Education: Thomas Nelson Community College, A.A.S., 1986; Carson-Newman College, B.A., 1990; East Tennessee State University, M.A., 1994; University of Southern Mississippi, Ph.D., 1999.
Office—Department of History and Political Science, College of Arts and Sciences, 800 Wheatley St., Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, GA 31709. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, educator. Brewton-Parker College, assistant professor, 2000-01; Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, associate professor, 2001—. director of honors program, Southwest Georgia Oral History Center, Americus, director, 2006—.
University of Southern Mississippi, visiting assistant professor, 1999-2000.
The Bishop of the Old South: The Ministry and Civil War Legacy of Leonidas Polk, Mercer University Press (Macon, GA), 2006.
Contributor of scholarly articles to numerous journals.
Historian Glenn Robins specializes in southern, colonial, and Civil War history, as well as in the religion of the American South. Several of these interests intersect for his 2006 biography, The Bishop of the Old South: The Ministry and Civil War Legacy of Leonidas Polk. Polk, born in 1806, was a Confederate general during the U.S. Civil War. He was also a slave-owning planter from Tennessee, the third cousin of President James K. Polk, and the first bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Louisiana, a district that included New Orleans. Among other achievements, this graduate of West Point helped to found Sewanee: The University of the South. Polk was killed in action in 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War. Polk's life thus proves a combination of military, religious, and Southern nationalistic enthusiasms as distilled through a member of the planter aristocracy.
Born in North Carolina, Polk graduated eighth in his class from West Point in 1827, but quickly turned his attention to religion, entering the Virginia Theological Seminary. He became a deacon in 1830 and a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1831. The following year, he and his wealthy family moved to Tennessee where they established planter acreage with their home, Ashwood Hall, as the center of the large tract. Polk continued to serve as a priest at a local church, and in 1841, he became bishop of Louisiana. Polk, inspired by England's famous Cambridge and Oxford universities, hoped to establish such a national university for the South, and he was one of the planners behind Sewanee: The University of the South, which opened in Sewanee in 1860. He not only chose the location of the university, but also helped gather donations to fund it. With the advent of the Civil War, Polk, an ardent Confederate, was persuaded to accept a commission in the army by his former West Point roommate, Jefferson Davis. He organized the Army of the Mississippi but was responsible for Kentucky withdrawing its neutrality in the war when he occupied a city in that state. Thereafter, Kentucky came under Union control, a setback for the South. Scouting enemy positions on June 14, 1864, Polk was killed by artillery fire. "Polk's death does not end Robins's work, as he concludes with an assessment of Polk's legacy," observed H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online reviewer Brian Craig Miller. "Robins admits that Polk had only a mediocre military record, yet tribute after tribute praised him as one of the best and brightest leaders in the Confederacy."
Though Polk's early papers were largely destroyed, Robins was able to make use of other archival material, including letters and diaries, and, according to Miller, "successfully explores Polk's life and offers rich details concerning religion, planter ideology, and the roots of southern nationalism." In a review of Robins's book for Foreword Online, Henry L. Carrigan found it to be "compelling, but often plodding," and further noted that although Robin's storytelling is somewhat "lack[ing] … livel[iness,]" his study of Polk's life "shines a brilliant light not only on nineteenth-century Southern culture but also on one of the most enigmatic Southern figures of the Civil War." In his biography, Robins focuses on Polk's religious career, as he became one of the major Episcopalian priests of the South in the years before the Civil War. As Miller commented, Polk "worked to make Episcopalians a vibrant denomination in the face of competition from the entrenched Baptists and Methodists."
The Bishop of the Old South earned praise from many reviewers. In a review in Church History, Lee L. Willis III concluded: "Robins has written an accessible work that correctly assesses the significance of an important religious figure not only in Southern history, but in U.S. history as well." Similarly, Journal of Southern History reviewer Donald S. Armentrout wrote: "This volume is a fine addition to the Polk literature." Likewise, Miller observed: "Robins has not only produced a new cultural biography well worth exploring, but he has also added a new dimension to the historiography of the Lost Cause and the meaning of the American Civil War in the minds and memories of Americans today."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, August 1, 2007, E.R. Crowther, review of The Bishop of the Old South: The Ministry and Civil War Legacy of Leonidas Polk, p. 2166.
Church History, December 1, 2007, Lee L. Willis III, review of The Bishop of the Old South, p. 863.
Journal of Southern History, February 1, 2008, Donald S. Armentrout, review of The Bishop of the Old South, p. 177.
Foreword Online,http://www.forewordmagazine.com/ (June 30, 2008), Henry L. Carrigan, review of The Bishop of the Old South.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (June 30, 2008), Brian Craig Miller, review of The Bishop of the Old South.