Biographical Sketch of Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

John Francis Maguire
APPENDIX (5) start of appendix


The sketch is necessarily imperfect, from the want of official records. Most of these were lost or destroyed by the casualties attending the close of the late war; and those still in existence are difficult of access. Of Cleburne's early life little is known—the record of his service in the Southern armies belongs to the yet unwritten history of 'the lost cause.' In better days, when the passions and prejudices engendered by civil strife shall have disappeared, and history brings in a dispassionate verdict, the name of Cleburne will appear high in the lists of patriots and warriors. Until then, his best record is in the hearts of his adopted countrymen.

With brief exceptions Cleburne served under my immediate command during his military career. He succeeded first to the brigade, and then to the division which I had previously commanded; and it is to me a grateful recollection, that circumstances enabled me to further his advancement to those important trusts. From personal knowledge, therefore, gained in an intercourse and observation extending through a period of nearly four years, I can give you an outline sketch of Cleburne's character and services.

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was an Irishman by birth, a Southerner by adoption and residence, a lawyer by profession; a soldier in the British army, by accident, in his youth; and a soldier in the Southern armies, from patriotism and conviction of duty, in his manhood. Upon coming to the United States he located at Helena, Arkansas, where he studied and practised law.

In that profession he had, previous to the great struggle, formed a co-partnership with General T. C. Hindman. His standing as a lawyer was high, as indicated by this association with a gentleman distinguished as an orator and advocate.

It was at this period of his life that, in the unorganised and turbulent condition of society, incident to a newly settled country, he established a reputation for courage and firmness, which was afterwards approved by a still more trying ordeal. In the commencement of the war for Southern independence, he enlisted as a private. He was subsequently made captain of his company, and shortly after was elected and commissioned colonel of his regiment. Thus, from one grade to another, he gradually rose to the high rank he held when he fell. It is but scant praise to say, there was no truer patriot, no more courageous soldier, nor, of his rank, more able commander, in the Southern armies; and it is not too much to add that his fall was a greater loss to the cause he espoused than that of any other Confederate leader, after Stonewall Jackson. In the camp of the army which Albert Sydney Johnston assembled at Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the autumn of 186l, Cleburne had an opportunity in the drill and organisation of the raw troops, of which that army was then composed, of proving his qualifications as a disciplinarian and commander. His natural abilities in this respect had probably been fostered by his early tuition in the British army; and upon his becoming a soldier a second time, were perfected by unremitting study and labour. These qualities secured his promotion to brigadier-general. In April, 1862, Albert Sydney Johnston concentrated his forces at Corinth, Mississippi, to attack General Grant, who had landed an army at Pittsburg, on the Tennessee river, which was now encamped near Shiloh Church, about three miles from the landing. The attack was made on the morning of the 6th of April. Cleburne's brigade was of my corps, which formed the front line of attack. The enemy were steadily driven for three miles through their encampments, past the rich spoils with which a luxurious soldiery had surrounded themselves, and over the heaps of their dead and dying, until the broken and demoralised masses sought the shelter of the river's banks, and the cover of their gunboats. Albert Sydney Johnston had fallen in action about 2 o'clock P.M. His successor in command, General Beauregard, deemed it best, late in the evening, to recall the pursuit. At the moment of recall, Cleburne was pressing on, within 400 yards of Pittsburg Landing, behind the cliffs of which cowered the masses of hopeless and helpless fugitives. That night the enemy were reinforced by the arrival of a fresh army under Buell; and, on the evening of the 7th, the Southern forces, after maintaining, through the day, the now unequal struggle, withdrew, unpursued, to Corinth. In this battle Cleburne's brigade sustained a heavier loss in killed and wounded than any other in the army.

At the initiation of General Bragg's Kentucky campaign, in the summer of 1862, Cleburne's brigade, with one other, was detached and united with Kirby Smith's column, which, starting from Knoxville, Tennessee, was to penetrate Kentucky through Cumberland Gap and form a junction with the main army under General Bragg, which moved from Chattanooga into Kentucky by a different rout. Kirby Smith's forces encountered opposition at Richmond, Kentucky, in September. There Cleburne directed the first day's fighting, and in his first handling of an independent command was mainly instrumental in winning a victory, which, in the number of prisoners and amount of stores captured, and in the utter dispersion and destruction of the opposing force, was one of the most complete of the war. For 'gallant and meritorious service' here, he received an official vote of thanks from the Congress of the Confederate States. In this action he received a singular wound. The missile, a minie rifle ball, entered the aperture of the mouth while his mouth was open, in the act of giving a command to the troops in action, without touching his lips, and passed out of the left cheek, carrying away in its course five lower teeth, without touching or injuring the bone. This wound did not prevent his taking part in the battle of Perryville on the 8th of October following, where he rejoined my command, and was again wounded while leading his brigade in a gallant charge.

