Monday, June 30, 2014

150-years-ago -- A First-Hand Account of the Death of Gen. Leonidas Polk

[Excerpted from Leonidas Polk: Bishop & General by William M. Polk, M.D., L.L.D., NewYork, 1915, Vol. II, Pages 372-374)
Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk
(Leonidas Polk: Bishop & General)

     General Johnston arrived soon after 8 a.m. General Polk mounted and rode with him toward the headquarters of General Hardee, who was to join them in the examination. Each general was attended by several members of his staff. General Polk was accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Jack, A. A.-G., Colonel W. D. Gale, A.-D.-C, Major Frank McNairy, volunteer A.-D.-C., and Lieutenant Hopkins of the Orleans light-horse. The party reached the quarters of General Hardee about 10 A.M. [June 14, 1864] and dismounted; after a short consultation all mounted again and rode forward. In a few minutes they were on the main line of the intrenchments, through  they passed and continued their course for nearly a mile, when they dismounted behind a sharp hill, known as Pine Mountain, and moved cautiously over the top, and then down a few yards to a small earthwork, occupied by a battery and its supports.  
     On reaching the crest of the hill the spectators had a full view of the surrounding country, over which sunshine and shadow moved, keeping pace with the slowly drifting clouds. Both lines of battle were plainly visible. Bodies of men could be seen, busy with axe and spade. Guns were being placed in position. Groups of officers could be distinguished moving about behind the lines. The adjacent fields were white with the covers of a thousand wagons. In the distance, to the front, lay the hills of Etowah; to the right, the peaks of Kennesaw. 
     The constant firing of the heavy lines of skirmishers, reinforced here and there by the guns of some battery, whose position was marked by the white smoke which in the still air settled about it — all combined to make the scene one of unusual beauty and grandeur. In the enthusiasm of the moment some of the officers stood on the parapet and exposed themselves to the sharp gaze of hostile eyes. The men of the battery vainly warned them of the danger. While they were speaking there was a flash, a puff of smoke, a sharp report, and in an instant fragments of splintered rock and flying earth scattered around them, as a shot was buried in the parapet. The officers separated, each seeking some place of greater safety. General Johnston and General Polk moved together to the left, and stood for a few moments in earnest conversation behind a parapet. Several shots now passed together just above the parapet and touched the crest of the hill. Generals Johnston and Polk, having apparently completed their observations, began to retrace their steps. General Johnston fell a few paces behind, and diverged to the right; General Polk walked to the crest of the hill, and, entirely exposed, turned himself around, as if to take a farewell view. Folding his arms across his breast, he stood intently gazing on the scene below. While he thus stood, a cannon-shot crashed through his breast, and opening a wide door, let free that indomitable spirit. Amid the shot and shell now poured upon the hill, his faithful escort gathered up the body and bore it to the foot of the hill. There, in a sheltered ravine, his sorrow-stricken comrades, silent and in tears, gathered around his mangled corpse. 
     Hardee, bending over the lifeless form, said to Johnston, "General, this has been a dear visit. We have lost a brave man, whose death leaves a vacancy not easily filled"; then, kneeling by the side of the dead body, he exclaimed: ''My dear, dear friend, little did I think this morning that I should be called upon to witness this." Johnston, with tears in his eyes, knelt and laid his hand upon the cold brow of the fallen hero, saying, "We have lost much! I would rather anything but this." 

No comments: