Monday, May 14, 2012

Patrick Cleburne (1828-1864), Stonewall of the West

"Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late... It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision... It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties." - Maj. General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, January 1864, writing on what would happen if the Confederacy were to be defeated

"If this cause, that is dear to my heart, is doomed to fail, I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is toward the enemy and my arm battling for that which I know is right." - Major General Patrick R. Cleburne before his fatal wound at the battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

Battle of Franklin, by Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, 1891. This battle was fought on November 30, 1864, at Franklin, Tennessee, as part of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign of the American Civil War. It was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate States Army. Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee conducted numerous frontal assaults against fortified positions occupied by the Union forces under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield and was unable to break through or to prevent Schofield from a planned, orderly withdrawal to Nashville

Statue of Confederate General Patrick R. Cleburne at Ringgold, Georgia. Photographed in 19 November 2011

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne (play /ˈkleɪbɜrn/ KLAY-burn; March 16 or March 17, 1828 – November 30, 1864) was an Irish American soldier, best known for his service in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, where he rose to the rank of major general.

Patrick Cleburne was promoted in the Confederate army at an astounding rate – enlisting as a private in early 1861, and rising to the rank of Major General by December 1862. Highly respected by both his soldiers and his enemies, he showed great physical and moral courage. In fact, it took great courage to issue his controversial – but sincere – January 1864 proposal to arm slaves to fight for the Confederacy.

No Irish-born soldier rose higher in the ranks of the army of the Confederacy during the American Civil War than did Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. But this stature only hints at the high esteem in which he was held by nearly all of his subordinates, his fellow officers, historians up until today, and even those who fought against him. Only Federal General Phil Sheridan — if he was actually born in Ireland, which is not certain — could be compared to him.

Cleburne was born March 16, 1828, at Bride Park Cottage, County Cork. His father was a physician. His early life was one of privilege and personal tragedy, for he never knew his mother, who died when he was 18 months old. His father died when he was just 15.

Patrick — called Ronayne by his family — was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a physician. However, after failing in two attempts to enter Trinity College, Dublin, to study medicine, Cleburne, confused and dispirited, enlisted in the British army in 1846. His experiences serving in the army in Ireland, coming as they did during "The Great Hunger," could not have been pleasant.

In 1849, the fourth year of the famine, his family, suffering from financial difficulties, proposed that four of the Cleburne siblings go to America. Patrick agreed, and bought his way out of the army. With brothers William and Joseph and sister Anne, he made his way to the United States, trading a life in the enlisted ranks of the army for the wide-open freedom of the American frontier.

Cleburne would soon make his home in Helena, Arkansas, where he worked his way up from a drugstore clerk to become a lawyer. He involved himself in politics deeply enough to be seriously wounded by a member of the anti-immigrant "Know-Nothing " party in 1856. Fully recovered by the summer of 1860, he enlisted in a militia group that gave itself the unlikely name of the "Yell Rifles," in honor of Archibald Yell, an Arkansas hero of the Mexican-American War , not for any prowess in the soon-to-became renowned "rebel yell."

He enlisted as a private, but his former British military training, and no doubt the strength of his personality, inspired the men of the company to elect him captain. With Abraham Lincoln's election galvanizing the South, Cleburne, like many other Irish immigrants, faced a daunting choice. On April 9, 1861, civil war began when South Carolinians fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The day after, Cleburne wrote his brother Robert, "I am with the South in life or in death, in victory or in defeat."

The Yell Rifles joined with other militia companies from Arkansas to form the 1st Arkansas Infantry (which later became the 15th Arkansas). On May 14, Patrick Cleburne's qualifications for military command were recognized again, and he was elected colonel. In the ensuing months, he drilled them into a unit that many said was the finest Confederate regiment beyond the Eastern states!

In October, Cleburne's regiment moved up to join Confederate forces gathering in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Cleburne's hard work in training his regiment paid off with his promotion to command a brigade in Hardee's division. In March 1862, he received his promotion to brigadier general to go with the command.

