart’s staff, B.L. Ridley, wrote in his 1906 publication, Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee, “It has been charged that he (Hood) gave the order to attack at Franklin because of chagrin at his failure at Spring Hill. This supposition does Hood great injustice. A Federal courier had been captured bearing dispatches between Thomas and Schofield of the Federal army. The tenor of the dispatches led Hood to believe that Franklin was not in a defensible position, and that therefore, as he expressed it, he thought his ‘time to fight had come’.”
      In an article in the May 3, 1902 edition of the Atlanta Journal newspaper, Army of Tennessee veteran Dr. W. T. Burt, formerly of the 46th Georgia Infantry, quoted from his wartime diary of Hood’s final orders at Franklin, “General Hood’s last words to his generals were: ‘Now, go down to the work to be done and go at it’.”
      Battle of Franklin veteran, Washington Gardner, later a U.S. Congressman from Michigan, wrote of Gen. Hood in Henry Field’s book, Bright Skies and Dark Shadows, “By the way, I was somewhat surprised, and may say pained, during my recent trip South, to note the disposition among soldiers of the late Confederate Army to criticize and disparage the merits of Gen. Hood. That he made mistakes no unprejudiced student of the War Between the States will deny, but that he was possessed of some of the best qualities that belong to great military commanders is equally indisputable. As between the General and his critics touching the Battle of Franklin, my sympathies are entirely with the former; while my admiration for the splendid valor exhibited by his heroic legions on that bloody field is not diminished by the fact that they were Americans all…Franklin, from the Confederate standpoint of view, must ever remain one of the saddest tragedies of the Civil War; on the other hand, there were in that battle possibilities to the Confederate cause, and that came near being realized, scarcely second to those of any other in the great conflict. Had Hood won-and he came within an ace of it-and reaped the legitimate fruits of his victory, the verdict of history would have been reversed, and William T. Sherman, who took the flower of his army and with it made an unobstructed march to the sea, leaving but a remnant to contend against a foe that had taxed his every resource from Chattanooga to Atlanta, would have been called at the close as at the beginning of the war, ‘Crazy Sherman.’ No individual, not even Hood himself, had so much at stake at Franklin as the hero of the ‘march to the sea.’”
      Battle of Franklin veteran L.A. Simmons wrote in his 1866 work, The History of the 84th Regiment Illinois Volunteers, “In speaking of this battle, very many are inclined to wonder at the terrible pertinacity of the rebel General Hood, in dashing column after column with such tremendous force and energy upon our center — involving their decimation, almost their annihilation? Yet this we have considered a most brilliant design, and the brightest record of his generalship, that will be preserved in history. He was playing a stupendous game, for enormous stakes. Could he have succeeded in breaking the center, our whole army was at his mercy. In our rear was a deep and rapid river, swollen by recent rains — only fordable by infantry at one or two places — and to retreat across it an utter impossibility. To break the center was to defeat our army; and defeat inevitably involved a surrender. If this army surrendered to him, Nashville, with all its fortifications, all its vast accumulation of army stores, was at his mercy, and could be taken in a day. Hence, with heavy odds — a vastly superior force — in his hands, he made the impetuous attack upon our center, and lost in the momentous game. His army well understood that they were fighting for the possession of Nashville. Ours knew they were fighting to preserve that valuable city, and to avoid annihilation.” Simmons added that the Federals quickly withdrew to Nashville after the battle as Franklin was “untenable.” He also stated that with Schofield’s corps absent from Nashville, the city was “scantily protected.”
      Jefferson Davis wrote in his post-war memoirs, “Hood had served with distinction under Lee and Jackson, and his tactics were of that school. If he had, by an impetuous attack, crushed Schofield’s army…we should never have heard complaint because Hood attacked at Franklin, and these were the hopes with which he made his assault.”
      Col. Virgil Murphey of the 17th Alabama Infantry wrote after the war, “The same blow (as Franklin) delivered with equal power at Spring Hill or Thompson’s Station would have yielded us dominion over Tennessee. A failure to obey (Hood’s) order lost us a noble commonwealth.”

  17. I appreciate the first person accounts, but the fact remains that Schofield was entrenched behind impressive breastworks, and Hood only came within an ace of winning because of the idiotic deployment of elements of Wagner’s division outside those breastworks.

    Hood knew what improvised breastworks could do to an attack from his experience at Peachtree Creek. Yet he ordered a frontal assault anyway.

    I will agree wholeheartedly that had the same attack been carried off at Spring Hill, Hood would have destroyed the Union forces. As I said, I think Hood’s command sense was better than is usually credited. But not at Franklin.

    • I do not have the source at hand, but after contemplating the attack, Hood told a subordinate that the Union “center can not hold.” Wagner’s troops being in such an exposed position is precisely why Hood decided that the attack held the promise of success, not a fortunate piece of luck. Hood gave the same instructions to the Army of Tennessee at Franklin that he gave the Texas Brigade at Gaines’ Mill on June 1862; to not fire, but follow the retreating enemy into their own works. The Federal positions at Gaines’ Mill were significantly stronger than Schofield’s at Franklin and Hood felt that victory could be achieved.

      Had a disobedient Opdycke not been where he wasn’t even supposed to be, Schofield’s army would have been destroyed.

      Hood had the dilemma of attacking a frightened, exhausted and outnumbered foe who had only a few hours to strengthen old fortifications at Franklin, or attack a larger, rested enemy force later at Nashville, whose fortifications were well known.

      The Confederate defeat proved Hood’s decision ultimately wrong, but the facts are much different than the portrayals of Thomas Connelly, James McDonough and Wiley Sword, regardless of how many literary awards they received.

  18. Just a question
    Did general Thomas have a child?
    Or children…
    Reading Carl Sandburgs six volumes on Lincoln.
    Must confess that I had never heard of him( Thomas)
    Probably the best overall general in the civil war?
    Happy new year by the way!

  19. Happy New Year Ulf! Thomas was happily married, but he and his wife were never blessed with children.

  20. There are collateral descendants of Gen Thomas, including a great grandnephew who is writing a master’s thesis at San Jose State University on the inaccuracies and incompleteness of the popular portrayals of Gen Hood in the Tennessee Campaign.

  21. Does anyone know anything about the historical basis for the line, “The Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee”? What is the relevance of the belles of Tennessee to the song about the Yellow Rose?

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