Why the US military Named Bases and Ships for Confederate Leaders

Leonidas Polk in bishop’s robes. Library of Congress

3. Leonidas Polk, United States Army, Episcopal Bishop, Confederate States Army

Leonidas Polk’s name is often recorded as including a middle initial “K”. The reference is incorrect, Polk had no middle name, and never signed his name with any initial. He was a distant relative of President James K. Polk. Educated at the United States Military Academy, where he excelled, Polk graduated in the top third of his class and entered the artillery as a second lieutenant. While at the Academy, Polk converted to the Episcopal faith. He remained in the Army only five months, resigning to enter the Virginia Theological Seminary in late 1827. By the 1840s, Polk resided in Tennessee, on a large plantation worked by over one hundred slaves. The 1850 census records Polk owning over 200 slaves.

Polk became Bishop of Louisiana in 1841, and retained that post until the outbreak of the Civil War. He joined the Confederate Army and had the Louisiana Convention of the Episcopal Church withdrawn from the Episcopal Church of the United States, forming a Confederate equivalent of the latter. He became a corps commander of the CSA, and fought in several major battles of the war, including Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. In general his performance in command was poor, though he gained immense popularity with the men he commanded. His death during the Atlanta Campaign, a consequence of heavy Union shelling, led to a drop in morale among the beleaguered Confederates.