by Huston Horn
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2019. Pp. viii, 594.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. . $39.95. ISBN: 0700627502
The Confederacy’s Contentious Soldier-Bishop
Journalist and Episcopal minister Horn gives us this impressive biography of Leonidas Polk (1806-1864). He underwent a spiritual awakenings while attending West Point (Class of 1827), and resigned from the army four months after graduating, to enter the Episcopal Church. He became Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and, as an ardent supporter of slavery and secession, became a Confederate general by favor of his academy chum Jefferson Davis.
Horn devotes about a third of his text to Polk’s family background, early life, education, and his experiences and work in the ministry. We also get a look at his private life, for the man as a very prosperous planter and slaveholder. This also helps shed light on social and religious life in the ante bellum South and the uses of religion to justify slavery.
Horn’s treatment of Polk’s wartime service tends to be rather sympathetic to the general,. He does make clear that the man was rather smug, and of course quite contentious. Horn reminds us that Polk’s military abilities were not well-regarded by most of his fellow generals, a matter seconded by most historians.
The value of Horn’s work is not that he rescues Polk from the generally poor judgement of history, but rather that it lets us see the war from his perch, as it were, often in considerable detail, while giving us some useful insights into Confederate strategy and command in the West.
Leonidas Polk will prove rewarding reading for anyone interested in the Civil War, and particular the war in the west.
Note: Leonidas Polk is also available in several e-editions.
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