At the battle of Shiloh in the Civil War, Leonidas Polk had Brigadier General Benjamin F. Cheatham's division in his corps. The latter was a hard-working subordinate known for his strong language. During the battle, Cheatham rode up and down the line exhorting his men to "Give 'em hell, boys!" followed by a long string of profanity. General Polk, the senior officer, who had previously been an Episcopal Bishop, rode with the inspection party. Despite his dignified appearance he is said to have ridden madly behind his subordinate yelling to the men, "Do as General Cheatham says, boys!" In this anecdote is an insight into the dual life of the Bishop-General of the Confederate forces. The inner conflict which that duality fostered is the subject of this sketch.
True, the anomaly of a Bishop-General fighting in the front lines is strange only to modern Anglo-Saxon history and not at all unusual in biblical times as noted in such references as that in which Samuel the prophet led the armies of Israel to battle. On one occasion, Samuel himself took the sword and "hewed Agag," the King of Amalek, "in pieces before the Lord." Clerics serving in the status of fighting men were often seen in the army of the French Republic but no other cases of priests rising to the rank of general and leading troops into battle are on record. The greater responsibility of high rank in the army would necessarily bring the priest-soldier conflict into focus. The life of Leonidas Polk, exemplifying this inner battle, may therefore be of interest to moderns.
In a biography of his father, Dr. William . Polk declared that his father had always been a soldier at heart. "It was no p103secret that his natural bent of mind and hand was rather that of a soldier than of a priest . . ."
Strangely, though, Leonidas Polk never saw military service between his term as a cadet at West Point and his high command in the Civil War. Question immediately arises as to how good a clergyman was Leonidas Polk. His ministry in the Southwest Territory embracing Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, the Arkansas Territory and the Republic of Texas, showed a basic love of missionary work. Besides close acquaintance with the philosophy and teachings of the Episcopal church, he had the courage of the frontier and the tremendous physical frame which brought respect among the hardest type of adventurer. After passing through a siege of post-graduate illnesses he emerged a healthy man, and one able to live the active life on horseback during missionary travels. He could talk to men in a simple language yet he never descended to dialectic coarseness. During his years of clerical life preceding his four years as a Confederate general he served twenty-three years in two Bishoprics.
From the life of a clergyman in a diocese to that of a soldier in the field is a transformation that can be as much mental as physical. Hardships enter into both states. Once entered upon a soldierly career, Polk became the subject of much allegorical comparison of the cleric as a soldier of Christ stepping over into the soldiery of the state. Such sermonizing on the military character of priesthood is common but no one dreams of its actuality. Polk's religious training no doubt fitted him for the bishop's robes, but whether or not his four years as a West Point cadet fitted him for the demanding position of a general in the army is open to question. Polk's ability in administration and leadership ably qualified him for certain types of military command, but quite reasonably his study along military lines, especially that dealing with strategy and the tactics of large units, must have been negligible. Even his study of minor tactics while at West Point must have been a distant recollection when thirty-four years later he donned Confederate p104grey and buckled on a sword. The transformation from bishop to general was far more than a change of physical raiment.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 10, 1806, young Leonidas Polk grew up in the environment of a Southern gentleman. His family was one of consequence and money was always available until much later in life. Pride in his forebears was strong within the young man, the second son of the second marriage of Colonel William Polk. The Polk ancestors, a Scotch family of the name of Pollock, fought in the army of Cromwell. Some of the members of that revolutionary group including young Robert Pollock, subsequently left Scotland for the eastern shore of Maryland. With the name changed to Polk, Robert settled eventually in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Thomas Polk, great grandson of the Cromwellian warrior, removed later to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. There as a young man he became a member of the Provisional Assembly and in his views became strongly opposed to the British aggression.
In 1775, becoming sufficiently enraged at the British subversion of what he thought to be his rights, Thomas Polk brought forth the Mecklenburg Declaration, a statement of colonial independence antedating the Boston document. The fire of revolt evidently broke out almost simultaneously in many places. Much controversy had arisen over the priority of the Mecklenburg Declaration as the first public statement of Colonial Rights. Much effort has been made to establish the authenticity of this document, but the important point to note is that Polk, the leader, lacked either the final spark of leadership or the willingness of loyal supporters to carry such a declaration to its logical and immediate fruition.a
Thomas Polk served as Colonel of Continental troops during the Revolutionary War. He was with Washington at Brandywine and Valley Forge. He gained some local fame when Philadelphia was being threatened by the British by his rescue of the Liberty Bell and its convoy out of danger to p105Bethlehem. Later in the conflict Colonel Polk was Commissary General to General Horatio Gates, and at one time was tendered a Brigadier-Generalcy under Nathaniel Greene, but for some reason the latter appointment, though accepted, was never confirmed. While at Brandywine, Colonel Polk had the satisfaction of having his son William with him.
Later, William Polk, the father of Leonidas, was seriously wounded at Germantown. At this time he held a Major's commission which he had won at the age of 18. When the British carried the war to the South, Major William Polk's interests took him home. There he followed the fortunes of Sumter, Davidson, and Marion, the "Swamp Fox." Besides being present at the Revolutionaries' defeat at Camden, South Carolina, he also fought at Eutaw Springs. After the war his rise in civilian pursuits equalled that in his military career.
William Polk was a member of the general assembly of North Carolina, United States Supervisor of Revenue, and President of the State Bank. He held the revenue position, which had originally been given him by President Washington, for seventeen years. It was upon this work that he was engaged when Leonidas was born in 1806. Polk had married Grizelda Gilchrist in 1789. During the ten years of their wedlock two children were born. Sarah Hawkins, the daughter of a Revolutionary Colonel, became Polk's second wife in 1801. To the two children of his first marriage, twelve more were now added, nine of whom were boys. It was said of William Polk, subsequently promoted to colonel, that upon the visit of Lafayette to America the old Revolutionary hero gave the address of welcome from the steps of the Capitol in North Carolina. Lafayette dramatically "threw his arms around Polk's neck at the conclusion of the speech and attempted to kiss him on the cheek. Colonel Polk straightened himself up to his full height of •six feet four inches, and instinctively threw his head back to escape the caress; but Lafayette, who was a dapper little fellow, tiptoed and hung on to the grim giant. . . ."
p106 Little is known of the early childhood of Leonidas Polk, other than that his large physique made him outstanding among the young men of his locality. This was the recollection of Leonidas' mates while attending Doctor McPheters' Academy in Raleigh. Subsequently Leonidas enrolled at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While on vacation from that school Leonidas entered into the convivial celebration of the Fourth of July in Raleigh. There were salutes fired by cannons, music, orations, songs and a dinner. During the dinner each table, headed by a prominent citizen, competed in speech making and song against the others. Young Leonidas, present at the table where his father presided, was elected as its champion in the singing contest and won the prize.
Though Leonidas remained for two years at the University of North Carolina, there are few accounts of his life during that period. One letter to his sister Mary, then at school in the North, expressed the deep affection which held the family together. During the spring of his second year young Polk, through the influence of his father, received an appointment to the Military Academy. At this time cadet commissions were given by the President at the suggestion of the Secretary of War. Colonel Polk must have known Monroe or have been able through some Congressman to gain the coveted appointment. Polk was highly gratified by his appointment and after mentioning the joy which would be his at seeing his sister, quite sensibly turned to an appraisal of his qualifications for entrance into and passage through the West Point curriculum. He said of his ambitions: "Yet I am not satisfied with a mere knowledge sufficient to enable me to enter the Military Academy. I wish to obtain something more. I am anxious to be acquainted with the French language (and arithmetic). . . . which will be of vast advantage . . ." With the consent of his father, Leonidas studied French, arithmetic and geography under a private tutor after leaving the University in mid‑semester. The son saw little of his father before entrance to p107West Point, as the Colonel was spending all his time administering his •100,000 acres of Tennessee land.
With a scanty knowledge of French and arithmetic, compensated for by a good background of Latin and Greek, Leonidas entered the Military Academy in late June of 1823. In his early letters home he was rather enthusiastic for a West Point plebe in his liking for the discipline and tone of the Academy. His correspondence, always lengthy and regular, told his parents of the good points of the Academy, as well as the bad, which unfortunately entered in some measure into his cadet life.
Despite the lack of training in French, Cadet Polk was a good student. Quite frankly he expressed his liking for the first few months of the curriculum and for the institution, stating that it "is inferior to none in the United States . . ." Also he pronounced judgment on the lazy habits of some students who just get by and explained that such an evil was prevented at West Point. He continued: "Our time is so wholly engrossed in our academic duties that it is impossible to devote any to literary attainments privately . . . as composition or attendance on debating societies . . ."b Later Polk spoke highly of the instruction in military tactics and expressed his intention of performing extra duty in the hopes of winning an office, and thereby becoming a better soldier.
Albert Sidney Johnston of Kentucky, the highest ranking cadet officer, or Adjutant, took the plebe Leonidas Polk as one of his roommates. This move, which was perhaps intended for the best interests of the new cadet, was a singularly fortunate one for Polk. He could not have chosen a more honest or stronger personality than that of Johnston. Their friendship, extending through three years of cadet life, never wavered in all the years up to the Civil War, when both died for the Confederacy. They seldom met in after years except when Johnston was leading the fight for the independence of Texas and when Polk was a missionary Bishop whose diocese extended into that territory. In his first letter home Polk was much impressed not only by p108his new roommate but by the visits of what he called, "Great Folks" — men like the British Minister, canning, Generals Scott and Gaines, and Lafayette. Polk's remark concerning his failure to see the beautiful Mrs. Scott was characteristic of his approach to the life of a soldier. He said, "I was too military, though, to turn my head, and therefore did not see her." Though Polk applied this same conscientious spirit to cadet life he was not able to approach the record of cadets like Robert E. Lee, who received no demerits during their four years. The impression seemed general among his classmates that during his first year he was gay and high-spirited, with none too high a regard for the rules of discipline. This in no way affected his studiousness, because he stood fourth in mathematics in a class of ninety‑six at the end of the first semester. His rating in French was 27 — a high standing for a cadet with as little previous training in that subject as a month of hasty tutoring might afford. This standing gave Polk the determination to improve not only in his academic work but in discipline and tactics as well.
