"The Stonewall of the West," Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, was born on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1828 in Oven, County Cork, Ireland. His mother died when he was eighteen months old and he was an orphan at age 15 when his father, Dr. Joseph Cleburne, died of typhus contracted from a patient. He was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and pursue a career in medicine. To that end, he apprenticed with a nearby pharmacist, but twice failed the entrance exams for Trinity College of Medicine. Humiliated, he enlisted in the 41st Regiment of Foot of the British Army, expecting to be sent to India. Instead, the regiment was sent to Ireland to put down civil unrest due to the Potato Famine.
After serving three years and achieving a promotion to corporal, Cleburne purchased his discharge and emigrated to America, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas, where he operated a drugstore and began studying law. By the start of the Civil War, he was the senior partner in the law firm of Cleburne, Scaife and Magnum and a naturalized citizen. He developed a close friendship with Thomas Hindman, a fellow lawyer and Democratic politician (and another future Confederate general.) That friendship involved Cleburne in a feud with local members of the Know-Nothing Party which culminated in a shootout in downtown Helena. Cleburne was shot in the back and the Memphis Daily Appeal reported that he had died.
As war became imminent, Cleburne sided with the South...
"I am with the South in death, in victory or defeat...I never owned a Negro and care nothing for them, but these people have been my friends and have stood up to me on all occasions. In addition to this, I believe the North is about to wage a brutal and unholy war on a people who have done them no wrong, in violation of the constitution and the fundamental principles of the government. They no longer acknowledge that all government derives its validity from the consent of the governed."
Cleburne joined a local militia company, the Yell Rifles, named in honor of General Archibald Yell, a former governor of Arkansas who died in the Mexican War. Cleburne was soon elected captain and led the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock. After Arkansas seceded, the Yell Rifles became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment (later the 15th Arkansas). Cleburne was elected colonel. The regiment, a part of Major General William Hardee's command, spent the fall and winter of 1861-62 near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Cleburne was given temporary command of a brigade. The post became permanent in March 1862 when he received his brigadier's commission.
Despite his British Army experience, Cleburne's first taste of combat came in April of 1862 at Shiloh. On April 6, on the far left of the Confederate line, Cleburne's brigade (along with the rest of Hardee's corps) shoved the Federals under William Sherman back to the Tennessee River. When the tide of the battle turned on the second day, Cleburne fought rearguard action while the rest of the Confederate army retreated. He was rewarded with praise and increased responsibility.
At the Battle of Richmond, during Major General E. Kirby Smith's 1862 invasion of Kentucky, Cleburne led two brigades. On August 30, while preparing for the second day's fighting, Cleburne was shot in the face. The ball entered through his open mouth and exited out his left cheek, taking several teeth with it. Unable to speak, he relinquished command to Preston Smith. Cleburne's skillful handling of his troops and the timely arrival of reinforcements were among the factors that gave Smith one of the most complete victories of the war.
At Chickamauga, Cleburne's division was called upon to attempt an attack at dusk against Richard Johnson's and Absalom Baird's divisions around Winfrey Field. In the gathering darkness the attack turned into one of the most confused incidents of the entire battle with "friendly fire" casualties outnumbering the intentional kind. The Federals eventually withdrew, leaving Cleburne in possession of the field, but the attack accomplished little except to add to the casualty lists and to leave Cleburne's division too battered to accomplish much in more important attacks the next day.
As the Battles of Chattanooga were starting, Cleburne's division was on its way toward Knoxville to join Longstreet's men there. The division was hastily recalled and posted on Bragg's far right on the north end of Missionary Ridge, the prime focus of General Ulysses S. Grant's efforts against the Confederates. Grant put William T. Sherman in charge of the operation. Sherman moved slowly to cross the Tennessee River and get in position only to realize he had taken the wrong hill. He was on Billy Goat Hill, a small hill separated from the main ridge. Although outnumbered 10 to 1, Cleburne was able to hold off Sherman's advances throughout the remainder of the Battle of Missionary Ridge, withdrawing only when Union troops climbed the ridge and broke the Confederate defenses farther south. The Union victory was total and the Confederates fled, leaving Cleburne's division to fight a rearguard action on a small ridge just east of Missionary Ridge.
After the rout, the Confederates were still in danger. They were disorganized and strung out over many miles with Joseph Hooker's army in hot pursuit. Bragg called upon Cleburne to save the army one more time while he tried to regroup in Dalton, Georgia. At Ringgold, Georgia, there was a gap in the mountains where the Western and Atlantic Railroad ran toward Atlanta. Using the Ringgold Depot as an anchor, Cleburne concealed his men and two cannon there and waited until Hooker's men entered the gap before opening fire. Hooker halted and sent troops to test Cleburne's flanks. Cleburne anticipated the move. Immediately after the initial volley, he moved men away from his center toward the flanks. When he repulsed the attacks on his flanks, Hooker withdrew to await his cannons which were a day behind. With just over 4000 men, Cleburne had stymied Hooker's 12,000.
In late December 1863, recognizing the South's dwindling manpower, Cleburne came up with a unorthodox solution. He called together the leadership of the Army of Tennessee and proposed using slaves as combat troops with the promise of emancipation upon enlistment. His proposal was met with much skepticism and, when it was finally presented to the Confederate Cabinet, they almost unanimously rejected it, but Cleburne's steady rise in the Confederate army came to a halt. He was never promoted to lieutenant general or given command of a corps.
In January 1864, General William Hardee married Mary Lewis Foreman in Demopolis, Alabama. Patrick Cleburne was his best man. There at the wedding, he met 24-year-old Susan Tarleton of Mobile. Shortly after the wedding, he called on Miss Tarleton in Mobile and asked her to marry him. He returned to the army, then arranged for a leave in late February. “I took advantage of the lull after the little storm at Dalton to come down and learn my fate from Miss Sue,” Cleburne wrote. “After keeping me in cruel suspense for six weeks she has at length consented to be mine and we are engaged.” But the war interfered with their plans and, when Cleburne left in early March, they never saw each other again.
From "Cleburne's Banner" by John Trotwood Moore...
Folded now is Cleburne's banner,The Harpeth River, a tributary of the Cumberland, ran through the sleepy little town of Franklin, Tennessee. On November 30, 1864, General John Bell Hood, now commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, launched a suicidal frontal assault across nearly two miles of open ground against John Schofield's entrenched Federals. Patrick Cleburne was killed, shot in the chest. He was 36. Cleburne was laid to rest at St. John's Church near Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. After six years, he was disinterred and returned to Helena, Arkansas, where he was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery.
But one day it gleamed along
When the war-drum's stern hosanna
Echoed in a nation's song!
Shiloh saw it sweep from under
Like a tempest in its wrath;
Chickamauga heard its thunder,
Felt the lightning of its path.
Ringgold Gap, New Hope, and Dalton,
Peachtree Creek---Atlanta, too---
Till it kissed the bloody Harpeth,
Where it broke the ranks of blue---
Till it kissed the bloody Harpeth,
And its blue was turned to red,
When it floated from the breastworks
Over gallant Cleburne---dead!
Lieutenant General William J. Hardee -- "Where this division defended, no odds broke its line; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once; and there is the grave of Cleburne."
For more information, see also:
Cleburne -- The Graphic Novel
Patrick Cleburne YouTube videos