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Jun. 13: War claims a religious leader

After the Battle of Marietta, Sherman's troops moved closer toward Atlanta.
After the Battle of Marietta, Sherman's troops moved closer toward Atlanta.
Image by Zik Armstrong

Here’s what happened.

History doesn’t actually record how Leonidas Polk spent the night of June 13, 1864. But he probably enjoyed it with his men. By the next night, the Confederacy’s “Fighting Bishop” was dead.

Here’s why it matters.

Polk was commander of the Army of Tennessee’s Third Corps, nicknamed the Army of Mississippi. He was related to a U.S. president: James Knox Polk. He had also served successfully as an Episcopal bishop in Louisiana. Fort Polk is named is his honor.

During the Battle of Marietta, Generals Joseph Johnston, William Hardee, William Jackson, Polk, and several junior officers stood atop Pine Mountain (in Cobb County, Georgia) surveying Union positions below. They were well within sight and range of Union cannons. General William Tecumseh Sherman gave the order to fire. The other officers quickly took cover but Polk didn’t, and was practically split by an artillery shell. He died in Johnston’s arms.

Polk was the military equivalent of a “player’s coach.” One story declares that after Sherman’s troops captured Pine Mountain, they found a handwritten note attached to a tree that cursed, “You damned Yankee sons of bitches have killed our old Gen. Polk.”

Here’s an interesting fact!

In contrast, some Confederate generals regarded Polk as incompetent; Braxton Bragg viewed him with contempt. Some of that disdain may have been earned. One example was Polk’s decision in 1861 to invade the town of Columbus in Kentucky, a border state. The Kentucky’s legislature’s response was to vote against joining the Confederacy.

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