Continuing his academic efficiency through the remainder of his plebe year, Polk was able also to be promoted to the position of Sergeant-Major — the highest cadet office to which any of his class might aspire. It is noteworthy that Lee won the same office two years later. Young Polk told his father that new position was received through Major William Worth, Commandant of Cadets, and the officer charged with the tactical and disciplinary training. Perhaps the recommendation of his friend Albert S. Johnston aided in Polk's appointment. Leonidas' letter to his father said that the office would normally have been given to the head of the class, but that the Major had seen fit to vary from such practice in this instance. Fifty years later one of Polk's fellow West Pointers said of him, according to William Polk's biography of his father, "I knew him as a cadet, and during his career as a Bishop. He was always the same, a conscientious, persevering, daring man. At West Point he was a boy of fine presence, fine form, graceful p109bearing, full of life, ready for anything, generous, consistent. What he believed to be right he would do." This last statement is the slogan for Leonidas Polk's life.
The coming of Lafayette had a profound influence upon all America in the year 1824. The Cadet Corps at West Point extended every military honor to him. Polk of course felt a proprietary interest in the Frenchman because letters from home had detailed the meeting between Lafayette and Colonel Polk.
Celebrations such as this however were only interludes in Polk's cadet life, for his whole desire and determination seem to have been pointed toward a close attention to duty. In his correspondence, he stated that the study of fluxions was difficult at first but like other mathematics "readily subservient to application." At this time Polk began to have a series of sore throats and bad colds which seemed inconsequential to such an outwardly healthy specimen of manhood but which were to cause intermittent physical weakness for the next ten years.
Life at West Point was not all smooth sailing for young Polk. His first encounter with the Superintendent involved a "patch for old shirts." The gist of the conversation with Major Sylvanus Thayer, often called the "Father of West Point," had to do with the subordinate's obtaining of money from home. Leonidas, thinking that his father had perhaps inadvertently mentioned the incident to the Superintendent, told him the whole story. He was told that hereafter the regulations were to be taken literally. Polk's anger was aroused, not by the encounter with the Academy head, but because that worthy gentleman would stoop to using what are known today as stool pigeons. Perhaps because of this disgust, Leonidas stepped out of his usual disciplined role to explain to the Academy head that his expenses were too great and the pay insufficient so that not even the "rigid economy of the Yankees can withstand it." Edgar Allan Poe had the same complaint of the parsimony of the government in the operation of the Military Academy. In almost none of the biographies of Northern generals does it p110appear that lack of money at West Point ever was cause for worry or for deprecation. Alone of the Southern cadets, Jefferson Davis actually saved money from his cadet pay to send home to his mother. Most cadets, whether from North or South, arrived sooner or later at Benny Haven's congenial ale house. Jefferson Davis, Robert Anderson of Sumter fame, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Humphrey Marshall, later Minister to China, S. P. Heintzelman, later a Union general, Alexander Dallas Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin and great Atlantic coast surveyor, and George W. Cass, all of whom were cadets at this time, managed somehow to stretch their cadet pay for necessaries and for a spot of fun at Benny's. Leonidas Polk probably never went to Havens, so that his money must have gone for actual living expenses.
At the end of his second year Cadet Polk again came to the attention of the Superintendent, this time because of a matter in Drawing class. Polk said that for many years it had been customary with a majority of the cadets in their drawing "either to place the paper, on which they intended to draw a piece, over the copy representing it, and thereby seeing the principal points or lines, to dot or trace them on said paper, or to arrive at the same by measuring distances with strips of paper or pencils." With such established objects marked on their paper they were then able to sketch the remainder from sight. At this time, all cadets found guilty of such practice were rearranged in their class standing and the conscientious Polk was dropped to number 32 in Drawing. Enraged by the inequality of the punishment, Polk roused himself from bitter disappointment to present his case, through the Superintendent, to the Secretary of War. This is still the normal procedure for aggrieved cadets, but rarely resorted to. Most cadets now feel that if they are caught in some case not involving an honor charge, they take the consequences without recourse to higher authority. As can well be expected, the Secretary of War suggested to the cadets that if they worked doubly hard the following semester they would recover their true positions in the p111class. Quite frankly Leonidas explained the whole situation to his family, enclosing a copy of the letter sent to the Secretary of War. In this letter there was the philosophical resignation that "five years after graduation will obliterate the fact of an individual's standing . . ."
Thorough having spoken outwardly of his indifference to the handling of the affair, the disappointment struck deep. Polk had tried so hard to work steadily and with resolution. Now he began to brood. By a strange coincidence, Polk found a religious tract in his desk drawer and perhaps the turning point in his life was brought about by rather innocent copying of a drawing. The placing of the pamphlet in Polk's drawer suggests that others noticed his brooding and felt that he needed religious consolation. Such pamphlets were not often used nor seen at West Point, for the religious life, like that at many other non‑sectarian schools was, at least outwardly, practically nil.
A new Chaplain, who doubled in the Professorship of Ethics, had recently arrived at West Point. This tall, powerful-voiced Dr. Charles Pettit McIlvaine, afterward Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, was beginning his ministry. General Crafts J. Wright, who was at West Point, described the first appearance of the Chaplain, "The cadets went to Chapel, as usual some with books to read, and others hoping to sleep, but none expecting to take any interest in the sermon. Had a bugle been sounded in the Chapel they could not have been more astonished. Books were dropped, sleep was forgotten, attention was riveted." Jefferson Davis in his memoirs stated that McIlvaine "had a peculiar power of voice rarely found elsewhere than on the stage. From its highest tones it would sink to a whisper and yet be audible throughout the whole Chapel." The Chaplain had been unable to make any conversions during the first months of his West Point ministry. One cadet, though, had occasion to meet him privately to discuss the death of a mutual friend. It was in this first meeting that Dr. McIlvaine asked that some religious pamphlets be distributed surreptitiously. Jefferson Davis added: "Polk joined the church from p112convictions produced, as I understood, from reading Gregory's Letters — a noted religious work of that dayc — aided by the preaching of our eloquent and pious Chaplain . . ." Polk showed himself a forthright cadet by asking the supposed Chaplain to baptize him publicly, before the other cadets. From that day, Polk himself added to his influence and led a praying squad in a prison, the only unoccupied room in barracks. As usual Polk wrote of his conversion in a frank letter to his parents. He said: "I am clearly convinced that the most happy man on earth is he who practices most faithfully the duties of Christianity . . . The Colonel (Thayer) is very well disposed toward religion, and has kindly granted us permission to attend . . . nightly meetings for purposes of worship." In the same letter Leonidas asked also for permission to come home on furlough.
Meanwhile Polk was appointed an Orderly Sergeant, a form of guard duty, and on one occasion broke up the oldest class' traditional practice of being reported as present at reveille while they lay abed. There were some threats and a great deal of pressure put upon Polk to allow the old practice to continue but he ably bore out Colonel Thayer's contention that he "could be relied upon to do (his) duty at all hazards."
Before returning home Leonidas received a letter from his father expressing the fear that his son had been "carried away by a momentary enthusiasm." While at home in the summer of 1826 the father often must have sounded out his son upon the depth of his religious duty. Polk returned for his final year at West Point and applied himself with the old fervor to his studies. Leonidas during this year expressed the feeling that his classical education was imperfect. He admitted that he would "readily spend a fifth year in a course of reading (rather) than in doing the duties of a Lieutenant." Evidently he had communicated his feelings to Colonel Thayer, for that gentleman had secured for him the offer of a professorship of Mathematics at an institution which was then about to be founded in Massachusetts. It has since become famous as Amherst p113College. Colonel Thayer also at this time agreed with Cadet Polk that the engagement to serve the United States for five years need not be obligatory if the Government was willing to discharge him. It is interesting to note that Jefferson Davis had this same feeling of a lack of cultural education and attempted later when Secretary of War to correct the condition by substituting a five-year course. In his own life the hermit-like existence on his brother's plantation for eight years served to increase his amount of classical knowledge. Robert E. Lee also felt the need of knowledge to supplement the purely scientific course at West Point. He added a great deal of voluntary outside reading, which of course he could do, because of his ranking among the upper three of his class during the entire four years. According to Freeman, Lee read Rousseau, Hamilton, and the Edinburgh and North American Reviews.d
Colonel Polk would not hear of his son's proposition to accept the Amherst professorship. Doubtfully his son relinquished that hope but flew directly in his father's face by announcing his intention to enter the Protestant Episcopal ministry.
Prior to graduation when Leonidas Polk was seriously considering the ministry as his career, he knew well that he should ask the approval of his family. Colonel Polk refused to believe that his son did not want to be a military commander. On the occasion of his son's conversion the Colonel said that his son had been carried away by enthusiasm. Leonidas cautioned his parents that they should not believe that he had followed "The counsels of others rather than my own judgment . . ." Furthermore, he stated: "It has been my studious effort to withdraw myself . . . in order that my conclusion might be . . . the result of my own labors." The disappointed parent refused to give in and wisely asked that his son should defer his decision until after graduation and furlough. Leonidas again followed his father's wish. "I will forebearº . . . until I have complied with your wishes."
