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.

“The value of this work is not that it rescues Polk from the generally poor judgment of history, but rather that it does see the war from his perch, as it were, often in considerable detail, while giving us some useful insights into Confederate strategy and command in the West.

—New York Military Affairs Symposium

“Easily the best and most comprehensive combined treatment of Polk’s ecclesiastical and military careers. For anyone seeking the most well-rounded reassessment of Polk’s generalship and the insights that might provide into Confederate command relationships and failures in the western theater, Horn's study is essential reading.

—Civil War Books and Authors
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About the Author

Huston Horn followed his career in journalism at the Nashville Tennessean, Sports Illustrated, and Time-Life Books with an ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. He lives in Pasadena, California.