An incident occurred in the march out of Kentucky, which will serve to illustrate Cleburne's indomitable will and energy. On the road selected for the passage of ordnance and supply trains of the army, was a very difficult hill, at which the trains unable to pass over it, or to go round it, came to a dead halt. The enemy were pressing the rear, the trains were immovable, and nothing seemed left but to destroy them, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy; orders had actually been given for their destruction when Cleburne, who was disabled and off duty on account of his wound, came up. He asked and was given unlimited authority in the premises. He at once stationed guards in the road, arrested every straggler and passing officer and soldier, collected a large force, organised fatigue parties, and literally lifted the trains over the hill. The trains thus preserved contained munitions and subsistence of the utmost value and necessity to the Confederates. It is by no means certain even that the army could have made its subsequent long march through a sterile and wasted country without them.

In December 1862, General Bragg concentrated his army at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to oppose the Federal forces assembled at Nashville under Rosecranz. At this time, Major-general Buckner, then commanding the division of which Cleburne's brigade formed a part, was transferred to other service, and the President of the Confederate States, who was on a visit to the army at the time, promoted Cleburne to the vacant division. Rosecranz' advance upon Bragg brought on the battle of Murfreesboro, Dec. 31,1862. In the action of this day Cleburne's was one of the two divisions under my command, which attacked the light wing of the Federal army, under M'Cook. This wing was beaten and driven three miles, until its extreme right was doubled back upon the centre of the Federal army. During the day, Cleburne's division in single line of battle, without reinforcement, rest, or refreshment, encountered and drove before it five successive lines of battle, which the Federal commander-in-chief withdrew from his intact centre and left to reinforce his broken right. The general results of the day were not decisive in favour of the Southern arms; but this heightens the achievement of that portion of the army which was successful, and the merit of the officer whose skilful handling of his division contributed materially to that success.

From the battle of Murfreesboro to that of Chickamauga, in September 1863, military operations in the army with which Cleburne was connected were of a desultory and undecisive character. But outpost duty in close proximity to an enemy superior in numbers, afforded Cleburne occasion for the exercise of his high soldierly qualities of vigilance and activity. In the advance from Tullohoma to Wartrace, and the subsequent retirement of the army to Chattanooga, his division habitually formed the vanguard in advance and the rearguard in retreat. The battle of Chickamauga—an Indian name which signifies 'the river cf death'—wrote the bloodiest page in the history of Western battles. General Bragg, reinforced by Longstreet's corps from Virginia, on the 19th and 20th of September engaged and, after an obstinate contest, defeated, Rosecranz' army, which, routed and demoralised, retreated within its line of works at Chattanooga. In this battle Cleburne's division bore its usual prominent part; a charge made by it, in the struggle for position in the adjustment of lines on the Saturday evening preceding the Sunday's final conflict, is described as especially magnificent and effective.

The Confederate forces soon after occupied Missionary Ridge, and partially invested Chattanooga, with the object of cutting off the supplies of the army within its lines. The attempt was but partially successful. Meantime the Federal government despatched General Grant to succeed Rosecranz in command, and recalled Sherman's army from Mississippi to reinforce him. On the 24th of November, Grant, reinforced by Sherman, attacked Bragg, weakened by the detachment of Longstreet's corps, and carried the position of the Confederate left on Lookout Mountain. On the 25th a general attack was made upon the Confederate line. The right wing, under my command, consisted of four divisions—Cleburne's on the extreme right. The attacking force in this part of the field was commanded by General Sherman. The enemy made repeated and vigorous assaults, which were repelled with heavy loss to the assailants. Cleburne's position on the right was most insecure, from its liability to be turned. He maintained it with his accustomed ability, and upon the repulse of the last assault, directed in person a counter charge, which effected the capture of a large number of prisoners and several stands of colours. The assailants gave up the contest and withdrew from our front. But while the cheers of victory raised on the right were extending down the line, the left of the army had been carried by assault, and the day was lost. All that now remained to the victorious right was to cover the retreat of the army. This it did successfully. It the right, instead of the left of the army, had been carried, it would have given the enemy possession of the only line of retreat, and no organised body of the Confederate army could have escaped. In the gloom of night-fall, Cleburne's division, the last to retire, sadly withdrew from the ground it had held so gallantly, and brought up the rear of the retiring army.