Before graduation in 1827 Colonel Thayer asked this promising young man, Leonidas Polk, who ranked eighth in his p114class, if he would like to remain in the Quartermaster Office of the Cadet Corps. Cadet Polk had impressed himself upon the authorities by his excellent handling of his duties as a cadet instructor of the plebes in mathematics. Because of ill health however Polk thought it best to leave West Point immediately after graduation and to regain his health by travel during the subsequent furlough. After a short stay at home, he left in August, according to his father's wish, on a tour of New England and Canada. In Massachusetts, Polk was much interested in a railroad which he closely observed. This rail line was built to carry granite from Quincy, along a route •three and one‑half miles long, to a canal which approached Bunker Hill Monument, then in progress of construction. Polk went into detail on the operation of this railroad, discussing the simple construction, the inclination of rails, the cutting and filling for the road bed, and the cross ties upon which the rails were laid. Polk added that the project would pay for itself in time and become profitable stock. While traveling, Polk indulged in a favorite pastime of seeing famous people. In Boston he visited the residence of John Adams and was very kindly invited in by the occupants, the family of Judge Thomas Adams, a son of the President. Polk paid his respects to Martin Van Buren in Albany. A son of the President-to‑be was a classmate of Polk's at West Point.e In Tennessee he visited friends and relatives and dined at General Jackson's where he found "the old general and his lady both as courteous as I could have wished." As the graduation furlough came near to expiration Polk gave thought to his original intention of resigning his commission. Before he arrived home, he communicated this desire to his father, saying that the letter of resignation would have to be sent while en route on vacation rather than after reaching home. Polk enclosed his resignation and asked his father to give his consent. Reluctantly Colonel Polk agreed, though he never positively gave his approval. The Secretary of War accepted the resignation and with that news Leonidas traveled p115more leisurely toward home. Once there he spent several months before taking his next step. Consistently his father must have attempted to dissuade him from his desire to enter the ministry, and doubtfully Leonidas acceded in so far as his conscience would let him. Leonidas, though, saw himself in the right — a sign which became a go‑ahead signal for him even though it meant the first real countering of his father's wishes. His mother stood by her husband in the inducement directed toward keeping her son in the military life, but his childhood sweetheart was one who consistently stood beside him. This young woman, Frances Devereux of Raleigh, became his affianced in May 1828. She said of those courtship days: "I love to recall those days . . . just before he entered the seminary when he read with me, talked with me, and took pains to direct my mind, which had for awhile been entangled in a maze of perplexities and doubts." Leonidas may have been able to direct Miss Devereux' mind in a religious way but she cut off his impetuous desire to be married before entering the seminary by calling it an "unwise move." This appeal was one that struck home, for Leonidas "yielded to her judgment." On November 4, 1828, Leonidas Polk, late of West Point, entered the Protestant Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia, to take up his theological studies.
Again the neophyte wrote home in his first days at the Seminary praising the institution and with effervescent cheerfulness told his family of his new surroundings and particularly of the view up and down the Potomac. He added extravagantly that "the Capitol and the President's house are very plainly seen from my window as I sit writing. With the help of a glass, the 'members' may be seen going up into the building, though I don't know that they can be distinguished individually." Soon afterward, Polk visited the President and found "Mr. Adams . . . as awkward as Mr. Clay is easy." The latter gentleman appealed to Leonidas as "a man of uncommonly imposing manners, tall, dignified . . . and very intelligent looking." Clay inquired p116after the health of Colonel Polk and this fact was duly communicated home. Meanwhile the ninth son of Colonel and Mrs. Polk was born.
Leonidas, from the seminary, remarked, "As General Jackson is the last of the line of heroes and sages, I fear he the new son) will find some difficulty in getting a name!" Leonidas' brothers had such names as Hamilton, Jackson, Rufus and Lucius, but none of them were quite as fierce as that of Leonidas. In a subsequent letter the young seminarian suggested Charles Adams as a suitable name for his youngest baby brother. Occasionally Polk visited Washington to attend meetings of the Education Society of his Church, and of the Colonization Society which was returning negroes to the free state of Liberia in Africa. Of one meeting Polk stated to his father: "Now I believe in the course of not many years one State after another will be willing to abolish slavery. This is proved by the state of things in Maryland and Virginia, the slave States farthest north, and from a variety of motives funds enough will be raised to gradually transport them." Up to this point in his life Leonidas had little contact with money and he was not practically aware of the problem of buying up the tremendous valuable property represented in slaves. Jefferson Davis mentioned good slaves as being worth over a thousand dollars each. The economic problem of replacing the slave labor by some feasible substitute had not come within Leonidas's scientific or theological education.
The following March, Colonel Polk visited Washington for the inauguration of General Jackson as President. While there he was much in company with his son both at Alexandria and in Washington. It is fairly certain that Colonel Polk importuned his son to leave the ministry, saying on one occasion, "You are spoiling a good soldier to make a poor preacher." Colonel E. G. W. Butler was visiting the President and Colonel Polk during inauguration week. He reported that after Jackson recalled the time that he and Colonel Polk had escaped down a lane closely pursued by the British cavalry during p117Tarleton's raid upon Waxhaw Settlement, talk centered on military subjects. Colonel Butler turned to Polk and asked: "Colonel, where is your son Leonidas stationed?" Polk replied, "Why, by thunder, Sir, he's over there in Alexandria at the Seminary."
Leonidas, according to his biographer, William M. Polk, "sat at the feet of his instructors with an unquestioning confidence in the authority and sufficiency of their teachings." It is hard to believe, as told by his son, that Leonidas, the conscientious West Point graduate, "made no attempt to make up for the disadvantage of his lack of a classical education by serious study of the ancient languages." The same authority asserted that Leonidas Polk limited his studies of ancient languages to a "superficial study of the Greek Testament and of the elements of Hebrew." Furthermore, the seminarian paid little attention to philosophy; studied ecclesiastical history only meagerly; and touched on ecclesiastical polity in a nominal way. It is said that Polk "regarded the ministry as a sort of military service, in which the minister has simply to obey orders and deliver the Commander's message." Leonidas Polk was a strong believer in the faith of the church and was willing to take for granted the evangelicalism preached by his old friend Chaplain McIlvaine at West Point. Although he applied himself fervently to evangelical theology he had cause in later years to outgrow his narrowness while studiously ignoring Calvinism. From such study Leonidas left the seminary to spend pleasant vacations in Raleigh, "explaining to his betrothed the evangelical truth which he himself had learned."
Leonidas' correspondence with Colonel Polk took into account his father's dislike for the career he had chosen. For that reason his letters contained every other bit of information that the son could find. On one occasion Leonidas spoke out against the spoils system of Jackson when he said: "His descending to the removal of petty postmasters . . . seems hardly suitable employment for the head of so great a nation . . . (and) were I a politician, I fear that I would find in the administration p118thus far enough to shake my Jackson principles." Arbitrary decisions by authorities in power were always irksome to Leonidas. He showed that he had not forgotten the punishment dealt out to him in his drawing training at the Military Academy.
In the summer of 1829 Polk used his influence to ask that Henry Hawkins, who had been discharged for deficiency in mathematics, should be returned to West Point, as there were instances at the same time of the retention at the Academy of sons of influential men whose cadet academic work had caused them deficiencies in more than one subject. These favored cases were allowed to join the following class instead of being dismissed. Of the case Leonidas said to his father: "I went with him (Henry Hawkins) to the President, stated his case to him, and desired his restoration wholly on the ground of established usage in such cases." In due time the former cadet was restored to the Academy to join the next class.f Leonidas must have felt that he had conquered the lion of arbitrary punishment at West Point. President Jackson meanwhile was restoring practically all cadets whose cases of dereliction were brought before him. Colonel Sylvanus Thayer was certain that the President was bent on wrecking the Academy; his only recourse was resignation, which was accepted in 1833.
Eighteen hundred and thirty was an eventful year for Leonidas Polk. He completed his theological studies at the seminary, was ordained, married, and suffered the loss of two brothers. His brother Hamilton, a student at Yale, was dying of consumption. To his mother Leonidas wrote of Hamilton having "the appearance of the seeds of our family malady sown within him." In a kindly manner and with the increasing religiosity of his writing, he bade his mother accept things, and bow to the inevitable with resignation. From the Bible he intoned: "It is in our power to be joyful recipients of the thrilling invitation, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you . . ."
Upon completion of his seminary studies Leonidas was p119ordained by Bishop R. C. Moore of Richmond on Good Friday and less than a month later was married to Frances Devereux. Before returning to Raleigh for the wedding Leonidas again asked for the approbation of his parents, and added that he anxiously hoped his brothers would not be estranged. Though their antagonism was not expected, Leonidas was afraid that in their sport-loving, race‑horse-breeding manner, they might with "good-humored jocularity concerning sacred things" place him in an awkward position. He would be forced to rebuke them at the risk of their fellowship because, as he explained, it would be wrong to permit them to make derogatory comments. Apparently his fears were groundless, and the wedding was celebrated happily. Soon afterward, Polk returned to Virginia to assist Bishop Moore at the Monumental Church in Richmond. During the summer he was left alone and either overtaxed himself, or because of a weakened condition, became quite ill. Nevertheless, he wrote many letters to Dr. McIlvaine, whom he addressed as "brother," describing the details of his ministry.
Early in the fall, Polk returned to Raleigh to be with his brother Hamilton, who, as it turned out, had come home to die. Hamilton in one of his conversations with Leonidas, asked him about the world which he was almost ready to enter. Joyfully, the new minister explained at great length life and death. During Hamilton's last illness by his side day and night so that he might give the comforts of religion. Having baptized him just before death, Leonidas then fulfilled Hamilton's last request that he read the burial service.
Once more in Richmond, Polk took up his duties where he had left off. He had occasion a few weeks later to write feelingly to his father to commiserate with him on the loss of the two‑year-old brother, Charles Adams. Writing in his new capacity, Leonidas reminded his father of his "protracted old age, the certainty of death, the immense and boundless eternity before (him), and the absolute necessity of a Christian character in order to insure happiness." Events continued their p120rapid march. Leonidas's first son was born, and duly named Hamilton. Then Polk, after having been ordained a priest, became so ill that he was advised to go to Europe for his health. Leaving Mrs. Polk and the baby in Raleigh, he mounted his horse and rode in easy stages northward. In Philadelphia he was told he had only a few months to live. In the belief therefore that a sea voyage might be beneficial, he sailed from New York for Europe.
In Paris, Polk went at once to the "celebrated Chomel," who assured him that, though possibly his lungs had been overtaxed, there was no disease. Leisure then was to be the cure. For over a year, the Reverend Leonidas Polk, a healthy looking young man of tremendous head, wide face, and piercing eyes, traveled through France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and England. He found solace in Paris churches, where he prayed often. On the journey to Brussels, Polk spoke of spending hours sitting between two Frenchmen without a word. This left him time for contemplation of the beauty of the country-side, of the horror of general war over the Polish difficulties and of life in Paris. He stated with righteousness: "For pleasure, I suppose, Paris is the first place in the world. But if this life is the place to prepare for another, and the scriptures are true, one had better live anywhere else."
