Thursday, May 30, 2024

Booknotes: Southern Cross

New Arrival:

Southern Cross: A New View of Leonidas Polk and His Clashes with Braxton Bragg by Amanda Low Warren (McFarland, 2024).

A quick skim over Southern Cross: A New View of Leonidas Polk and His Clashes with Braxton Bragg reveals an author with strong objections to how historians past and present have presented the personal character and military abilities of Lieutenant General Polk. From the description: Polk "was a distinguished West Point graduate, the first Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, a university founder, and a Confederate commander beloved by his troops, esteemed by the public, and killed on the field of battle. In spite of his many accomplishments, historians invariably disparage Polk's generalship and even his personal character--but is their treatment fair or accurate?"

In chronological fashion, author Amanda Warren reevaluates Polk's place in Civil War history from his return to uniform in 1861 to his high command leadership history at Columbus, Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and during the Atlanta Campaign up to his death at Pine Mountain. Throughout, Warren revisits Polk's activities and decisions and takes numerous prominent western theater historians to task for what she sees as unfair criticisms lacking evidentiary backing.

A primary theme is the fraught relationship that emerged between Polk and Braxton Bragg, the latter of whom did much to color later perspectives regarding the former's level of culpability in the Army of Tennessee's legendary high command friction, discord, and dysfunction. More from the description: "This work employs a balanced perspective to shed new light on Polk's military leadership and reveal unexpected truths that explain his conflict with General Braxton Bragg. A seemingly insignificant piece of correspondence, along with an exploration of both men's writings, coalesce into an understanding of the root cause of the command dysfunction and chronic failures of the Army of Tennessee."

Sections of the book revisit enduring accusations and opinions surrounding Polk's alleged insubordination, conniving nature, personal laziness, and military ineptitude. Questions regarding the true extent of the Davis-Polk friendship, Polk's capacity for independent command, and issues related to clergymen in uniform are also addressed. Another chapter is devoted to rebutting the negative portrait of Polk that has been presented in numerous books authored by a host of respected western theater biographers and historians. You might be wondering what to expect from a first-time author jumping feet first into a topic covering two of the war's most controversial generals. Judging from the passages I was able to sample (the book just arrived in the mail yesterday), I would say the style and tone of Warren's book are akin to those of 2013's John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.

1 comment:

  1. I have not read or studied Warren's Polk entry. I think it is important for those who have not read "John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General" to know the author offered hard specific factual data for every prior questionable claim (page numbers, citations, quotes, etc.) and showed they were either outright mistaken based upon their own citations (or lack thereof), or outright falsehoods.


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