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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

The buried leg of John Bell Hood

Alongside the road in the woods of northwest Georgia lies a grave containing only a leg.

It’s a part of Confederate General John Bell Hood, a Kentucky resident known as a brave but sometimes reckless soldier. He served with Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet in the Civil War but was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, which left his left arm useless.

He moved south and was wounded again at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, this time with a leg wound that needed to be amputated. The wound was so severe that after the amputation four inches below the hip, the surgeon placed his leg in the ambulance so that the leg and man would be buried together in the likely event they did not survive.

But Hood did survive and returned to active duty, fighting in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 and other skirmishes until he was defeated at the Battle of Nashville. Legless and with a useless arm, the general spent the rest of his life working as a cotton broker in Louisiana until he, along with his wife and oldest child, died of yellow fever in New Orleans.

His leg, however, was buried on Sept. 20, 1863, near the Western and Atlantic Railroad Tunnel in what is known as Tunnel Hill, Georgia, just outside the city of Dalton.

tunnel hill georgia
Tunnel Hill, Georgia

If you visit the leg of the Gallant Hood, be sure and walk through the old train tunnel, completed in 1850, and the site of the Great Locomotive Chase. In 1862, several Union Civil War spies stole a locomotive known as the General and headed toward Chattanooga with the aim of damaging the railroad and telegraphs and cutting off Confederate lines with Atlanta. The Confederates, however, chased them with everything they could get their hands on and stopped the spies before their destination.

The train tunnel at Tunnel Hill is rumored to be haunted. Maybe it’s the ghost of John Bell Hood’s leg.

Note: Tunnel Hill Heritage Center offers tours of the Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel.

But Hood wasn't the only Confederate who left behind limbs as they made their way through Southern battles. Francis T. Nicholls had a leg up on Hood.

Nicholls was a Louisiana native and West Point graduate. He served in the war against the Seminoles, then returned home to practice law and start a family. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined up with the Eighth Louisiana Infantry. He fought at the first Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. By his retirement from service, he reached the rank of brigader general.

Gov. Francis T. Nicholls

Nicholls last his left arm while fighting in northern Virginia. He lost a leg at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.

Nicholls testified before a 1874 Congressional Committee investigating election fraud in Louisiana and said this about his service in the war:

"I think that we made the attempt [the war for secession] under the most favorable circumstances...of course we all regret our want for success; but I do not believe that there is anywhere any desire for a renewal of the attempt." and that "My war record is a source of private misfortune without a corresponding gain to anyone. My services to my country were not worth the price to me. Every battle I went into I was wounded, and so I could not serve all the time."

After serving two terms as governor of Louisiana and on the state Supreme Court, Nicholls died in Thibodaux, Louisiana, on Jan. 4, 1912, and was buried there. Nicholls State University in Thibodaux was named for the general and governor.

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1 Comment

Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson
Apr 15, 2022

Two great vignettes of Southern history. Thanks!

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