The enemy next day organised a vigorous pursuit; and on the morning of the second day, its advance, Hooker's corps, came up with Cleburne at Ringgold Gap. The enemy moved to attack what they supposed a demoralised force with great confidence. Cleburne had made skilful dispositions to receive the attack, and repulsed it with such serious loss that pursuit was abandoned, and the pursuing force returned to its lines. Here Cleburne again received the thanks of Congress for meritorious conduct.

The Southern army now went into winter quarters at Dalton, in North Georgia. Cleburne's division occupied an outpost at Tunnel Hill. He devoted the winter months to the discipline and instruction of his troops, and revived a previously-adopted system of daily recitations in tactics and the art of war. He himself heard the recitations of his brigade commanders, a quartette of lieutenants worthy their captain—the stately Granberry, as great of heart as of frame, a noble type of the Texan soldier—Govan, true and brave as he was courteous and gentle—Polk, young, handsome, dashing and fearless, and—Lowry, the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect. These brigadiers heard the recitations of the regimental officers, and they in turn of the company officers. The thorough instruction thus secured, first applied on the drill ground, and then tested in the field, gave the troops great efficiency in action.

About this time the terms of enlistment of the three years' men began to expire. It was of critical importance to the Southern cause that these men should re-enlist. The greater part of Cleburne's division consisted of Arkansans and Texans, who were separated from their homes by the Mississippi river. This river, patroled by Federal gunboats, was an insuperable barrier to communication. Many of these men had not heard from their homes and wives and little ones for three years. To add to this, the occasional reports received from the trans-Mississippi were but repeated narratives of the waste and ravage of their homes by the Federal soldiery. No husband could know that his wife was not homeless—no father, that his children were not starving. Every instinct that appeals most powerfully and most sacredly to manhood, called upon these men to return to their homes as soon as they could do so honourably. Cleburne was a man of warm sympathies, and he felt profoundly the extent of the sacrifice his men were called upon to make; but with Roman virtue he get high above all other earthly considerations the achievement of Southern independence. He adapted himself to the peculiar conditions of a volunteer soldiery, and laying aside the commander, he appealed to his men, as a man and a comrade, to give up everything else and stand by the cause and the country. He succeeded in inspiring them with his own high purpose and exalted patriotism, and the result was the early and unanimous re-enlistment of his division. The Confederate Congress passed later a Conscription Act that retained the three years' men in service; but those whose terms of enlistment expired in the interim would meantime have returned to their homes, and the moral effect of voluntary re-enlistment would have been lost to the cause.

Cleburne fully comprehended the disproportion in the military resources of the North and South, and was the first to point out the only means left the South to recruit her exhausted numbers. In January 1864, he advocated calling in the negro population to the aid of Southern arms. He maintained that negroes accustomed to obedience from youth, would, under the officering of their masters, make even better soldiers for the South than they had been proven to make under different principles of organisation for the North. He insisted that it was the duty of the Southern people to waive considerations of property and prejudices of caste, and bring to their aid this powerful auxiliary. He pointed out further that recruits could be obtained on the borders, who would otherwise fall into the hands of the Federal armies, and be converted into soldiers to swell the ranks of our enemies. His proposition met the disfavour of both government and people. A year later it was adopted by Congress, with the approval of the country, when it was too late.

The following extract of a note written about this time to a lady. a refugee from Tennessee, in reply to some expressions complimentary to himself, and to a hope expressed for the recovery of Tennessee, is markedly characteristic of the man:—

'To my noble division and not to myself belong the praises for the deeds of gallantry you mention. Whatever we have done, however, has been more than repaid by the generous appreciation of our countrymen. I assure you, I feel the same ardent longing to recover the magnificent forests and green valleys of middle Tennessee that you do; and I live in the hope that God will restore them to our arms. I cannot predict when the time will be, but I feel that it is certainly in the future. We may have to make still greater sacrifices—to use all the means that God has given us; but when once our people, or the great body of them, sincerely value independence above every other earthly consideration, then I will regard our success as an accomplished fact.

'Your friend,


In a brief absence from Dalton, with one exception his only absence during his service, Cleburne formed an attachment as earnest and true as his own noble nature. The attachment was returned with the fervour and devotion of the daughters of the South. Much might be said of this episode—of its romantic beginning, and its tragic end; but the story of the loved and lost is too sacred to be unveiled to the public eye.

