The second in command of Joseph E. Johnston's army in northern Georgia was Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. Polk had attended the military academy at West Point, but after just a few months in the military he resigned and entered the ministry. By the time the war came he was Bishop of Louisiana in the Episcopal Church. He was also a friend of Jefferson Davis, who accepted his offer to serve in the Confederate military and made him a Major General. Although he made many mistakes throughout the war, and was said be incompetent by many, both then and now, he continued to rise through the ranks of the Confederate Army. As Braxton Bragg wrote, “Gen'l Polk by education and habit is unfit for executing the plans of others. He will convince himself his own are better and follow them without reflecting on the consequences.”
The end of Polk's career came 150 years ago today, when the Confederate commanders, Johnston, Polk Hardee and various staff members, were assembled on top of Pine Mountain, observing the Federal positions. William Sherman too was on the front lines, with General O. O. Howard, and he spotted the group of Confederate officers. He ordered that his men fire on the council with their cannon. Minutes later the 5th Indiana Battery began unleashing its shells. The first two shells struck near the Confederate generals. As the soldiers began to disperse a third shell was fired and it hit Polk directly. It smashed through both arms and his chest, nearly cutting him in to, and then came out and exploded against a tree. The general of course, was dead.
Although Polk was disliked by many generals and historians, he was loved by the common Confederate soldier. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee saw the corpse. He wrote:
He was as white as a piece of marble, and a most remarkable thing about him was, that not a drop of blood was ever seen to come out of the place through which the cannon ball had passed. My pen and ability is inadequate to the task of doing his memory justice. Every private soldier loved him. Every private soldier loved him. Second to Stonewall Jackson, his loss was the greatest the South ever sustained. When I saw him there dead, I felt that I had lost a friend whom I had ever loved and respected, and that the South had lost one of her best and greatest Generals.