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[380]

General Polk's Death. General Joseph E. Johnston describes how he was killed. [Baltimore sun, October 3, 1890.]

An article in the Indianapolis Journal recently purported to narrate the true account of the death of the Confederate Lieutenant-General Polk, Bishop of Louisiana. Concerning its statement Mr. Winfield Peters writes to the Sun that ‘having in the year 1879 visited the field of operations along Kennesaw Mountain, Ga., and having located, after much effort, the spot where General Polk fell, and informed myself as to the circumstances of his death, and having subsequently conferred with General Joseph E. Johnston and Bishop Beckwith, of Georgia, who were present on the field and near General Polk when he fell, he was able not only to correct the inaccuracies of the Journal, but to set at rest any future dispute as to a remarkable historical occurrence of the late war. I determined to ask General Joseph E. Johnston to write his account of it, and now have the pleasure to enclose his reply.’ In his letter to Mr. Peters, which is dated Washington, September 25th, General Johnston says:

I have seen lately what is purported to be an account of General Polk's death, probably that to which you refer, for it is an invention from beginning to end.

Bate's division, of Hardee's corps, occupied the summit of Pine Mount as an outpost. As it was nearly a mile in front of our line, General Hardee thought it exposed, and I agreed to ride to it with him and decide the question on the ground. General Polk joined us. We reached the hill directly from the rear and dismounted sixty or eighty yards from the summit. On reaching it we found that the best view was from a little parapet some thirty or forty feet down the slope, and occupied it. The Federal line was in full view, and a field-battery three or four hundred yards in our front. In a few minutes it was decided that the risk of holding the position was much greater than any advantage it could give us, and General Hardee was desired to withdraw his troops from it soon after nightfall.

As we were closing our field-glasses, preparatory to moving, a shot from the battery in front of us struck a tree, a little above our [381] heads. We moved around the little summit horizontally, General Polk and I to the right, General Hardee to the left. In a few minutes another shot came flying over our heads, General Polk still with me. Very soon after, when I was trying to ascertain if any part of our line was visible, another shot came—the third. I immediately looked around to assure myself of General Polk's safety, when a young officer near called to me that he had fallen by the last shot. Looking to the crown of the little summit I saw him lying at full length upon it—dead. Hastening up I found that the bolt from a field-piece had passed left to right through the middle of his chest. In a few minutes a rapid discharge of shells into the woods around was begun.

As General Polk had served in that army from its formation he was greatly loved and admired in it, and his death was deeply deplored.

We had no signal stations then nor ambulances at Marietta. This disposes of the fable of the deciphering of a Confederate signal by a Federal officer.

To General Johnston's letter Mr. Peters adds:

Bishop Polk's remains were buried outside the chancel-rail of Christ Church, Augusta, Ga. A large and ornate mural tablet in his memory was erected in the church near the chancel. The inscription is in letters of gold on black marble. After stating his services in the church as Bishop of two dioceses, his rank of lieutenant-general in the army, and dates of birth and death, it concludes with this quotation from the Book of Job:

Behold, my witness is in Heaven,
My record is on high.

Leonidas Polk, having graduated at the United States Military Academy, West Point, subsequently entered the holy ministry, and was Bishop of Louisiana at the outbreak of the war. His devotion to the cause of the Confederacy impelled him to apply his military talents in its service and temporarily to leave his diocese to some other bishop. He won promotion in the field, and at his death he held the next highest rank in the Confederate army. General Polk was one of the three Confederate lieutenant-generals killed or mortally wounded in battle; the others were Stonewall Jackson and A. P. Hill.

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