Monday, October 13, 2014

Leonidas Polk: Confederate Fighting Bishop

AUGUSTA, GA - Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk, of the Army of Tennessee, was killed by a cannon-shot in 1864, while engaged with his associates in command in making observations at the immediate front. Polk changed his mind about continuing as an Army officer and chose the priesthood instead. He also was a plantation owner in Louisiana with 200 slaves, according to scholars.

An event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the funeral and burial of Bishop-General Leonidas Polk was held at Saint Paul’s Church, 605 Reynolds Street.

Remarks was given by Polk biographer Dr. Glenn Robbins, professor of history at Georgia Southern State University, and the the Interim Rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Reverend George Muir.

A reception hosted by the Episcopal Church Women of Saint Paul’s followed. The lecture and reception was provided in part by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and trough appropriation from the General Assembly. The event was organized by the Historic Augusta, Incorporated.

Lieutenant-General Polk was born in Raleigh, N. C., in 1806, from whence, at an early age, he emigrated to Tennessee, in which state the greater portion of his life was spent. At the age of seventeen he entered West Point as a cadet, in the same class with General Albert Sidney Johnston. While at West Point, under the teachings of Right Rev. Bishop McIlvaine, of the Diocese of Ohio, then chaplain of the post, he was received into the Protestant Episcopal Church by holy baptism, in the presence of the whole corps of cadets.

He subsequently ratified his baptismal vows, and was confirmed by Bishop Ravenscroft, of the Diocese of North Carolina. He was ordained a deacon in the Church by the venerable Bishop Moore, of Virginia, in 1830, and was endowed with the priesthood by the imposition of the same apostolic hands in 1836. He was consecrated to the episcopate in 1838, and exercised his varied functions in the Diocese of Louisiana with great credit to himself and usefulness to the Church, until the commencement of our present struggle for liberty, when he entered the field in which he was engaged at his death.

A divine and chieftain has fallen, and at an inopportune hour. The Church will mourn the demise of one of its brightest ornaments, while the whole country sustains a loss that can be ill afforded. But to other pens we leave the duty of recording the virtues and services of the deceased. His history is that of his Church and country, and both will acknowledge his worth and revere his memory.--Atlanta Appeal.

Excerpt From the Funeral Address by the Senior Bishop 

“In the year eighteen hundred and twenty-six we find, in the military school of the United States, a young man of heroic lineage, with fiery blood of the Revolution coursing in his veins, of independent fortune, of chivalric tone, of high and noble impulses, preparing himself for the service of his country. He had every qualification to ensure him success as a military man; every prerequisite for carrying him up to lofty reputation. No one doubts, for a moment, that had he followed the beck of ambition, he might have risen, as a soldier, to the very proudest rank in the army of the Union. 

“His most fastidious critic has never doubted that be had military traits in his character of the very highest order. If personal courage, comprehensive views, quick perception, rapid combination, prompt decision, great administrative capacity, with the faculty of commanding men, and at the same time of attaching them to him, are the qualities which make a great military leader, then we, who knew him best and have longest acted with him, can bear our testimony to his possession of these qualities in a most eminent degree. 

“They were his characteristics in everything he did--the qualities which have made him illustrious in every phase of his life. Upon this young man, thus preparing for the service of the world, Christ laid the touch of His divine spirit, and transformed him into a soldier of the Cross. He had work for him to do in his Church. He had use for those very qualities which would have fitted him for a glorious service of the world. 

“The Church needed a bold and fearless man, full of youth and nerve, to plunge into the great wilderness of the Southwest, teeming, as it then was, with the young and vigorous life of the republic, swelling and surging under the rushing tide of emigration, and consecrate it to her service; and she found that champion in this youth of military training. 

“The Church needed a man of high social position, with the carriage and manners of a gentleman, with the courtesy and grace of a well-bred Christian, to commend her to the consideration of men of hereditary wealth, of great refinement, of cultivated accomplishments. 

“For in the vast country over which he was appointed to establish the Church, extremes were meeting--extremes of established position, and of struggle for position--of old settled landholders and of needy adventurers--of men with all the polish of foreign refinement, and of men with all the strength of unpolished intelligence. 

“The Bishop who should go forth to conquer that country for the Church must possess manners as well as energy--cultivation as well as Christian courage--and the Church found such a combination in this young soldier, who had been snatched from the flatteries of the world. 

“The Church needed a large slaveholder, who might speak boldly and fearlessly to his peers, as being one of themselves, about their duty to their slaves, and might teach them, by his living example, what that duty was, and how to fulfill it; and she found it in this young disciple. He combined in himself just the natural qualities and the accidental circumstances which fitted him for the work to which he was called; and when these had been sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and constraint was laid upon him to preach the Gospel, he went forth in the power of the Holy Ghost to the earnest fulfillment of his bishopric. 

