Patrick Ronayne Cleburne(i), was born 181 years ago today, March 17, 2009. Born in Ovens, County Cork, Ireland, to a middle-class physician, Dr. Joseph Cleburne, young Cleburne would never get to know his mother, who passed when he was 18 months old. His father would die when he was 15. Wanting to be a physician, like his father, Cleburne was not able to pass the entrance exam, to Trinity College of Medicine. He would enter the British Army’s 41st Regiment of Foot, where he would achieve the rank of corporal. Dissatisfied, with his prospects in Britain, he would purchase his discharge and emigrate to the United States.
Shortly after arriving, in the United States, Cleburne would move to Helena, Arkansas. He would gain employment as an apothecary, or pharmacist, and would become a well respected member of Helena’s citizenry. In 1856, he and Thomas Hindman, another future Confederate general, would be shot, as a result of a political argument. Injured, in the back, Cleburne would shoot one his attackers, killing him. Over the coming years, he would become an attorney, a naturalized citizen and a member of the Democratic party.
In 1860, with the advent of the secession crisis, Cleburne would throw his support to the Confederacy. Not a supporter of slavery, he would support the southern states, due to his loyalty, to her people. With the growing need for military forces, Cleburne would enlist in a local Arkansas militia company – the Yell Rifles – of which he would be voted captain. He would lead his company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal, at Little Rock. With the secession of Arkansas, his company would be assigned to the 1st Arkansas Infantry, entering Confederate service. Later, the 1st would become the 15th Arkansas, of which he would be elected colonel. On March 4, 1862, Cleburne would be promoted to brigadier general.
Cleburne would skillfully lead his brigade at the Battle of Shiloh, where he would receive accolades for his bravery. After Shiloh, when CS General Braxton Bragg determined to free Kentucky, his brigade would move with the Army of Tennessee, to free Kentucky, and add new recruits, from the Bluegrass State. He would receive additional praise, for his aggressive actions, at Richmond, Kentucky, where he would lead an attack on U.S. Major General William Nelson’s troops – routing them. The Federal troops would suffer significant casualties, including 4,300 troops captured. Cleburne would be wounded, in the face, during the battle. After Richmond, the Confederate troops, commanded by CS Major General E. Kirby Smith, including Cleburne’s brigade, would move to support Braxton Bragg’s army, in the battle of Perryville. Perryville would be a significant defeat, for Bragg, and would be the last major battle the Confederates fought, in Kentucky.
After retreating, into Tennessee, Cleburne would be promoted to divisional command, and would be promoted to major general, on December 13, 1862. At the battle of Stones River, he would again receive praise for his leadership skills, garnering significant attention – and would often be referred to as the “Stonewall of the West.” Unfortunately, Stones River would be a terrible defeat for Braxton Bragg, now facing a new commander, of the Federal Army of the Cumberland – US Major General William S. Rosecrans. After recuperating, and re-fitting his army, Bragg would retreat, during the summer of 1863, suffering a relatively bloodless loss, during the Tullahoma Campaign, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In September, Cleburne, along with the reinforced Army of Tennessee (most of CS Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia were assigned to Bragg), would thrash Rosecrans at Chickamauga. Chasing the retreating Federals, into Chattanooga, Bragg would surround them, effectively cutting them off from their supply lines.
In November 1863, Bragg would once again be facing a new commanding general, of the newly created Department of the Mississippi, US Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant would open the “cracker line,” creating a steady supply line, and bring reinforcements to Chattanooga. These actions would culminate in battles from November 24–25, where Cleburne’s division would bravely hold Bragg’s right flank, on Missionary Ridge. During this battle, his division would contain attacks, from US Major General William T. Sherman’s troops, until US Major General George Thomas’s 14th Corps pierced the center, of Bragg’s lines. During Bragg’s subsequent retreat, to northern Georgia, Cleburne would again provide valuable service in a rear-guard action, at Ringgold Gap, effectively containing attacks from a far larger army, commanded by US Major General Joseph Hooker. Cleburne would receive the thanks, of the Confederate Congress, for his actions during the Chattanooga Campaign.
With the removal of Bragg, prior to the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, Cleburne’s division, and the rest of the Army of Tennessee, would be commanded by CS General Joseph E. Johnston. The campaign would quickly turn against the struggling Confederacy, with Sherman’s army continually flanking, and pushing Johnston’s army, towards Atlanta. Considered too timid, in his defensive strategy, Johnston would be replaced, by Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, with General John Bell Hood. It was during these very difficult times, with their fortunes fading in Georgia, that Cleburne would promote enlisting slaves in the Confederate army. With word of his proposal leaking out, it would quietly be ignored by the civilian authorities. It is often cited as the reason Cleburne never received promotion to lieutenant general, even though other commanders, less worthy of promotion, would be advanced, in the Army of Tennessee.
With the fall of Atlanta, in early September 1864, Cleburne, and the rest of Hood’s Army of Tennessee, would embark on a desperate mission into Tennessee, with the goal being the expulsion of George Thomas’s army from the state. In November, Hood would push US Major General John M. Schofield’s, two army corps, from Columbia, Tennessee. Attempting to get between Schofield, and Thomas, Hood would push his army, through the frozen fields, of southern Tennessee, to Spring Hill. Due to severe communication issues, and command errors, Schofield was able to sneak past Hood’s entire army, in a nighttime march, to Franklin, Tennessee. Furious, after finding Schofield had escaped, Hood would rashly push his army in pursuit. On November 30, Hood would catch up with Schofield, at Franklin. Unfortunately, for Hood, Schofield had created formidable defensive works, with the Harpeth River anchoring both of his flanks, and a significant artillery presence, north of the river, at Fort Granger. Late in the afternoon, Hood would send two of his three corps, commanded by lieutenant generals A.P. Stewart, and Frank Cheatham (Stephen D. Lee’s corps was still near Columbia), in repeated assaults, over largely open ground, against Schofield’s army. Widely considered the most heroic charges of the Civil War, Hood’s Army of Tennessee would be annihilated. Cleburne’s division would attack, just right of the Federal center, along the Franklin Columbia Turnpike. Cleburne, with his horse shot out from under him, would lead his division, saber in the air, towards the Federal works. He would be shot, through the heart, dying almost instantly. During this battle, six Confederate generals would be killed, ruining much of its command structure. These included Cleburne, States Rights Gist, John Adams, John C. Carter, Hiram Granbury and Otho Strahl. Hood’s army would push after Schofield, immediately after the battle of Franklin, before being completely defeated by Thomas, at Nashville.
After his death, Cleburne, would be laid out on the back porch, at Carnton Plantation. He would be buried at St. John’s Church, near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee. Ironically, on the march to Spring Hill, it is said that Cleburne stated that he would like to be buried, at a place as peaceful as St. John’s Church. In 1870, his would be disinterred, and re-buried in Helena, Arkansas – his adopted home town – in Maple Hill Cemetery.
While Cleburne fought for the losing cause of the Confederacy, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and by all measures a true hero.