Leonidas Polk was born April 10, 1806 at Raleigh, North Carolina. In
1821, he would attend the University of North Carolina. He earned
an appointment to the United States Military
Academy at West Point, NY
in 1823 and graduated 8th out of 38 in the
Class of 1827
(this class included the likes of
and Albert Sidney
). He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Artillery. He
resigned his Commission on December 1, 1927 to pursue a higher calling.
In 1831, Polk enrolled at Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained
an Episcopalian minister and would travel by boat, horse, rail and mail
carriage throughout Mississippi and Louisiana spreading the word of God.
In 1838, he was named the Missionary Bishop of the Southwest, and would
hold the first Episcopalian service at Shreveport, Louisiana in 1839. Two
years later, in 1841, he was named the first Bishop of Louisiana.
From 1842 until 1854, Polk operated Leighton Plantation near the town of
Thibodaux. He would resign this position in 1855 to serve as Rector
of Trinity Church in New Orleans, which he did until 1860.
In 1860, Polk resigned this post to devote more time to the establishment
of University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.
On June 25, 1861, Polk accepts a Commission as a Major General in the Army
of the Confederate States of America. He considers this to be his
duty to God. He is assigned command of Department 2 at Columbus, Kentucky.
At the same time, he terminates his association with the Episcopal
Church. Nonetheless, from this moment forward, history shall remember
him as the "Battling Bishop."
September 15 of that year, Polk was reassigned as Commander of the First
Division of the Department of War.
On November 7, 1861, Polk and his troops defeated the troops of
Ulysses Simpson Grant
(then a virtual unknown) at
During the Battle of Shiloh
, April 6 and 7 of 1862, Polk would lead the
I Corps of the Army of Mississippi
. Later that year, Polks would lead a division of the Army of Tennessee
under General Braxtron Bragg. (Note that
were named for states while
were named for Rivers. As such, there was the Confederate Army of
Tennessee and the Union Army of the
Polk was cited for gallantry at the
Battle of Perryville, Kentucky
and was promoted to Lieutenant General on October 10, 1862. Polk
would also see action at
), where the author lost an ancestor
, and his troops would bear the brunt of the first day's fighting at Chickamauga,
near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (about 8 miles from
- which would have been part of Georgia, save for a surveying error and
a really bad decision from the United States Supreme Court).
On October 23, 1862, Polk was given command of the
Army of Mississippi
. Two months later, on December 23, 1862, Polk was made commander
of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana.
In May of 1864, Polk was given full command of the Army of Tennessee, one
of the major armies of the Confederate Army (the other being the
Army of Northern Virginia
under the command of Robert
On June 14, 1864, Polk was killed by artillery from the Federals at
, Cobb County, Georgia. Polk was called to the line by
General William J. Hardee
along with General
Jospeh E. Johnston
and others. They were trying to determine whether the Rebel troops,
who had been enveloped by Sherman at Pine Mountain, could be safely extracted
or whether they should hold their ground. Confederate artillery officers
continually advised Hardee, Polk and the others in their party that they
were well within the range of federal artilley, but they continued to make
their observations and assessment. Even with Federal volleys flying
overhead, the generals continued their assessment and observations. The
Federal troops were, in essence, conserving their ammunition until General
William T. Sherman
(called "Uncle Billy" by the Confederate troops) ordered the Federal artillery
units to open fire on the observers. With the first artillery fire,
all but Polk scattered quickly. Even with the second round, Polk held
his position. The third round would enter Polk through an arm, pass
through his chest, and exit the other arm. Johnston cried as he stood
over the man who had just recently baptised him.
General Sherman, who held the rebels in very low regard (and had even less
respect for the clergy), wrote to
General Henry Wager Halleck
that "(w)e killed Bishop Polk yesterday and have made even better progress
It is rumored that the Federal soldier who actually fired the shot which
took the life of General Polk took his own life.
Polk would be buried next to his wife in Augusta. However, they were
exhumed in 1944 and moved to the Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans,
Picture of Bishop Leonidas Polk by
Matthew B. Brady
Copyright 2003 Richard R. Pettys, Jr.
Copyright 2003 Wyndell Taylor
Permission is given for private and non-commercial use.