“And who shall dare to say that the foreknowledge and election of the Head of the Church ended at this point? 

“Who shall presume to say that Christ did not prepare this glorious servant for the final work of his life? 

“It all depends upon the stand-point from which we view this conflict. If we consider it a mere struggle for political power, a question of sovereignty and of dominion, then should I be loath to mingle the Church of Christ with it in any form or manner. But such is not the nature of this conflict. It is no such war as nations wage against each other for a balance of power, or for the adjustment of a boundary. We are resisting a crusade--a crusade of license against law--of infidelity against the altars of the living God--of fanaticism against a great spiritual trust committed to our care.”

His Death

“On Tuesday morning, June 14th, 1864, General Johnston, Lieutenant-Generals Polk and Hardee, and Brigadier General W. H. Jackson, accompanied by members of their respective staffs, visited Pine mountain, an elevated position lying beyond the Confederate lines, and some six miles from the Town of Marietta, for the purpose of making military reconnaissance. Leaving their escorts and horses behind the hill, they proceeded to the top on foot. 

“Their observations having been completed, they were about to return, when a shot from a Federal battery, striking the ground a short distance in front of their position, warned them that their presence had been discovered by the enemy. The group at once separated: Generals Johnston and Polk passing along the brow of the hill, still farther to the left, while the other officers withdrew toward the right and rear. After finishing their survey in that direction the two parted--the former moving around the hill to rejoin his escort, and the latter leisurely retracing his course across the summit. Upon reaching a commanding point he paused for a moment, either to make a final examination of the scene before him, or, as is more probable, to spend a short interval in silent communion with his God.

“As he stood thus occupied, his arms folded upon his breast, and his face wearing the composed and reverent look of an humble and trusting worshipper, a second shot was heard, and the cry arose that General Polk had fallen. Colonels Jack and Gale, members of his staff, at once returned to the spot, but life was already extinct. His body, badly torn, was lying upon the ground at full length, with the face upturned, and retaining its last expression of prayerful faith, and the arms, though broken, still crossed upon the breast.

“The enemy's battery was by this time shelling the hill with great rapidity and precision, and the remains were borne to a place of safety in the rear under a heavy fire.

In the left pocket of his coat was found his Book of Common-Prayer, and in the right four copies of a little manual entitled "Balm for the Weary and Wounded." Upon the fly-leaf of three of these had been written the names respectively of "General Jos. E. Johnston," "Lieutenant-General Hardee," "Lieutenant-General Hood," "with the compliments of Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk, June 12th, 1864." Upon that of the fourth was inscribed his own name. All were saturated with his blood.”

The Funeral

“The members of his military staff not feeling at liberty to determine upon the place of his interment without consultation with his family and friends, sent telegraphic dispatches to his eldest son, then in Montgomery, Ala., and to Bishop Elliott, at Savannah, to meet the body at Augusta, as it was their intention to proceed with it to that point.

“On reaching Atlanta the body was received by a committee appointed for the purpose by the Mayor of the city, and taken directly to St. Luke's Church. It continued lying in state for several hours, and then, after appropriate religious services and an impressive eulogy pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Quintard, Rector of the Church and Chaplain attached to the staff of General Polk, was conveyed to the depot under a proper military escort, attended by a large concourse of sympathizing citizens.

“A car having been provided expressly for their use, the immediate attendants proceeded with it to Augusta, and upon their arrival, early the following morning, were met by the Rectors, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St. Paul's Church and the Church of the Atonement. The remains were reverently conveyed to St. Paul's Church, where a guard of honor had been stationed to receive them by the Commandant of the Post.

“Upon consultation at Augusta with such members of General Polk's family as could be gathered at the spot, and with Bishop Elliott, it was decided to be most appropriate to commit his remains to the keeping of the Diocese of Georgia, whose Bishop had now become the Senior Bishop of the Church in the Confederate States, until the Church of Louisiana should claim them as her rightful inheritance. The following invitation was accordingly issued:

"The Bishops, Clergy, and Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States, the officers of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States, and the citizens generally, are invited to attend the funeral services of the Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk, D. D., from the City Hall of Augusta, Georgia, on Wednesday, the 29th of June. 

“The procession will move from the City Hall to St. Paul's Church. His remains will be deposited in the church-yard of St. Paul's until the war closes.”

Reverend Muir explained to the concurrence that Polk burial place is under the altar now. In 1864 was behind the building but later the church was expanded.

I asked Muir how a priest could have taught the Gospel while owning slaves. Answer: Yeah!

—> Edited by Anibal Ibarra
—> Other Source: Project Canterbury 

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