In thirty days, that is, on April 10, it will be the 208th Anniversary of the Birth of His Grace, General Leonidas Polk, the First Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana.
OK, the Anglicans were clearly latecomers in Louisiana. The RCs got here a long time before….although their Bishopric only preceded ours by a scant 48 years. The RC ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW ORLEANS (NOVÆ AURELIÆ) was only erected on 25 April, 1793, as the Diocese of Saint Louis of New Orleans; raised to its present rank and title of Archdiocese on 19 July, 1850. Amazingly enough to contemplate, the RC Bishop of New Orleans’ original territory comprised the entire original Louisiana purchase plus both East and West Florida, being bounded on the north by Canadian, on the west by the Rocky Mountains and the Rio Perdito, on the east by the English-speaking RC Diocese of Baltimore, and on the south by the Diocese of Linares and the Archdiocese of Durango. The present boundaries of the RC Archdiocese include the State of Louisiana, between the twenty-ninth and thirty-first degree of north latitude, an area of 23,208 square miles (constantly shrinking due to bad hydraulic and wetland management, but that is a different story).
So it is no surprise that the political and ecclesiastical history of Louisiana are inextricably intertwined. But Bishop Polk was, as they say, something completely different from any other prelate of local or even national memory. He was a fighter. I think it is important to remember and celebrate his 208th birthday this year because we have the opportunity to combine this celebration with the sesquicentennial memorial of his death and martyrdom on June 14, 2014, the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death from enemy cannon fire atop Pine Mountain in Cobb County, Georgia. Cobb County’s county seat is Marietta, and it is the last county guarding the northern suburbs of Atlanta (Marietta is now, pretty much a northern suburb of Atlanta, but in the historical metaphor for Scarlett O’Hara’s mythic reality, it was separate.
And it was there, in the 32nd year of Cobb County’s creation out of the Cherokee nation, that General Leonidas Polk died defending the “Old South” (was it really old when it had only existed for 31 solid years—by it’s 32nd Birthday on 2 December 1864—Cobb County was occupied by Sherman’s troops and thus under the heals of the most brutal enemy any Americans had ever known. Yes indeed, to Southern Partisans and Confederate Patriots, General Leonidas Polk died a hero to right and Constitutional Government, every bit as much as, perhaps more even, than King Charles the Martyr in January 1648/9. Oliver Cromwell was probably a lot like Sherman, in his self-righteousness, but he lacked the technology and strength of force to be as savage and brutal. And oddly enough, I doubt Cromwell would have used his power as brutally against his own people (Roundheads or Cavaliers) even if he had had it. I could be wrong.
There is a Society of King Charles the Martyr (SKCM) to which my devoutly Anglo-Catholic Father belonged. I have considered joining it. And there SHOULD be a Society dedicated to the memory of His Grace, General Leonidas Polk of Louisiana. If I could find any “fellow travelers” I would certainly organize such a society, and you’d think I’d have an easy time of it.
When in New Orleans, on most Sundays (and on this immediate past Ash Wednesday) I attend services at Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles & Sixth Street, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. His Grace, General Polk, has a magnificent tombstone inside the Cathedral, just to the right of the altar (when facing the Cross) and behind the elaborately carved, elevated wooden pulpit. On other Sundays, more rare in the past but perhaps soon to be more commonly, I attend Holy Eucharist at Trinity Church on Jackson Street, built under the direction of Bishop Polk in the 1850s, with an auditorium called “Bishop Polk Hall.”
And yet everyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana is totally embarrassed by General Leonidas Polk. “He was a villain” said Christ Church Cathedral Dean David A. duPlantier on Sunday, 20 October of last year (2013), just before delivering a sermon on the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18: 1-8), which just happens to be one of my favorite texts in the Bible. And yes, I thought the irony was delicious: that Dean DuPlantier so harshly and unjustly judged the founder of the Church where he preaches…. I have become much colder in my feelings towards Christ Church Cathedral ever since. How can they dishonor their founder? How can a people so viciously toss away and condemn their own heritage? My grandmother was baptized in a Church (Holy Trinity) built by Bishop Polk in Nachitoches, Louisiana even before Trinity on Jackson here in New Orleans. Holy Trinity in Nachitoches is, I think, the oldest standing Episcopal Church west of the Mississippi. It may well be the oldest Protestant Church West of the Mississippi. Trinity on Jackson is, to be sure, East of the Mississippi although only by a few blocks.
I grieve for the disregarded and disrespected heritage of my Southern Ancestors who fought for freedom. I certainly do not grieve for the passing of slavery, but I think the price was much too high: in no other nation on earth did it require a bloody “civil war” to abolish slavery. Nor was the War of 1861-65 really either a Civil War nor a War to End Slavery—it was the first experiment in self-righteous Yankee Imperialism by a powerful centralized government designed for world conquest for the benefit of the few, not the many, and above all for the occult purpose of instituting a form of government which can only by called, somewhat ironically, “Corporate Communism”—an oligarchy of institutions sponsored by the government and sponsoring the government, who protest and proclaim that their purpose is to redistribute wealth and grant equality to all people.
To all people except those who remember and respect history, of course.