DEATH OF A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER
GEN. LEONIDAS POLK J U N E 1 4, 1 8 6 4
On June 14, 1864, General Leonidas Polk was killed by an artillery shell on Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Leonidas Polk was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 10, 1806. He graduated from West Point in 1827 and was eighth in a class of thirty eight. Two of his classmates were Jefferson Davis and Albert Sidney Johnston.
While enrolled at West Point, Polk made a conversion to Christianity. This was a unique experience in that he was converted by the writings of a British army engineer. This particular engineer had written a pamphlet using math and science to prove the existence of God. It is ironic that 187 years later we live in a world that attempts to disprove the existence of God by using math, science, and technology. Leonidas Polk was so concerned with the spiritual, cultural, and social welfare of the South that he was instrumental in establishing The University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.
Leonidas Polk agreed with the right of secession. When war came along he removed his bishop's robes and buckled on his sword. Polk fought in much of the Western Theater and eventually joined General Joseph Johnston for the Atlanta Campaign.
On June 14, 1864, Polk accompanied Johnston and Hardee as they scouted the enemy's position from Pine Mountain. As the generals were making their observations the soldiers warned them that the Yankee gunners had the range on the position. Soon the first round came whistling into the exposed position. This round scattered the generals but for some reason Polk took his time to reach cover. The second round came in. By this time Polk had paused for another look. The third shell hit General Polk on one side of his body and went out the other side. Polk was nearly cut in two.
By the time his staff reached him "life was already extinct". It was reported that death was so instantaneous that he had the same expression on his face in death as he had in those moments before his demise.
As William Hardee kneeled beside his dead friend he remarked to Johnston, "This has been a dear visit....little did I think this morning that I should be called upon to witness this." General Johnston replied, "I would rather anything than this." Sherman, who had little regard for the clergy, sent a tersely worded note to General Halleck. Sherman stated, "We killed Bishop Polk yesterday and have made good progress today...."
"It is said at Sewanee, The University of the South, that the Illinois soldier who fired the cannon that killed Leonidas Polk was so distraught that he had killed such a fine man that he committed suicide." [If he did not he should have.]
On the afternoon of General Polk's death General Johnston issued the following order.
General Field Orders No.2. HDQRS. Army of Tennessee In the field, June 14, 1864 Comrades, you are called to mourn your first captain, your oldest companion in arms. Lieutenant General Polk fell to-day at the outpost of this army, the army he raised and commanded, in all of whose trials he shared, to all of whose victories he contributed. In this distinguished leader we have lost the most courteous of gentlemen, the most gallant of soldiers. The Christian patriot soldier has neither lived nor died in vain. His example is before you; his mantle rests with you. -J. E. Johnston. General.
In spite of Bragg's harsh criticism of Polk, General Bragg was baptized by the Bishop during the Tullahoma Campaign. It is also worthy to note that in the days before his death General Polk led General John Bell Hood and General Joseph Johnston to make a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. General Leonidas Polk was eventually laid to rest at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana. Today let us remember Bishop Polk as a courteous gentleman and a "Christian patriot soldier" who did not live or die in vain. Let us emulate his virtues. Let us never forget that Leonidas Polk was a righteous man who died serving a righteous cause. God Bless the South!
The Brave Beget the Brave LEST WE FORGET
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