Leonidas Polk Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy

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Ragged Old First

Mar 15, 2019

Leonidas Polk
Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy

Huston Horn
Leonidas Polk was a graduate of West Point who resigned his commission to enter the Episcopal priesthood as a young man. At first combining parish ministry with cotton farming in Tennessee, Polk subsequently was elected the first bishop of the Louisiana Diocese, whereupon he bought a sugarcane plantation and worked it with several hundred slaves owned by his wife. Then, in the 1850s he was instrumental in the founding of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. When secession led to war he pulled his diocese out of the national church and with other Southern bishops established what they styled the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. Polk then offered his military services to his friend and former West Point classmate Jefferson Davis and became a major general in the Confederate Army.
Polk was one of the more notable, yet controversial, generals of the war. Recognizing his indispensable familiarity with the Mississippi Valley, Confederate president Jefferson Davis commissioned his elevation to a high military position regardless of his lack of prior combat experience. Polk commanded troops in the Battles of Belmont, Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Meridian as well as several smaller engagements in Georgia leading up to Atlanta. Polk is remembered for his bitter disagreements with his immediate superior, the likewise-controversial General Braxton Bragg of the Army of Tennessee. In 1864, while serving under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, Polk was killed by Union cannon fire as he observed General Sherman’s emplacements on the hills outside Atlanta.
“There are those who have maintained that General Leonidas Polk did more to bring about Confederate defeat than any other single man. Certainly he stood at the center of the toxic command culture of the Army of Tennessee from 1862 until his death. We have long needed a modern biography of this contradictory man, and Huston Horn has delivered that and more. His research is stunning in its breadth, and his treatment of Polk is reasoned, mature, and balanced. This is the best Confederate military biography of recent years.”
—William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee—The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged

“A long-overdue reevaluation of the Civil War’s most recognizable soldier-cleric. Huston Horn’s meticulous research and balanced presentation reveal the complexities, strengths, and weaknesses of Leonidas Polk: churchman, plantation farmer, Southern nationalist, and soldier. Horn’s study does much to dispel the almost caricatured image of Polk that frequently appears in modern Civil War history.”
—Sam Davis Elliott, author of Soldier of Tennessee: General Alexander P. Stewart and the Civil War in the West



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