Cleburne proved to be an outstanding brigade commander. He was praised by Hardee for his conduct at Shiloh , where his brigade came within 400 yards of Pittsburg Landing, held desperately by the beleaguered Federals. There his brigade sustained more than 40 percent casualties over the two days of battle, which finally ended in a Northern victory. And we should take note also that, though he had British army experience, the first time that Cleburne experienced actual combat was at Shiloh as the commander of a brigade.

At the Battle of Richmond in August, Cleburne commanded a division, a sure sign that his ability was recognized by others. His performance in his first battle as a division commander proved conspicuous once again, but nearly deadly, too. He took a musket ball through his open mouth and out his cheek, performing a multiple tooth extraction — without novocaine — along the way. But the orders he had given before this wound forced him from the field played a major part in the Confederate victory.

When he returned to duty two months later, just in time for the Battle of Perryville , army commander Braxton Bragg returned him to brigade command, an early indication of Bragg's famous shortcomings as a commander. At Perryville, Cleburne's brigade captured a strongly held Federal position, and he was also instrumental in saving a large amount of supplies during the army's retreat to Tennessee. In December, his stellar performance in 1862 was rewarded with promotion to major general and command of a division.

The year 1863 would be very eventful for Cleburne. At Stones River as the year began, his division drove the opposing Federals several miles back. At Chickamauga in September, Gen. D.H. Hill said, "I have never seen troops behave more gallantly than did his [Cleburne's] division." And it was his division that thwarted the Federal's victorious pursuit of Bragg's army after the debacle at Missionary Ridge in November. During the aftermath of this rear guard action, his brigade gave Joe Hooker a thrashing, fighting in independent command at Ringgold Gap, Ga. He would be voted a resolution of thanks from the Confederate Congress for that action.

As 1863 was fading into 1864, with the cause he loved and served valiantly being inexorably ground to defeat, Cleburne proposed what for many Southerners was the unthinkable to the Confederate government. Cleburne drafted a well-considered, written proposal that would arguably become the nearly invincible Cleburne's ironic legacy, his only failure. In the January 2 proposal, presented to General Joe Johnston and the rest of the command structure of the exhausted Western army, Cleburne suggested that Southern slaves be offered freedom in return for service in the Confederate army.

Though Gen. Johnston declined to send it on to Richmond, Gen. William Walker, who considered the idea close to treason, forwarded a copy to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis ordered Johnston to suppress any mention of the idea, saying it was "injurious to the public service." Bragg, failed as a field commander, yet now a military advisor to Davis, said, "We must mark the men (who backed the idea) ... and feel they will bear watching." Cleburne's advancement into the army's top echelons ground to a halt.

Through 1864, Cleburne continued his stellar performance as a division commander in Johnston's army during the battles around Atlanta, but no promotion to corps command would be forthcoming for the best division commander the Confederate army ever had. This professional disappointment was tempered by personal joy, however, as Patrick met, and became betrothed to Susan Tarleton of Mobile, Alabama. But this relationship, like so many in the war, was star-crossed.

On Nov. 30, the army, now under the command of the irascible, one-legged John Bell Hood , stood before a nearly impregnable Federal fortification at Franklin, Tennessee. Hood ordered a frontal assault. The men of the Army of Tennessee knew they were headed to destruction. "Few of us will ever return to Arkansas," Gen. Daniel Govan told Cleburne. "Well, Govan," Cleburne replied, "if we are to die, let us die like men." Cleburne mounted his horse, and before the day was over he was shot dead.

Gen. William Hardee later said, "Where his division defended, no odds broke its lines; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once - and there is the grave of Cleburne and his heroic division."

Cleburne was buried in Columbia, near St. John's Episcopal Church. In 1870, his remains were moved to his native Helena, Arkansan, and buried in the Evergreen Confederate Cemetery, on Crowley's Ridge, where he lies today.


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