James Monroe Polk was a Private in Company I of the 4th Texas Infantry and was at the battle at Gaines’ Mill, VA on 27 June 1862. He later wrote

I was wounded in the arm, and it swelled to about the size of a stove pipe, turned as black as a pot, and the doctors thought for a while it would have to be amputated.

He had recovered by 1 September and left Richmond to rejoin his Company. He caught up with them at Frederick, MD on 11 or 12 September 1862 and was in action with them at Fox’s Gap and Sharpsburg.

He was wounded again about a year later at Chickamauga, GA on 20 September by a bullet that entered his head at his right temple and was later removed from the back of his skull. Amazingly, he came back rapidly from that wound, and in December 1863 was the subject of the extraordinary correspondence seen here:



Extraordinary mostly because of the 3 signers: the writer, Major General John Bell Hood, the reviewer/endorser, President Jefferson Davis (who mentions interest from members of Congress), and the approver, Secretary of War James Alexander Seddon.

In summary: General Hood wrote this note to Secretary of War Seddon on 7 December 1863 recommending Private Polk for a promotion because he was a “good & gallant” soldier.” The President concurred and the Secretary of War approved.

Hood, Davis, Seddon

Obviously there was more to it than that. This note seems to be a formality; probably referring to a more detailed conversation or conversations General Hood had previously with the Secretary of War and the President.

I think while he was recovering in Richmond, Polk proposed a scheme for raising Confederate units from men recruited behind the lines in Missouri, a place he knew well from his youth and young manhood. He had the ear of General Hood – also in Richmond recovering from a serious Chickamauga wound – and perhaps some in the Confederate Congress, as well. The Confederacy was in desperate need of new soldiers, and such a plan would have been attractive.

I’ve read a fair amount about Polk now, and haven’t found anything about him that would have stood out to these senior Confederates, except an unusual ability with language. He was an ordinary man and soldier with no apparent political or financial connections. And yet … he convinced the General, President, and Secretary of War to give him a Captain’s commission and go West to recruit. He later wrote

General Hood told me “good bye” and cautioned me about going inside the Federal lines; that I might get caught when I least expected it and spoil everything.

That he wasn’t hanged as a spy when he was, in fact, caught recruiting behind enemy lines in Missouri in 1864 is yet another miracle in this man’s life. What a life.


Richmond Va
Dec 7 1863

I have the honor to state that Private J.M. Polk of Co “I” 4th Tex Regiment was wounded at Gamis Farm [Gaines’ Mill] on the 27th of June 1862. And at Chickamauga on the 20th of Sept 1860.
I know him to be a good & gallant Soldier. He has always done his duty and is worthy of promotion.

Your obt svt
J B Hood
Maj Genl

The Sec of War

Secty. of War,
the within communication and verbal assurance of members of Congress, convince me of the fitness of Mr Polk for promotion. He hopes to be able from men not liable to conscription [there?] and within the Enemy’s lines to raise a company.
He will further explain his [?] and is commended to your kind attention.
– Jefferson Davis
Dec. 17, 1863

Granted Dec 18/63 [probably by a clerk to the Adjutant General]

A.G. [Adjutant General Samuel Cooper]
Authorize to raise a Company of Cavalry for the Prov [Provisional] Army in the Cavalry of [?] Kansas [between?] the Enemies Lines
Dec 17 63


The picture of Polk and the quotes above are from his book The North and South American Review, published in 1914, available online from GoogleBooks.

The letter is in his file among the Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, Record Group No. 109 (War Department Collection of Confederate Records) in the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington. I found it via fold3 (subscription service).

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