In the kingdom of Naples, the customs official levied a charge of $20 on Polk's effects because of his numerous books and prints. The official explained that Polk would be charged a book dealer's duty, rather than that of the casual traveler. Seeing that argument was useless, Polk demanded that the trunk be sealed, and asked that his certificate be withheld. Then with a guard mounted beside him, Polk rode off to make right triumph. Polk later stated: "I considered the case so plain, and the demand so unreasonable, that I was determined, for the principle involved, to incur expense and inconvenience rather than to submit to it." In Naples the revenue officer and a prince heard of the case from Polk. Though the nobleman had no direct authority he was able by his influence to have p121Polk charged only one‑third of $20 by seeing to it that the books and prints were duty free. The traveling minister was "gratified to gain the point, although it had cost . . . both inconvenience and vexation." The matter was closed with Polk's remark, "One is forced to the reflection that a government so unrighteously administered must ere long go to the wall."g
Illness again became the lot of Polk. The effort of delivering a sermon in Naples brought a recurrence of his old ailment. Returning then to Paris he landed in the midst of a cholera epidemic and suffered a severe attack of that disease. After recovering he made a tour of England, where he found the English a devotional people at simple divine services. Conversely Polk thought the New College Chapel at Oxford, with its chanted song and service, "designed so wholly for effect" as to be most displeasing. It gave him no idea, he later said, of "solemnity and sanctity. These glimpses of English church life were reserved for correspondence with his wife. To his father, Leonidas wrote of other matters. He noted with enthusiasm the unbelievable speed of •26 miles an hour attained by Liverpool-Manchester train. After discoursing on the "hissing and puffing" monster which "attains a swiftness almost equal to that with which the swallow skims the earth," Polk agreed with the simple countrymen, "This beats all!" He added: The railroad is a "magnificent work, and from the fact that the stock is 90 per cent above par, you will see that it quite succeeds." While seeking to return to America Polk found all the ships sailing before a certain date were "small and incommodious," so he toured Scotland and Ireland while awaiting "a first-class packet with ample accommodations and civil captain."
Polk returned to Raleigh, where he passed the winter of 1832‑33 with his family. Believing that his health would be permanently improved by farm life, he accepted his father's offer of land in Tennessee and his father-in‑law's offer of slaves to cultivate it. During this time, Polk continued his correspondence p122with the Reverend Charles McIlvaine and occasionally wrote to his West Point roommate Albert Sidney Johnston, who was an officer in the army. To the latter, Polk presented an onyx cameo head of Washington which he had brought from Europe. He remarked then, "I have never known anyone whose character so closely resembled Washington's . . ." Though the young minister now settled on the land, like his new‑widowed mother, he was much interested in railroads. She had invested money in the earliest South Carolina railroad, while Leonidas was drafting addresses for a committee on railways in Tennessee. The committee thought well enough of one address to distribute 5000 copies throughout the state. Polk had strong feelings in regard to the railroads and once said to a West Point friend that the true preventive of such a calamity as conflicting interest between different sections of the country "would be found in the creation of a complete railway system which would so unite all parts of the country in the bonds of a common interest as to make a disintegration of the Union difficult, if not impossible." Jefferson Davis made an almost identical statement when, as Secretary of War, he pushed the survey of transcontinental railway routes.
While continuing his farming interests, Leonidas took charge of a parish in Columbia.º Also he raised funds sufficient to enable Bishop James H. Otey to establish a church school for girls. After Polk's death in 1864, his wife taught English literature in return for board and room until she had set up her own girls' school in New Orleans. The increase in his duties at Columbia was too much for Polk's health, for he again broke down. He sought recovery in travel successfully, though this time he journeyed only to Kentucky. Upon his return to the aristocratic country life of Columbia, he kept his religious exercises to a minimum, preaching only on Sundays. Such peace naturally was not to last.
A business firm for which Polk had become surety for $30,000 failed, and Polk for the first time in his life "found himself (financially) embarrassed." While he was struggling p123with this problem, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, at their meeting in 1838, appointed him Missionary Bishop of the Southwest. Without regard to personal consideration, the appointee obeyed orders. Late in the year, Polk was consecrated in Cincinnati and his old friend Bishop McIlvaine of the Ohio diocese preached. The latter related at length the story of Polk's baptism at West Point and of his intervening years of ministry. McIlvaine, mentioning St. John's Church, which had been built by Bishop Polk and three of his brothers, at the point where each of their properties met in Tennessee, spoke of how Polk in ill health had settled himself for life as preacher and pastor "to a humble and obscure congregation of negroes." Then quoting from are Saint Paul, Bishop McIlvaine concluded with the admonition to Polk to "endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
On his first missionary tour, Bishop Polk traveled for six months over the States of Alabama and Mississippi, the Arkansas Territory, and the Republic of Texas. There were few members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this vast area, so that Polk's ministry was one of missionary effort, in which there were churches to be built, clergymen to be ordained, and people to be gathered into congregations. Polk, of huge frame and commanding appearance, met crackers, mudcats, buckeyes and all the other ill‑assorted men who sought independence in the Southwest. Wherever he stopped Polk made converts, if not to the church, at least to those who knew and respected his personality. Traveling on horseback, he never knew where he would stop the night, and on one occasion, according to his son, he was fortunate enough to find a country inn where his host addressed him as "General."
"No, my friend," said Polk, "you are mistaken; I am not a soldier."
"Judge, then," hazarded the innkeeper.
"That is not the title given me by those who know me, replied Polk, beginning to be amused.
"Well, Bishop, then!"
p124 "Right," said Polk, laughing.
To which the other replied, "I knew you were at the head of your profession, whatever it was."
On his first visit to the Republic of Texas, Bishop Polk stopped in Houston, where he was entertained by a certain Colonel Gray. There Polk reunited with Albert Sidney Johnston for the first time since cadet days at West Point. As they sat upon the porch after dinner, recollections of days in cadet gray came rushing back. While discussing old school friends, Bishop Polk declared impulsively, "It is remarkable, General, that out of the three composing our staff at the Point, two are in the ministry and you are left alone." General Johnston replied feelingly: "It is true, Bishop, and I cannot say that it is not my fault. But I assure you it is not pride or any such thing that keeps me from confessing the same faith. If I could be convinced, I would preach from the housetops." All that Polk could answer was, "I know you would, General — I know you would."
Naturally, Polk had some rough experiences among the land speculators, adventurers and fugitives from justice while in Texas. Even the Bishop was suspected of belonging to one of those groups. One stranger hearing that Polk was a Tennessean asked what brought him there. Smilingly Polk told him that he was a clergyman, to which the Texan replied, "Go back; we are not worth saving!"
Month after month Polk traveled his enormous diocese, journeying chiefly on horseback, but often by vehicle or boat. There is little in written matter to tell of the day-to‑day experiences, except for a few anecdotes. On a river boat bound for Shreveport, Louisiana, the Bishop chanced upon a fellow passenger who first took an observation of the sun and then began to read his bible. Polk, upon engaging the trader in conversation, found that he had promised his wife, a devout Episcopalian, that he would read the bible at the same time as she did each day. That night the steamer struck a snag and sank. Polk helped his friend save his valuable furs, and, what is more, suggested p125to the crew a plan by which the boat might be raised. This was accomplished under his directions, and Bishop Polk traveled on to Shreveport. There he visited a colony of Episcopalians, but when he endeavored to arrange a service he was told by other townspeople that there was no preaching wanted. When final arrangements had been made for a service, a mob sent word saying, "That they would either prevent the meeting or disperse it by force," but Polk aided by his friend, the fur trader, nevertheless went ahead with his plans. At the moment when the mob and his congregation were gathering, the crew of the sunken steamer appeared in town and with no little force declared that the Bishop "should not be molested." In very certain terms they explained that he was no common preacher but knew how to work.
Since Bishop Polk's diocese was a missionary one, he spent all his time as an evangelist preaching from house to house, finding himself rarely able to leave permanent buildings or parishes behind him. In a letter to Bishop McIlvaine he explained that his territory was equal in extent to that of France and if he were to be successful he must have aid. As an aside he mentioned further that he "often felt strongly that a missionary Bishop ought not to have a family. He should be literally married to the church. . . . I often think of a remark tauntingly made by your fellow laborer, the Romanist Bishop of Ohio, to Campbell, the Baptist, in their theological bout when discussing the doctrine of the celibacy of the clergy. He asked Campbell if he did not think St. Paul would have cut a fine figure, while visiting the churches of Asia, with a wife and seven screaming children following in his train!"
In November, 1840, Bishop Polk set out on his third visitation in a light carriage, drawn by a pair of horses and driven by a Negro servant. After reaching Little Rock, Polk was compelled to abandon the carriage and continue on horseback into Texas. In a letter home Polk mentioned that the horses were very good under the saddle, but he was afraid they would attract horse thieves. He related one encounter with desperadoes p126but surprisingly, he said, they let him pass without difficulty. That night at the house of John Ross, the Cherokee Chief, Polk learned that the men were well-known ruffians. Commenting on the incident the Indian host remarked that the ruffians must have thought Polk well armed. The Bishop assured him that a man of his profession could not carry arms. When morning came the cordial host seemed cold and distant. The explanation lay hidden for several days. The negro servant confessed that Ross had asked him if it were true that Polk went unarmed. His reply was: "I was not going to let him and his people think that about us, so I told them that we were always heavily armed." The clergyman used this incident as a sermon for his servant, stating that they were always armed with the sword of the Spirit. On his return from this third visit to his diocese Polk changed his residence from Tennessee to Bayou la Fourche, •about sixty miles above New Orleans and there he named his plantation, Leighton. Soon after this Polk was invited by the Louisiana deputies at a General Convention of the Church to become Bishop of Louisiana.
