150 years ago today, Leonidas Polk became one of the highest ranking generals in the Confederacy to be killed in the war.
Standing atop Pine Mountain in Georgia, not far from the shadows of Kennesaw Mountain, Polk was gathered with William Hardee and Joseph Johnston to examine the Confederate defensive lines near and around Pine Mountain, where Polk’s own corps was positioned. Johnston was considering falling back once again, and thus needed to examine the ground from a position of prominence. During this conference, William T. Sherman spotted what appeared to be several Confederate generals in the distance, and ordered a nearby artillery battery to fire a shell into their midst.
Upon hearing the first cannon shot, Johnston and Hardee began to move away from the open ground near the top of the mountain. Polk remained just a moment too long, as one of the following shots struck him squarely, eviscerating and tearing him in two. Polk was killed instantly, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee lost a beloved commander.
When he was killed, Polk was found to be carrying several religious tracts that were inscribed for his fellow commanders, Joseph Johnston, William Hardee, and John Bell Hood. Polk was in many ways the definition of the Christian officer. An Episcopal Bishop before the war, he had baptized both John Bell Hood and Joseph Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign.
Polk’s death greatly affected the army. Upon learning of Polk’s death, Chaplain Charles Quintard wrote, “I was never more shocked and overwhelmed.” Polk’s funeral, held in Atlanta, witnessed thousands coming forward to mourn the general. Polk’s body was laid out in his Confederate uniform, with a “cross of white roses” resting on the general’s chest, as Quintard described it. After Polk’s Atlanta funeral, the general’s remains were sent to Augusta, Georgia, where they lay in state for several days before his first burial. The remains of both Polk and his wife were later reinterred in Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans.