Today, April 2, marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Confederate States of America as a viable political entity. There were no memorials or eulogies. The world, even the South, lives largely in a state of amnesia induced by foreign occupation and subjugated defeat. We have betrayed our ancestors ideals of constitutional government and genuine freedom by tolerating the most corrupt and perverse government, and a culture filled with lies, that is humanly imaginable.
While serving as President of the CSA, Jefferson Davis once commented on the comparisons to be made between the war of 1861-65 between the Northern and Southern United States and the English Civil War between “Roundhead” Protestant Radicals, led by Oliver Cromwell, and the Church of England and its Constitutional Monarchy, led by the two Kings Charles Edward Stuart, I and II.
Davis commented that the South had inherited the noble Cavalier mantle of King Charles the Martyr and that it was at war with a nation of self-righteous meddlesome bigots. Davis never understood the close relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx, or the historically decisive nature of that alliance.
But the fact remains that there is a close relationship between the Episcopal Church/Church of England, and the South and its heritage. Almost all the leaders of the Confederate South, including Jefferson Davis, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood, and Patrick Cleburne were Episcopalians. Major exceptions were Judah P. Benjamin (Jewish) and P.T.G. Beauregard (Roman Catholic).
On this day a hundred and fifty years ago, April 2, 1865, General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis evacuated the Confederate Capital at Richmond. It had been a terrible mistake to move the Capital from inaccessible Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, too close to Washington.
But today, on this sad sesquicentennial, I attended Maundy Thursday services at Christ Church Cathedral in the 2900 block of St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, where Confederate General Leonidas Polk was First Bishop of Louisiana, and where that Southern hero’s remains are buried.
Yesterday, Canon Steve Roberts in his Holy Week Wednesday Homily had spoken of betrayal—Judas’ “betrayal of Jesus, of course, being one of the key events of Holy Week. Canon Roberts had spoken of the experience of betrayal in everyday life—“there has to be a relationship of trust, for betrayal to happen…..we cannot be betrayed by strangers who hardly know us.”
I charge again that the Diocese of Louisiana has betrayed the Memory of General Polk by condemning the freedom Polk (and a million other southerners) fought for, and for which so many hundreds of thousands gave their lives.
Polk is a gigantic figure in the history of this place. Even today his name has a visible relationship to this Diocese and to many a parish in this state. His picture is on the walls of Christ Church. His tombstone is the largest single monument to any North American personage at the right hand of the Great Christ Church Altar.
Trinity Episcopal on Jackson Avenue still has “Bishop Polk Hall” as its central and largest meeting place. I do not think it should ever rename that Hall…. because the name of Leonidas Polk is hallowed from Natchitoches Trinity Church where my grandmother Helen was baptized on South.
I ask today, as I have asked before—how can we be true to ourselves if we distain, if we dishonor our heritage?
Could Rome ever disown Saints Peter and Paul? Could Jerusalem ever forget James, the Brother of Jesus, and that City’s own first Bishop? Should England, Greece, Russia, and Scotland ever forget Saints Andrew and Saint George?
No more should Louisiana forget Bishop Leonidas Polk and the Constitutional Government of the Confederate States of America for which His Grace, General Leonidas Polk, fought and died.