Leighton was purchased from the inheritance from Mrs. Polk's mother. The Bishop and his wife could not decide whether to live on a plantation or use the money to purchase a city home. Polk said then that in order "to exercise the best influence in a community of planters, he himself must be a planter." He further believed that dutiful care of his 400 slaves would be the best possible exposition of the true relationship between master and slave.
Bishop Polk was an able, kindly leader of his negroes — a master who knew when to be strict and when to be lenient. One of his first moves was to make Sunday a holiday and a time of prayer even during the cane-grinding season when all other sugar planters kept their mills running. Polk's neighbors remonstrated against this innovation as they knew their own slaves would make a similar demand. Furthermore, old sugar planters reminded Polk that his six‑day week would result in financial loss, as the margin of profit depended upon continuous p127during the grinding season. The Bishop said he would take the consequences. The family governess, an emigrant from Ireland, said that the Polk negroes were treated with more consideration than the white domestics in her own country. Polk's handling of the morals of his slaves showed real ingenuity. In order to preserve the sanctity of family life Polk lavishly celebrated in his own home the marriages of his slaves. There were new wedding garments for the bride and groom, a wedding supper, and a dance which lasted most of the night. Any couple caught misbehaving was married without display and in their working clothes. The guilty pair was merely summoned from the fields and without ostentation made husband and wife. Upon completion of the rites they returned to work.
That Polk was not unmindful of his duty to his wife and family in the management of the plantation was shown by the fact that he had the material welfare of his own fields and those of his neighbors at heart. On his visits to the General Convention "he never omitted learning all he could respecting the improvements in the manufacture of sugar, seeing new machinery, and testing it himself before trying to introduce it among the planters around him."
Even though his diocese was much smaller than the Southwest Territory, its labors necessitated many trips away from home. For twelve years Mrs. Polk operated the plantation according to the Bishop's plan. He believed that the negroes should be given allotted tasks and retained on those tasks until completion. The slaves who worked faster on this competitive basis were therefore allowed more leisure. When Polk returned home from a tour he would play with the children, sing, and tell them stories. He always said that "children had rights as well as grown folks" and that they must inhale good manners with the air of their daily life. Mrs. Polk, of a strict upbringing, attempted to discipline the children but his genial nature conquered her desires. On occasion, however, Bishop Polk could be a stern father with his children. While visiting in Columbia, Tennessee, he heard his children shouting from p128the front fence to some passers‑by. They yelled: "Down with Polk and Dallas; we're for Clay." Polk immediately called the children into the house and finding that the passers‑by had been his second cousin, James K. Polk and his wife, the Bishop administered a sound spanking to his children.
Both Mrs. Polk and the Bishop showed their true devotion to their negroes during the great cholera epidemic in 1848‑49. At one time there were not enough well negroes to nurse those among the 400 slaves who were sick. The Bishop's family spent all of their time with the sick attempting to save them. As a consequence the crops were not worked and the expenses of $50,000 for that year were only partially met. Another calamity was a tornado in 1850 which inflicted damage of over $100,000 in the destruction of the sugar house. These "Acts of God" and Polk's inattention to the daily business of his plantation, eventually forced the sale of Leighton to settle its indebtedness. Following the war, Mrs. Polk spoke sharply of the lax business methods which had prevailed at the plantation. "If I had done my duty you (her daughters) would all have been better off in a pecuniary point of view. . . . I felt that I was doing wrong at the time and I have never felt otherwise." The Bishop's enlightened handling of his slaves also raised the cost of their upkeep and must have reduced the extent of their labors. As though all this were not enough, a broker absconded with some Polk money entrusted to his care. All during the 1840's the Bishop had refused a salary and had used his own wealth to aid in the erection of church buildings and in the accomplishment of other diocesan work. In 1853 he moved his family and a few servants to Bolivar County, Mississippi, to take up life upon the $4000 annual salary which the diocese settled on him as a Bishop. Weary of country life Polk removed to New Orleans shortly thereafter.
Though Polk's worries over the loss of his fortune and plantation consumed a great deal of his time, the results of his religious efforts showed that he had not neglected his Bishopric. When he began his ministry in Louisiana he found two p129church buildings and five clergymen in the entire region; when he visited the diocesan convention in 1853, twenty‑one parishes were represented and twenty-five clergymen were present. One of Polk's ministers described a meeting with him in 1857. He remarked particularly on Polk's gentlemanly attitude and his "penetrating, sympathetic look . . . This Reverend Dr. Fulton explained that Polk, though over 50 years of age, still had a clear complexion and an elastic step. He was well over •six feet in height "and his form was cast in the ideal mold of a soldier. His broad shoulders, his lean flank, his erect carriage, and his decidedly military bearing, prepared one for the clear, distinct voice, which never struck one as imperious, but had always a certain tone of command." Though the Bishop had examined him fully and quickly on their first meeting, Dr. Fulton explained that he felt not at all as though he had been scrutinized, but felt rather that he was understood.
Dr. Fulton, deacon under Bishop Polk, declared that despite Polk's dignity the people felt that he was one of them because, for instance, he pronounced "to" as "toh" and "goodness" as "goodniss." His rendering of the service was impressive, intelligent and simple. He was not "an adept in matters of ritual and sometimes confused the rubrics, not from carelessness or contempt, but rather from preoccupation with weightier matters." It appeared that the Bishop greatly disliked puritanical professions of religion and insisted that conduct must be the criterion. "The one follows the other," the Bishop said. "Faith is a charger that carries a man into battle, but he must fight when he gets there . . ."
Bishop Polk, when discussing the duties of a priest, accentuated the qualities of personal character and personal sympathy. No greater example of this attitude was shown than his pastoral visiting. Very carefully he listed the families in each district, visiting them in turn. Before he entered any house he mentally reviewed every person connected with the family so that he could easily converse about their friends and neighbors. There were similar maxims which governed Polk's diocesan p130administration. To him it was a fine art to be able to let people alone. He stated it was worth the labor to get people to do something rather than to do it himself, adding that it would be better done and worth more when completed. Finally, Bishop Polk said: "Don't be a martinet. People who work have a right to choose their own way of working . . . always give them the credit for what is done . . ." At the same time Bishop Polk had a distinct power to rebuke men. If he found something incorrectly done by one of his clergymen he clearly and forcefully pointed out the errors. On one occasion Bishop Polk made several mistakes at the opening services of a convention. This was quite customary in his ritual propriety and he thought nothing more of it until an account of his mistakes appeared in a church newspaper. There was no signature and Bishop Polk was bound that he would find out. He asked his deacon if he knew the author of the letter. (Shades of Polk's criticism of Colonel Thayer using the West Point postmaster as his tale bearer.) By questioning visiting clergymen Bishop Polk one day discovered the author, a rather naïve clergyman. Blandly the Bishop commented upon the meanness and cowardice of an anonymous attack and asserted that the assault on his person had been an additional wrong. Dr. Fulton reported: "The poor fellow was spiritually broken on the wheel for a long half hour. He had not intended to do any of these dreadful things, and yet, as the Bishop went on, he seems to have been guilty of all of them." On another occasion a presbyter of the diocese was brought before an ecclesiastical court where the Bishop was presiding. Though the Bishop knew from the testimony that the offender was guilty he himself was much moved. After the judgment had been pronounced and prayers offered, the Bishop "extended his hand to the man he had just suspended from ecclesiastical office." The latter grasped it with tears in his eyes.
For a long time Polk had desired to establish a University which would be in the South and for the South. He collected information on the educational systems of England, France, p131and Prussia and consulted with his friends. From his studies, his travels, and due perhaps to his own technical education at West Point, Polk saw the need for a great University in America, one particularly which would serve the South. He wished for no purely sectarian institution but he felt that it would be an advantage if the heads of such an institution understood the peculiar Southern psychology. Also from a churchman's point of view he wished to train Southern ministers so that he would not have to continue to call on other sections for his clergymen. He envisioned the school — he realized it was a tremendous undertaking — as placed in a cool climate and heavily endowed. He wanted no barracks and planned that the students would live with near‑by families.
Other ideas too were stirring in Polk's mind as he envisaged the University of the South. He wrote intimately to his friend Bishop Elliott in 1856, asserting that the times were dangerous. He said: "I cannot be mistaken in the signs of the times. A few years more are all that are wanted to make what is now a shadowy phantom an embodied and living and impressive reality; and we shall have nothing left us but bitter and unavailing reproaches if we do not wake up to the necessity of providing amply for the emergency that is at the door." In this letter Polk dwelt on the attitude toward Southern traditions of the Northern clergymen who were coming South. Their critical attitude was indicative of Northern thought. Rising to a crescendo, Polk lashed out: "Talk of slavery! Those madcaps of the North don't understand the thing at all. We hold the negroes, and they hold us! They furnish the yoke and we the neck! My own is getting sore . . ."
Continuing his interest in the University, Polk searched diligently for a suitable location. The mountains of Tennessee seemed more fitted than the Alabama and Georgia locations, and thus the Bishops voted. The cornerstone was laid at Sewanee and the school was named the University of the South. It was not until Polk had collected a half-million of the $3,000,000 endowment desired that he would begin building. p132All throughout the drive for funds he showed his genius in money collecting and his confidence that the South would support him. He gathered a quarter-million dollars from Louisiana alone and proclaimed that the field was not exhausted.
More and more Polk's thoughts turned to the great political issues of slavery and states' rights. At Christmas, 1860, Bishop Polk wrote a long letter to President James Buchanan, expressing his sentiments on the forthcoming secession of the Southern States from the Union. Polk believed that the president lacked accurate and reliable information about the true feeling of the Southern States. He forecast Southern solidarity, stating that "State boundaries will be forgotten in a sense of common danger . . ." and forecast the secession of the other Southern States. His only suggestion, a negative one, offered to the President, was that he should not enforce the laws "without regard to consequences." A few days later Buchanan suggested a national day of prayer for settlement of political differences. Polk gladly sent out a pastoral letter requesting his diocese to use a prayer written by himself. Upon the secession of Louisiana, Polk hastily removed his diocese from dependence upon the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. He concluded that the Church "must follow our Nationality . . ." Though he subsequently specified that the Church was still one on doctrine, he reaffirmed the alienation of his diocese from the National Church.
