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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Thomas Polk

POLK, Thomas, patriot, born about 1732; died in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1793. He was the great-grandson of Robert Polk, or Pollock, who emigrated to this country from Ireland and settled in Maryland. Thomas's father, William. removed from Maryland to Pennsylvania, while the former, in 1753, left his parents, and, travelling through Maryland and Virginia, made his home in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina By enterprise and industry he acquired a large tract of land, which enabled him to keep his family in comfort. Personal qualities made Polk a leader in the Scotch-Irish settlement in which he lived, and in 1769 he was chosen a member of the provincial assembly, where he procured the passage of an act to establish Queen's college in the town of Charlotte. In 1771 he was again a member of the assembly, and thenceforward he took an active part in the movements that resulted in the Revolution. At the date of the Mecklenburg convention in May, 1775, he was delegated to issue a call for the convention whenever, in his opinion, such action was necessary. After the resolutions had been adopted, Polk read them from the steps of the court-house to the people. He was subsequently a member of the committee that on 24 August, 1775, prepared a plan for securing the internal peace and safety of the provinces. A few months later he was appointed colonel of the second of two battalions of minute-men in the Salisbury district. Soon afterward the South Carolina Tories attacked General Andrew Williamson and drove him into a stockade fort at Ninety-Six, but were defeated, with the assistance of 700 militia from North Carolina under Colonel Polk and Colonel Griffith-Rutherford. By the Provincial congress held at Halifax, North Carolina, 4 April, 1776, Polk was made colonel of the 4th regiment, which formed part of a force that under Brig.-General Nash joined the army under Washington. In November, 1779, the North Carolina troops were sent to re-enforce the southern army under General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston. After the fall of the latter city General Horatio Gates offered Polk the double office of commissary-general for North Carolina and commissary of purchase for the army, which he accepted. His duties as commissary brought him into antagonism with Gates, on a question of supplying the militia with rations. General Gates suggested that he be ordered to Salisbury to answer for his conduct. Polk offered his resignation, but it was not at first accepted. Afterward he became district commissary. After the action at Cowan's Ford, General Greene offered the command of the militia of Salisbury district to Colonel Polk, with the commission of brigadier-general, but, in spite of a personal request by General Greene, the latter was not confirmed by the governor and council, and Colonel Polk was superseded in May, 1781. After the Revolution he engaged in the purchase, from the disbanded soldiers, of land warrants that had been issued to them by the state for their services, and died possessed of "princely estates," which his sons inherited but did not improve.--His son, William, patriot, born in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, 9 July, 1758 ; died in Raleigh, North Carolina, 4 January, 1834, entered Queen's college, Charlotte, North Carolina, where he remained until the beginning of the Revolutionary war. In April, 1775, while he was yet a student, he was appointed a 2d lieutenant and assigned to the 3d South Carolina regiment. His company and another were at once ordered to South Carolina to keep the Torids in check, and Polk afterward commanded several expeditions. During one of these he made Colonel Thomas Fletcher, a noted Tory leader, a prisoner, and subsequently, in attempting to capture a party of loyalists in December, 1775, he was severely wounded. On 26 November, 1776, he was elected major of the 9th regiment of North Carolina troops, with which he joined the army under Washington. Major Polk was in the battles of the Brandywine and Germantown. Near the close of the latter action, October, 1777, he was again wounded. The following March, through the consolidation of the nine North Carolina regiments into four, Polk lost his command. Returning to the south, he was given a position on the staff of General Richard Caswell, and was present at the battle of Camden. He next fought under General William Davidson, and was sent as an envoy to Governor Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia. On his return he joined General Andrew Pickens, was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the-4th South Carolina cavalry, attached to the command of General Thomas Sumter, and saw much active service, notably at the battle of Eutaw Springs. He remained on duty in that section until the end of the war. In 1783 Colonel Polk was appointed by the legislature surveyor-general of the "middle district," now a part of Tennessee, and took up his residence at French Lick fort, which occupied the site of the city of Nashville. He remained there until 1786, and was twice chosen a member of the house of commons from Davidson county. During this period all field operations by the surveyors were rendered