General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, Csa (1828-1864)
Division Commander In The Army Of Tennessee

By

Lar Joye National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History’s permanent exhibition, Soldiers and Chiefs: The Irish at War at Home and Abroad from 1500 includes the personal utensils, military cap, and cane of Major General Patrick Cleburne, on loan from the Tennessee State Museum. A Confederate general of Irish descent, Cleburne proved an intelligent and courageous commander throughout the American Civil War.

Gen_Patrick_Cleburne_smBorn in Co. Cork, Patrick Cleburne served in the British army before purchasing his discharge and emigrating to the United States in 1849. He settled in the town of Helena, Arkansas, in 1850 and began work there as a pharmacist. When a cholera epidemic hit Helena in 1855, Cleburne famously stayed in the town, preparing meals and carrying water for those affected. This was an early example of his notable courage and concern for the welfare of others.

Cleburne studied law and passed the bar exam in 1856, practicing as an attorney until outbreak of the American Civil War when he became captain of the Yell Rifles, a company he helped organize. Cleburne’s experience at Shiloh proved formative; the amount of bloodshed suffered by his men led Cleburne to make modifications in his tactical plans and train his line officers vigilantly, valuing common sense over Napoleonic frontal assaults.
Cleburne was at once a tough disciplinarian and an inspirational leader. At Perryville, his horse was killed by cannon fire that also hit his leg and Cleburne simply found another horse and continued to fight.

By mid 1863, Cleburne and his command had realized such fame and respect that his division was able to keep its distinctive blue flag, while all other units in the Army of Tennessee were required to fly a red one.

Cleburne and his unit fought valiantly in the terrible battles at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Missionary Ridge. During the Battle of Atlanta, Cleburne led the assaulting charge, sword drawn and shouting, ‘Follow me, boys!’. Cleburne’s men held the utmost respect for their leader, and he was dubbed the ‘Stonewall of the West’ by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

General Cleburne, in addition to his gallantry, was well-known for advocating the contentious position of enlisting slaves in return for their freedom. Cleburne noted that there was little possibility of overcoming the Union’s abundant resources unless policies in the Confederacy changed. Cleburne argued that the effects of emancipation would be positive in the South, by providing manpower for the Confederate army and allowing it to continue a long war. Though his proposal created bitter debate among political and military leaders of the Confederacy, nothing further came of the idea.

Ultimately, General Cleburne was killed in 1864 after a disastrous frontal assault on entrenched positions against Union forces in Franklin, Tennessee. General William Hardee, speaking of Cleburne after his death, noted, ‘History will take up his fame…a courage without stain, a manhood without blemish, an integrity that knew no compromise, and a patriotism that withheld no sacrifice and [was] honoured of mankind.’