This action caused a storm in both the South and the North. Polk was roundly censored for his precipitate and independent action. Why he did not wait for a meeting of the Southern Bishops is difficult to understand. From North Carolina, Bishop Polk had received the suggestion of such a conference, but he must have dismissed it with the thought that no Bishop would want to leave his diocese at the time to discuss a debatable political point. Bishop Polk's son, in explanation of his father's action, stated that he had no intention of upholding the Louisiana diocese's secession as that would have meant schism, or a p133complete jurisdictional break. Bishop Polk meant "isolation: rather than "independence" when he spoke of removing his diocese "from within the pale of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States." One affirmative explanation of Polk's action was that the seceding states were separated from the United States just as the colonies were separated from Great Britain. In the spiritual realm, the Bishop of London in the latter case could not hold jurisdiction over the colonial clergymen. Apparently there were no repercussions as far as Polk's standing was concerned, for he made a normal tour of his diocese in April, 1861. To his wife, he communicated while traveling his desire that his son, Mecklenburg, should join General Smith's corps on the battlefield. Catastrophe again came to the Polk family when their home was burned over their heads, evidently at the hand of a political incendiary. Polk, away at the time, learned of the disaster, and termed it "Hellish!" Desire for vindication was strong within him. Though the clergy were not forced to join the Confederate forces, several members had already entered military service.
The martial spirit was abroad. Men of all callings, of all political beliefs and of all ages were entering the service. Men with military education were given the confidence of the people in appointment to high military command. To a man of such direct nature and of such independence of action, the offering of his services to the government was natural with Polk. Though his clerical robe lent sanctuary, his intelligent appreciation of the crises in national affairs caused him to consider more than priestly aid. The instinct for family protection which had been roused in him by the burning of his home made him emotionally ready for service to the Confederacy. Friends of Polk's began to express their feeling that he should transfer his administrative and leadership ability to the military forces. Bishop Polk himself appeared not to have been averse to such p134belief. This is especially evident in his son's statement in the biography of his father: "It was no secret that his natural bent of mind and character was rather that of a soldier than of a priest, and that he had entered the ministry under a deep conviction of religious duty, not because the quiet life of a clergyman was more congenial to him than the arduous and stirring life of a soldier."
In the middle of the month of May, Polk, realizing the unprotected nature of the Mississippi Valley, wrote to his old West Point friend, Jefferson Davis, asking that due precautions be taken. Davis replied that he thought the Mississippi Valley had natural protection in its bad climate and declared that he believed it in no present danger. Finally Davis stated, "It would gratify me very much to see you." Bishop Polk visited Sewanee soon afterward and there was urged by Governor Isham G. Harris, of Tennessee, to lay the matter of the Mississippi Valley and its defense before the President in Richmond. A few weeks later Polk dined with Davis and his Cabinet, and discussed matters quite freely. The Bishop wrote to his wife that he had been received with confidence and communicated his belief that good would result from the interview. Polk also mentioned that Albert Sidney Johnston was expected soon, that General Lee had discussed the West with him, and that "Davis will take the field in person when the movement (in Virginia) is to be made." While in Richmond, Polk's friends in the Army, in business, and in the Church, inquired whether he was taking a commission in the army. Most of them pressed him to accept military duty and assuredly Polk was not a man to listen with a deaf ear to expressions of confidence.
Bishop Polk urged Albert Sidney Johnston upon Jefferson Davis rather often and unnecessarily. Naturally, Polk was interested in furthering the military career of his old West Point roommate, but soldiers like Davis and Lee, who had also been at West Point at the same time, were well aware of Johnston's qualifications. Meanwhile, Albert Sidney Johnston was journeying by horseback across the desert from Los Angeles to the p135Rio Grande at "Pony-Express" speed, even though he was nearly 60 years of age. Davis personally offered the Mississippi Valley command to Polk in the interim, but Polk declined. Davis again urged the appointment upon the Bishop in a friendly letter phrasing the request as follows: "My dear friend, would it be agreeable to you, with the rank of Brigadier-General, to have command of the land and water defenses of the Mississippi River above the mouth of the Red River . . .? The tender of a Major-Generalcy followed before Polk answered the letter. A Mississippi delegation, in Richmond at the time conferring on the defense problem of their homes, unanimously urged poll to accept the appointment. Polk's attempt to be modest in a letter to his wife was revealing. "I find there is a great wish on the part of my friends that I should take part in this movement. The expression is very general and the President has twice brought it before me . . . No man is more deeply impressed with the paramount importance of our success in this movement, nor more filled with apprehension at the prospect of its failure; but what my duty may be I have not yet determined. I cannot ignore what I know; I cannot forget what I have learned; nor can I forget I have been educated by the country in its service for certain contingencies."
Bishop Polk now acted with characteristic forthrightness and in his spirit of one problem at a time. Believing in the cause of the South he decided to buckle on his sword. This action he was sure was consistent with his vows. Everything seemed to hinge on whether or not his services "were really needed" in the army. Apparently Polk's decision to accept Davis's appointment was influenced by his old friend Bishop Meade of Virginia. To his wife Bishop Polk wrote that his brother clergyman after taking into account Polk's education, history, and natural character said, "he could not condemn" Polk's action. Furthermore, Leonidas Polk told his wife that Bishop Meade was not expected to advise acceptance of the appointment. To Bishop Elliott the same day, Polk wrote that Meade "is for a downright good fight, and wants the enemy to feel the weight p136of our arm." Finally, Polk asserted, "The decision I reserve for myself." Many years later Jefferson Davis explained that when he offered Polk a commission, "It was amor pro aris et focis; like a Christian he entered on a patriot's duty."
As Polk was leaving the Capitol at Richmond an acquaintance congratulated him on his promotion. Upon Polk's refusal to consider it a promotion the friend half seriously declared, "What! You, a Bishop, throw off the gown for the sword!" Polk replied, "I buckle the sword over the gown." When Polk arrived in Tennessee people there said that they were safe because they had "The sword of the Lord (Polk) and of Gideon (General Gideon Pillow)" to defend them. To the controversy over Polk's secession of the diocese of Louisiana he now added his personal secularization. Most Northern ministers looked upon his change of status with opprobrium — a feeling perhaps felt, though not voiced, by a few of the Southern ministers. The controversy was one as to whether or not the Book of Common Prayer stated positively that upon ordination a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church could assume any other calling without being brought to an ecclesiastical trial. Apparently there was no such positive statement in the declaration for a deacon upon his ordination as a priest. Some felt that Polk had violated the spirit rather than the letter of his priestly vows. At any rate Polk was never officially censored by the church and there was general concurrence that his act of joining the army, though unfortunate, was not a direct offense.
Though Polk was not the kind of man to worry about the censure of others still he was much gratified that most of those in the Southern Church approved his actions. In all the correspondence of Leonidas Polk during the fall and winter of 1861 there was the expression of his strong desire for relief from military duty so that he might return to his "cherished work." As soon as General Albert Sidney Johnston arrived in the Mississippi Valley Polk quite logically followed up his determination to resign when his services were no longer needed. The Bishop wrote to Jefferson Davis mentioning his p137reluctance to continue in military command and explained that with the return of Johnston, "our mutual friend," he was tendering his resignation. This letter penned the day before the Battle of Belmont, in Missouri, was followed three days later by a letter to Johnston explaining his motive for tentatively accepting a commission and expressed his desire to resign. A copy of his letter of resignation to Jefferson Davis was enclosed at the same time. In his note to Johnston, Polk asserted that he did not wish to be released until he had completed some defenses which he had begun. Polk said: "I feel the time has come when I may be permitted to retire. I am on many accounts strongly tempted to remain and continue to support you, and if my services were essential to the success of the army, I should feel my position one of extreme embarrassment; but, that not being by any means the case, I must claim the privilege of being guided by that sense in duty in retiring from military service which influenced me in accepting it, being persuaded you can find among the general officers under your command one who could fill my place far more satisfactorily than I do."
With such a vacillating statement in his hand, it was not surprising that General Johnston should urge that Polk's resignation be refused. Jefferson Davis, a few days later, explained that it was not possible for General Johnston to relieve Polk and asked him to postpone his resignation, especially since he had just won the confidence of his troops through the victory at Belmont. The Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. C. C. Memminger, in a fervent letter explained: "Permit me as Brother in the Lord to say that I think both you and I are just as much called and ordained to the posts we occupy as the presbyter upon whom your hands are laid. . . . Even the tribe of Levi when Moses called for those on the Lord's side, took the sword and swept away the enemies . . ." Evidently Bishop Meade had also been called upon to add his solicitation and his letter arrived three days later. He stated that at a meeting of the clergy he had heard "no objections" to Polk's acceptance of a generalcy. Bishop Otey stated that he had received copies of the p138President's and Mr. Memminger's letters, and he added his approbation of Polk's conduct.
Bishop McIlvaine in his Northern diocese of Ohio apparently neither approved nor disapproved his protégé's actions in taking up arms for the Confederacy. After the conclusion of the war, though, he had occasion to defend Bishop Polk, whose actions were the subject of condemnation by a conclave of Northern Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church. McIlvaine made such a stirring appeal for his cadet convert as he recited the story of his conversion and ministry that the assembly of Bishops retracted their indictment of Leonidas Polk and sent a letter of condolence to his widow.
Though he had been in the fighting service for only a few months, Polk again attempted to resign in mid‑January, 1862, but the same procedure of letter writing was successful in retaining him as an officer of the army. On the latter occasion, Davis asked a member of the Confederate Congress and the Assistant Secretary of War to write beseeching letters to Polk before he himself wrote a firm letter saying that resignation could not be entertained. He begged him to "abandon for the present all thought of resigning." The Bishop was in the army to stay, no matter what the fine points of the argument against his action might have been.