impracticable by the hostile attitude of the Indians. The following year he was elected to the general assembly from his native county, which he continued to represent until he became supervisor for the district of North Carolina. This office he retained for seventeen years, until the internal revenue laws were repealed. From 1811 till 1819 he served first as director and subsequently as president of the State bank of North Carolina, and then resigned in order to devote more of his time and personal attention to his lands in Tennessee, which comprised an area of 100,000 acres. On 25 March, 1812, he was appointed by President Madison, with the consent of the senate, a brigadier-general in the regular army. This commission he declined on personal and political grounds, being a Federalist and not approving the policy of the administration. When Lafayette returned to the United States in 1824, Polk was named one of the commissioners to receive him in behalf of his native state. Referring to William Polk's influence on the rising fortunes of the state of Tennessee, it has been said that as "the personal friend and associate of Andrew Jackson he greatly advanced the interests and enhanced the wealth of the hero of New Orleans by furnishing him information, taken from his field notes as a surveyor, that enabled Jackson to secure valuable tracts of land in the state of Tennessee; that to Samuel Polk, father of the president, he gave the agency for renting and selling portions of his (William's) estate; and that, as first president of the Bank of North Carolina, he made Jacob Johnson, the father of President Andrew Johnson, its first porter : so that of the three native North Carolinians who entered the White House through the gate of Tennessee, all were indebted for benefactions and promotion to the same individual." At his death Colonel Polk was the last surviving field-officer of the North Carolina line.--William's son, Leonidas, P. E. bishop, born in Raleigh, North Carolina, 10 April, 1806; died on Pine mountain, Georgia, 14 June, 1864, was educated at the University of North Carolina, and at the United States military academy, where he was graduated in 1827, and at once brevetted 2d lieutenant of artillery. Having, in the mean time, been induced by Reverend (afterward Bishop) Charles P. McIlvaine, then chaplain at the academy, to study for the ministry, he resigned his commission the following December, was made deacon in the Protestant Episcopal church in 1830, and ordained priest in 1831. He served in the Monumental church, Richmond, Virginia, as assistant for a year, when, his health failing, he went to Europe to recuperate. Soon after his return he removed to Tennessee, and became rector of St. Peter's church, Columbia, in 1833. In 1834 he was clerical deputy to the general convention of the Episcopal church, and in 183, a member of the standing committee of the diocese. In 1838 he received the degree of S. T. D. from Columbia, and the same year he was elected and consecrated missionary bishop of Arkansas and the Indian territory south of 36. 30', with provisional charge of the dioceses of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and the missions in the republic of Texas. These charges he held until 1841, when he resigned all of them with the exception of the diocese of Louisiana, of which he remained bishop until his death, intending to resume his duties after he had been released from service in the field. In 1856 he initiated the movement to establish the University of the South, and until 1860 was engaged with Bishop Stephen Elliott, and other southern bishops, in perfecting plans that resulted in the opening of that institution at Sewanee, Tennessee At the beginning" of the civil war he was a strong sympathizer with the doctrine of secession. His birth, education, and associations were alike southern, and his property, which was very considerable in land and slaves, aided to identify him with the project of establishing a southern confederacy. His familiarity with the valley of the Mississippi prompted him to urge upon Jefferson Davis and the Confederate authorities the importance of fortifying and holding its strategical points, and amid the excitement of the time the influence of his old military training became uppermost in his mind. Under these circumstances the offer of a major-generalship by Davis was regarded not. unfavorably. He applied for advice to Bishop William Meade, of Virginia, who replied that, his being an exceptional case, he could not advise against its acceptance. His first command extended from the mouth of Red river, on both sides of the Mississippi, to Paducah on the Ohio, his headquarters being at Memphis. Under his general direction the extensive works at New Madrid and Fort Pillow, Columbus, Kentucky, Island No. 10, Memphis, and other points, were constructed. On 4 September, General Polk transferred his headquarters to Columbus, where the Confederates had massed a large force of infantry, six field-batteries, a siege-battery, three battalions of cavalry, and three steamboats. Opposite this place, at Belmont, Maine, on 7 November, 1861, the battle of Belmont was fought, General Polk being in command of the Confederate and General Grant of the National troops. The Confederates claimed a victory. General Polk remained at Columbus until March, 1862, when he was