In Polk's military career there is enough subject matter for a book in itself. In this character sketch the chief interest is in whether or not his leadership exercised a strong religious feeling in the army and secondly whether it was translated into capable military action. When Polk became a Major-General he must have made up his mind not to try to be both a Chaplain and a General. This was a wise move, as he certainly could not have been a success in such a dual capacity. His religious leadership therefore appears to have been one of high moral influence by the imprint of his strong character and fine personality upon his command. There are several recorded incidents of Polk's ministry in the field but each one of them joined priestly zeal with the power of example. Before the battles near p139Atlanta, Polk baptized John B. Hood and Joseph E. Johnston — acts which exerted considerable influence. It was in the town of Dalton, Georgia, that General Hood was baptized in his headquarters, about midnight one evening. Hood, a gallant soldier, who had lost a leg and an arm, knelt with difficulty so that Polk asked him to be seated during the ceremony. Hood refused and arose, leaning on his crutches, and reverently bowed his head, while Polk took water from a tin basin and christened him. A few days later General Johnston was baptized in his tent. Another General, William J. Hardee, was also baptized by Polk in this same period. During the first months of the war, though Polk had resigned all Episcopal and most of his priestly functions, he ministered at the deathbed of Major Edward Butler, who fell at Belmont. Major Butler, though mortally wounded, sat and talked to Polk at the latter's headquarters for some time. On Polk's countenance was the pain and suffering; on Butler's, the triumph, according to bystanders. When Polk left the room for a few minutes, Butler said, "There goes one of the noblest men God ever made." When it was evident that the Major was dying General Polk was again sent for. Polk gave his blessing and many officers in the room said later they could never forget the power that emanated from his presence. The last of Polk's priestly functions was the marriage of Colonel John H. Morgan. One of Bragg's staff members said that he had been present at many marriages, religious and civil, but the one which impressed him most was the military wedding of Morgan. Bishop Polk performed the ceremony a few days before the battle of Stone's River, at the home of the bride. That evening Morgan and his command left Murfreesboro on a raid toward Kentucky.
Thomas Robson Hay said that Leonidas Polk was "not too competent for high command"; he was not a military strategist of extraordinary talent. The reasons for his inability to rise to fame are difficult to assess. Certainly he lacked military education, which had been understandably neglected since his cadet days; perhaps he lacked the elusive military genius which educated p140men like West Pointer William J. Hardee had not acquired, and which unschooled men like Nathan B. Forrest possessed in large measure. Had Polk risen to full stature as a military leader, his friend, Albert Sidney Johnston, would studies have recommended him for higher commands, as he had done at West Point. Perhaps no individuals were more discouraged by the Bishop's failure to show command ability than his friends, Davis and Lee. Both appreciated the tremendous moral factor which Polk could mean to the Confederate cause. He was a courageous leader whom people could respect and have confidence in; all he lacked was that sixth sense of judgment on the battlefield which too often means the difference between victory and defeat. In subordinate commands, Polk's false independence, his too‑quick decisions, and his failure to drive men beyond the limits which kindness dictated, were perhaps reasons why he failed. Because he was a man of strong opinions and stubborn allegiance to them, he could not get along with other generals who crossed or disagreed with him. When Polk was fortifying the heights of the Mississippi at Columbus, Kentucky, General Gideon Pillow strongly disagreed with him on "the proper military policies to be pursued." Many generals, including the Commander-in‑Chief, wanted to give up Columbus, but Polk firmly decided that it could withstand a siege and that the Confederates should fight. General Pillow resigned.
As noted above, Bishop Leonidas Polk in the spring of 1861 had finally accepted the position of Major General in command of the land and water defenses of the Mississippi River above the mouth of the Red River. Sometime after July 1, 1861, Polk arrived at his headquarters in Memphis to take command of his department. The next weeks were spent in administering his sprawling military command. Troops had to be called, arms procured, and all the materials of war sought wherever possible. The lack of industrial plants, especially of arsenals and ordnance shops, made the procurement of supplies difficult. In early September Polk received from his Commander-in‑Chief, Davis, an order extending his department so p141that it included "the defense of Arkansas and the relief of Missouri." Davis further advised that due to the lack of rifles Polk should raise troops armed with hunting rifles as "they will make your best skirmishers if properly organized and commanded." Further Davis adjured Polk: "Keep me better advised of your forces and purposes. It is only when forewarned that I can meet your wishes or your wants."
Continually occupied by guerilla warfare in Missouri, Polk's main study was of the defense of the river above Memphis. Though heavy guns were practically unobtainable, Polk went forward with the idea of fortifying Island No. 10 and Columbus, Kentucky, and of continuing the erection of Fort Pillow. Besides the lack of guns and well-equipped troops, Polk in his correspondence noted the lack of engineering skill and materials for the building of these forts along the Mississippi River. General Albert Sidney Johnston arrived in mid‑September and confirmed the command of the upper Mississippi River defenses under Polk's leadership.
Polk's first engagement of large proportions was at Belmont, Missouri, on the heights of the Mississippi River, across from Columbus. Generals U. S. Grant and C. F. Smith were moving with Union forces from Cairo and Paducah respectively to make a demonstration at Columbus. The fight between 5000 Confederates and 4000 Federals was very nearly a drawn battle, with losses approximately equal. Leonidas Polk's leadership was capable, though not distinguished. General Grant spoke rather deprecatingly of this battle, remarking that his men were under fire for the first time. Grant mentioned that at one time on the battlefield they appeared to be surrounded and "some of the officers seemed to think we were in a hopeless position, where there was nothing to do but surrender. But when I announced that we had cut our way in and could cut our way out just as well, it seemed a new revelation to officers and soldiers." Grant's forces, pressed all the way by General Polk's command, reached the boats along the river's edge in safety.
p142 Soon after the Battle of Belmont, a Dahlgren gun carrying a 128‑pound shot exploded, killing most of the men within a few feet. General Polk, who was standing near‑by, was not hit by fragments but was injured by the stunning effect of the concussion. Subsequent to this first engagement the commanders met under flags of truce to discuss exchange of prisoners. On his first meeting with General Grant, Polk wrote to his wife: "He looked rather grave, I thought, like a man who was not at his ease. We talked pleasantly and I succeeded in getting a smile out of him, and then got on well enough. . . . I was favorably impressed with him; he is undoubtedly a man of much force." On another day the flag of truce was carried by Colonel N. B. Buford, one of Polk's old West Point friends. The Confederates had provided a lunch after the business was completed at which Colonel Buford raised his glass and proposed a toast, "George Washington, the Father of his Country." Bishop Polk quickly rejoined, "And the first rebel!"
During the winter Polk continued his unsuccessful efforts to resign. In a Christmas letter home he spoke of "Glory to God in the Highest, Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men." He said then that he yearned to join in the song "if our enemies would let us." Furthermore, he continued: "I feel no unkindness toward them or toward any living being, and would bless and pray for them if they would let me. But we trust now as ever that the Lord will deliver us out of their hands . . . and give them a better mind." Mrs. Margaret Sumner McLean, daughter of a former regular army general, and wife of an officer on General Polk's staff, gave an insight into his appearance. She remarked that upon meeting Polk she felt revulsion at the idea of a Bishop joining the army. He impressed her as a man who, having once made up his mind, was not one to look back. He reveled in the new atmosphere which he called "fresh." Mrs. McLean said: "I see the twinkle in his eye now, and love to remember that in his gay moments, as in his more serious ones, he fulfilled my ideal of a Christian gentleman."
It was at this time that General Polk disagreed with Pillow p143over the proper defense of the river. Pillow returned to his home. Forts Henry and Donelson, along the Mississippi, had fallen. This failure, coupled with the declared intention of the Federals to push their forces up the Tennessee River, made the occupation of Columbus untenable, according to most observers. General P. T. Beauregard, lately arrived in the West under Johnston's command, had serious doubts about the efficiency of the fortifications and guns at Columbus. Beauregard wanted to hold the river from Island No. 10 and Fort Pillow, evacuating Columbus, but Polk was not ready to assent. Beauregard, who had been ill, never actually saw the fortifications at Columbus but in his staff report wrote the government that "Columbus with present defensive resources must meet the fate of Fort Donelson . . ." In short, Columbus was evacuated, though General Halleck of the Union Army said that the defenses were "very strong." The 7000 men withdrawn from Columbus held Island No. 10 for one month. Because of the loss of these forts, the entire Mississippi River defense was crumbling.
Spring, 1862, brought further Confederate attempts to relieve the pressure on the river. Polk was now a Corps Commander in the Army of the Mississippi as it moved toward the battlefield at Shiloh. It was during this great battle that Polk first began to run into difficulties in exercising the leadership of his corps. There was a tie‑up over the orders which Polk received from General Braxton Bragg. During the day of the battle, General Beauregard and Bragg, having held a conference, called Polk in also. Beauregard said with some feeling, "I am very much disappointed at the delay which has occurred in getting the troops into position." Polk replied, "So am I, Sir; but so far as I am concerned my orders are to form on another line (General Bragg's), and that line must first be established before I can form upon it." Polk's voice rose in further self-defense: "I reached Mickey's at nightfall yesterday, whence I could not move because of the troops (Bragg's) which were before me, until 2 P.M. today. I then promptly followed the column in front of me, and have been in position to form upon p144it so soon as its line was established." Beauregard "regretted the delay exceedingly," because the attack had to be called off, and a retreat made to Corinth. This meeting was the council of war often mentioned as taking place on the eve of the battle. Johnston then rode up and was informed of the argument. Quite rightly the latter said that such conduct "would never do." Johnston determined the condition of the troops and being assured of their eagerness for battle decided to attack at daybreak. General Johnston's aide corroborated the fact of the meeting and its discussion and added that his Commander ordered the writing of orders "with more than his usual animation." A little later he said of General Polk, "(He) is a true soldier and friend." The battle of Shiloh was a defeat for the Confederates, though Beauregard extricated himself from a perilous position on the last day of battle, withdrawing to Tupelo in Mississippi. Albert Sidney Johnston had been killed — the first great loss among Southern leaders.
General Polk had continued to acquit himself favorably enough. Later in 1862 he commanded the right wing of Bragg's army, as it moved into Kentucky. Polk continued to have difficulty with Bragg's orders. General Hardee said after this campaign, "If you (General Polk) choose to rip up the Kentucky Campaign, you can tear Bragg into tatters." General Polk's son gave the following defense of his father's actions. "General Bragg claims in his report that his plans were defeated first, because Polk did not move from Bardstown to the attack of the insignificant force (Sill's Division) before Frankfort; second, because Polk did not rout Buell at Perryville. The report is silent as to the fact that General Bragg himself countermanded the first, and it shows that General Bragg was persistently blind to the additional fact that he had rendered the second impossible by sending Polk with 16,000 men to fight 58,000." General Buell of the Union forces later affirmed that the size of his force was 58,000; of the first charge by Bragg, Polk is not altogether blameless. He seemed always to wait for very specific orders and unless they arrived he initiated no action. p145When he followed his own direction, Polk never seemed to have the facility for selecting the best line of action. Such an estimate is borne out by many military historians, some of whom denounce Polk rather strongly for lack of coöperation.
While at Perryville General Polk showed some of the old alertness of the Missionary Bishop in getting out of trouble. About dark on the field at Perryville, Polk was convinced that two Confederate forces were firing upon each other. Angrily he rode up to the Colonel of the nearer regiment and asked him "What he meant by shooting his own friends." The Colonel in surprise said that he didn't think there was any mistake and that he was firing upon the enemy. Polk commanded him to cease firing and asked his name. Doubtfully the Colonel gave his rank and name, as the Commander of an Indiana Regiment. When asked who he was Polk's only chance was to brazenly talk his way out in the darkness. Quickly Polk answered: "I will show you who I am, sir. Cease firing at once!" Then galloping down the line he gave the same command to the men and within a minute was covered by the forest. According to the records the action at Perryville was ably fought, though as an attempt to turn the left flank of the Union line it failed because of insufficient strength.
The next move of Bragg's little army was in Tennessee and at the battle of Murfreesboro there was desperate fighting on both sides. Beaten but not defeated, the Confederate Army moved on to the great battlefield of Chickamauga. In January, 1863, while retreating from Murfreesboro, Bragg became again a shining mark for assailment in public and private in the South. Smarting under such criticism, Bragg sent a circular letter to his corps and division commanders. In this note Bragg remarked that many "accusations and insinuations are from staff-officers." In order to stop such criticism Bragg asked his generals to attest in writing that they advised the retrograde movements from Murfreesboro. To this letter Polk reacted in not too creditable a manner. In his first letter Polk claimed that there "seemed to be two points of inquiry . . . first, were p146the corps and division commanders were willing to give (the desired) statement in writing . . . second, whether you had lost the confidence of your general officers as a military commander." Quite rightly Bragg contested that only the first point of inquiry was in his mind. Polk almost too politely felt restricted to the single point in question concerning the statement from the commanders and referred Bragg to his endorsement on a note circulated among the generals stating their case. The whole controversy is a ridiculous one and certainly reflects no magnanimity in Bishop Polk with regard to his unfriendly commander, Bragg. Polk, not being satisfied with the way the polite innuendoes were passing between Bragg and his generals, told the whole story to Jefferson Davis, attaching all the correspondence, and suggested that General Joseph E. Johnston be given Bragg's command. Jefferson Davis, harried as he was with administrative details, had to investigate the petty bickering of his generals. Polk must surely have known of the antipathy between Davis and Joseph E. Johnston, so that his suggestion was not only tactless but showed a lack of confidence in both Lee and Davis who were handling army affairs.
A more pleasing side of Polk's character was detailed by the Lieutenant Colonel Fremantle of the British Army who wrote in his book, Three Months in the Southern States, that Polk "is a good-looking, gentleman-like man, with all the manners and affability of a 'grand seigneur.' He is fifty-seven years of age, tall, upright, and looks much more the soldier than the clergyman." The British officer continued: "He (Polk) is much beloved by the soldiers on account of his great personal courage and agreeable manners. I had already heard no end of anecdotes of him, told me by my traveling companions, who always allude to him with affection and admiration. In his clerical capacity I had always heard him spoken of with the greatest respect. . . . We have prayers both morning and evening by Dr. Quintard, together with singing, in which General Polk joins with much zeal."
At the great battle of the West, Chickamauga, near Lookout p147Mountain, just south of Chattanooga, Polk had command of the right wing of the army containing divisions under Walker, Cheatham, Cleburne, Stewart, and Forrest's cavalry. During this great battle Polk had the misfortune to meet General George H. Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga." In the sketch of Horace Porter, Dana recalled his efforts to rally Thomas' soldiers against the fierce onslaught of the "Rebels." General D. H. Hill of the Confederates was also a Corps Commander along with General Polk and was of equal rank with him. The former maintained that Polk was slow to attack, thereby causing some difficulty. General Polk blamed General Hill for the delay in attack on the morning of September 20, 1863. Polk claimed that General Hill's men were getting rations instead of attacking at daylight as ordered. Polk immediately reported this delay to General Bragg. Bragg later stated that one of his staff officers found Polk "•3 miles from the line of his troops about one hour after sunrise, sitting . . . reading a newspaper, and waiting for his breakfast." Again General Polk goes through the rigmarole of charges and counter-charges. Bragg's statements about Polk reading the newspaper are probably overdrawn but not to unexpected after having read Polk's suggestion that Bragg be relieved of the army command. The whole controversy again reflected no credit on any of the principals involved, and regardless of who was correct, the difficulty failed to aid the cause of the South. Polk was then suspended from command by Bragg, and in accordance with instructions went to Atlanta to await further orders. Bishop Polk wrote reassuringly to his wife a few days later that he was sure that he would be vindicated. His letter is not a commendatory one for he speaks of Bragg's "long-cherished purpose to avenge himself on me." Polk continued with notice that General Hill took the blame for the failure to attack. The letter ends with, "The truth is, General Bragg has made a failure, notwithstanding the success of the battle, and he wants a scapegoat." Stickles in his life of General Buckner, declared that Polk and Hindman, who had been suspended after Chickamauga, did "not enjoy p148the situation forced upon them, and they and their friends began to protest." The result was a famous Round Robin on the part of many general officers asking Davis to relieve Bragg. Two days after the issuance of the Round Robin, Polk, who is said by Hill to have gotten it up, wrote to Jefferson Davis of the injustice done him by Bragg. In his letter to the Confederate President, Polk asked for a Court of Inquiry. Davis could see no good in dragging the case any further and accordingly assigned General Bragg to duty in Richmond "in a position somewhat analogous to that held by General Halleck in the Federal Army." Though it appeared that both these officers were Chiefs of Staff, they exercised no such authority. In November, General Polk was sent to organize some of the units of General Pemberton's army. Again he had the effrontery to write to Davis saying that he hoped the rumor was not true that General Hardee was to command the Army of the Tennessee, but that General Joe Johnston should receive it.
The long trail was about to end and General Polk was fighting in the retrograde movement before Sherman's march through Georgia. During this retreat the great controversy arose as to whether or not Atlanta should be sacrificed by General Johnston. As has been shown, Davis replaced the fighting general with Hood. Polk couldn't stay out of that argument and not only wrote his suggestion to the Confederate President, of the proper strategy to follow, but also recommended the use of certain generals in this strategy. Mrs. Polk was with the General during part of this last episode. She mentioned how one morning he stretched out his arm and said, "To think that this arm, so full of life, must one day be quiet in the grave; that this right hand must lose its cunning, and that this brain cease to think!"
During the retreat before Sherman, Polk's force accomplished some very able fighting. He was still getting into hot places along the line and Henry Watterson pictured him as "a daring old man, with his heart in the fray, and his best faith on the result; riding through shot and shell from point to point, unconscious p149of danger, directing the movements of his line with a quiet self-possession which bespoke knowledge."
During this period of fighting when the strength of the Confederacy was weakening, both Generals Johnston and Hood were baptized by Polk. It was on June 13, 1864, that in a routine order Polk was requested to examine his line to General Hood's on the right, so as to determine the number of guns needed upon it. The next day Polk rode out on this mission, dismounting behind a sharp hill known as Pine Mountain. From the crest of the hill General Polk and his staff could see both lines, Union and Confederate. One shot landed near them, causing Polk and Joe Johnston, who was also along, to take cover behind a parapet. Several shots passed over them, hitting the crest of the hill. Their observations completed, the group retraced their steps. Polk stopped for a second on the exposed crest of the hill facing the enemy and was killed by a cannon shot through his breast. The day after his death three copies of a religious tract covered with his blood were delivered to the generals for whom he had secured them. They were addressed to Johnston, Hardee and Hood, with the compliments of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. Upon the fourth was his own name.
a By the time Baumer wrote, the Mecklenburg Declaration had long been held, almost universally, to be spurious.
b Yet a cadet debating society there was, and according to Roswell Park — who entered the Academy on the day Polk graduated — the latter was "[A]mong its early and active members" (The History of West Point, Philadelphia, 1840, pp117‑119).
c Not the well-known letters of St. Gregory the Great, nor those of St. Gregory of Nyssa, but the Letters on the Evidences, Doctrines and Duties of the Christian religion of Olinthus Gregory (1774‑1841). Letter No. 93 of that work, On Conversion, is widely available online, in a version printed during the War between the States by the Soldiers' Tract Association (Richmond, Va.).
f He still didn't graduate. As a thirdclassman, in 1830, he was found deficient again, and was no longer on the rolls in 1831.
g In 1853 the customs officers of the Kingdom of Naples (more properly, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) were still at it, although by then it would seem with an eye more to censorship than to income: so at any rate Ferdinand Gregorovius' unpleasant experience at the border (Wanderjahre in Italien, as translated by Dorothea Roberts: Latian Summers, p207 f.). And eight years after that — Polk was right — within Polk's lifetime — the Kingdom of Naples did "go to the wall".
Images with borders lead to more information.
Not All Warriors
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 10 Mar 14