ordered to join Johnston's and Beauregard's army at Corinth, Mississippi As commander of the 1st corps, he took part in the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, and in the subsequent operations that ended with the evacuation of Corinth. In September and October he commanded the Army of Mississippi, and fought at the battle of Perryville, during the Confederate invasion of Kentucky. In the latter part of October and November he was in command of the armies of Kentucky and Mississippi and conducted the Confederate retreat from the former state. In October he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, and commanded the right wing of the Army of Tennessee at the battle of Stone river. In the Chickamauga campaign, he also led the right wing. According to the official report of General Braxton Bragg, it was only through Polk's disobedience of orders at Chickamauga that the National army was saved from annihilation. He was accordingly relieved from his command, and ordered to Atlanta. Subsequently Jefferson Davis, with General Bragg's approval, offered to reinstate him, but he declined. He was then appointed to take charge of the camp of Confederate prisoners that had been paroled at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. In December, 1863, he was assigned to the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, in place of General Joseph E. Johnston, who was assigned to the Army of Tennessee. By skilful dispositions of his troops he prevented the junction of the National cavalry column under General William Sooy Smith with General Sherman's army in southern Mississippi. General Polk's prestige being restored, he was ordered to unite his command (the Army of Mississippi) with the army of General Joseph E. Johnston, who opposed the march of Sherman to Atlanta. After taking part in the principal engagements that occurred previous to the middle of June, he was killed by a cannon-shot while reconnoitring on Pine mountain, near Marietta, Georgia His biography is in course of preparation (1888} by his son, Dr. William 3f. Polk, of New York. --Leonidas's son, William Mecklenburg, physician, born in Ashwood, Maury County, Tennessee, 15 August, 1844, was graduated at Virginia military institute, Lexington, Virginia, 4 July, 1864, and at, the New York college of physicians and surgeons in 1869. He entered the Confederate army in April, 1861, as a cadet of the military institute, was commissioned 1st lieutenant in Scott's battery of artillery in 186., and in 1863 was promoted assistant chief of artillery in his father's corps, Army of the Tennessee. In March, 1865, he was made captain and adjutant in the inspector-general's department. After his graduation as a physician he practised in New York cit, y, and from 1875 till 1879 he was professor of therapeutics and clinical medicine in Bellevue college. He then accepted the chair of obstetrics and the diseases of women in the medical department of the University of the city of New York, which he still (1888) holds. He is also surgeon in the department of obstetrics in Bellevue hospital. Dr. Polk has contributed to medical literature "Original Observations upon the Anatomy of the Female Pelvic Organs," "On the Gravid and Non-Gravid Uterus," and "Original Observations upon the Causes and Pathology of the Pelvic Inflammations of Women."--Leonidas's brother, Thomas Gilchrist, lawyer, born in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, 22 February, 1790; died in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1869, was graduated at the University of North Carolina in 1810, and at the law-school at Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1813. He soon after began to practise his profession, and for several years was a member of the lower branch of the North Carolina legislature. He was also at one time in command of the militia. In 1839 he removed to Tennessee, where he purchased a large plantation. Being a stanch Whig in polities, he took an active part in the presidential campaign of 1844 in support of Henry Clay, and against his relative, James K. Polk. --William's grandson, Lucius Eugene, soldier, born in Salisbury, North Carolina, 10 July, 1833, was the son of William J. Polk. He was graduated at the University of Virginia in 1852. At the beginning of the civil war he entered the Confederate army as a private under General Patrick R. Cleburne, but was soon commissioned 1st lieutenant, and as such fought at Shiloh, where he was wounded. He was rapidly promoted until he was made brigadier-general in December, 1862, and joined his brigade in time to take part in the battle of Murfreesboro, where his command made a charge, for which he was complimented by General Braxton Bragg in his report of the engagement. General Polk was also present at Ringgold gap, Georgia, in 1863, and at many other actions. At Kenesaw mountain, Georgia, in the summer of 1864, he was severely wounded by a cannon-ball and disabled for further service. He then retired to a plantation in Maury county, "-Penn., where he has since resided. In 1884 he was delegate to the National Democratic convention at Chicago, and he is at present (1888) a member of the senate of the state of Tennessee, having been elected on 1 January, 1887.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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