General Bragg had been relieved of the command of the Western army, at his own request, after the battle of Missionary Ridge; subsequently General J. E. Johnston was assigned to the command. To the Federal General Sherman was given the command of the armies assembled at Chattanooga for the invasion of Georgia. The campaign opened on the 7th of May. The history of its military operations, under the conduct of General Johnston, is the record of a struggle against largely superior forces, protracted through a period of seventy days, and extending over a hundred miles of territory. The campaign was characterised by brilliant partial engagements and continuous skirmishing, the aggregate results of which summed up into heavy battles. When the army reached Atalanta, notwithstanding the discouragements of constant fighting, frequent retreats, and loss of territory, it was with unimpaired organisation and morale.

In this campaign, Cleburne's division had two opportunities of winning special distinction. At New Hope Church, on the 27th of May. it formed the right of the army in two lines, the first entrenched. In the afternoon of that day the 4th corps of the Federal army advanced as if to pass its right. Cleburne promptly brought his two brigades of the second line into the first, extending it to face the Federal advance. This line received the enemy's attack, made in seven lines, on open ground, with no advantage on our side except a well-chosen position, and after an obstinate fight of an hour-and-a-half repulsed it. Cleburne's troops were not only greatly outnumbered, but were outnumbered by resolute soldiers. At the end of the combat about 700 Federal dead lay within thirty or forty feet of his line. During the action a Federal colour-bearer planted his colours within ten paces of Cleburne's line. He was instantly killed, a second who took his place shared his fate, so with the third and fourth; the fifth bore off the colours.

We read of little more effective fighting than that of Cheatham's and Cleburne's divisions in repelling an assault made upon them by Blair's corps of the Federal army, on the morning of the 27th of June, at Kennesaw. The conduct of the Federal troops on that occasion was as resolute as in the instance above. When they fell back, more than 300 dead bodies were counted within a few yards of Cleburne's entrenchment, some of them lying against it. His loss was two killed and nine wounded, certainly less than 1 to 100 of the enemy. On the 18th of July, Gen. Johnston was removed from the Western army, and Gen. Hood promoted to its command.

On the 21st, while the army was occupying a line encircling the northern front of Atalanta, Cleburne's division was detached to oppose an attempt of a corps of the enemy to turn the Confederate right, and penetrate to Atalanta at an undefended point. His troops, newly arrived at the point of apprehended attack, had no protection, other than the men provided themselves in the brief time allowed for preparation. They were attacked by large odds, in front and on both flanks. At one time Cleburne's line was so completely enfiladed, that a single shot of the enemy killed nineteen men in one company. The position was maintained, the enemy repulsed, and Atalanta preserved. Cleburne described this as the 'bitterest fight' of his life. On the 22nd of July, in carrying out a plan of general attack, my corps, consisting then of Cleburne's and three other divisions, assaulted and carried the entrenched left of the Federal army. The troops opposed to us were McPherson's army, of which Blair's corps formed a part. On the 27th of June, Cleburne had repelled an assault of these troops with a loss signally disproportionate. It bears strong testimony to the soldierly qualities of the Confederate troops, that on the 22nd of July, they, in positions exactly reversed, carried works equally strong manned by the same troops. The loss of twenty-seven of about thirty field officers in Cleburne's division in this action, attests the gallantry of the officers and the severity of the conflict.

On the 26th of August, the Federal commander, Gen. Sherman, commenced to turn the Confederate position at Atalanta. A Federal force made a detour, and occupied a position at Jonesboro, about twenty-five miles south of Atalanta. On the night of the 30th, Gen. Hood, remaining in Atalanta with one corps of his army, sent the remaining two, Lee's and my own, under my command, to dislodge this force. It was found to consist of three corps, strongly entrenched. The attack upon it was unsuccessful. Cleburne commanded my corps in this action, and achieved the only success of the day, the capture of some guns and a portion of the enemy's works. On the night of the 31st, Gen. Hood withdrew Lee's corps towards Atalanta, and the Federal commander was reinforced by three additional corps, so that on the morning of the 1st of September, my corps, in which Cleburne had renewed his place as division-commander, was confronted by six Federal corps. Gen. Sherman had, meantime, arrived on the field, and taken command in person. The enemy at once took the offensive. It was of the last necessity, to secure the safe withdrawal of the remainder of the army from Atalanta, that this Confederate corps should hold its position through the day. The odds were fearful, and the contest that followed was a very trying one; but the position was held against the attacks made upon it through the day, and the remainder of the army retired in safety from Atalanta. Cleburne's services were highly valuable in the operations of this day.

In the fall and winter of 1864, Gen. Hood marched into Tennessee. In this campaign, at the battle of Franklin, November 30th, Cleburne fell at the head of his division. He was one of thirteen general officers killed or disabled in the combat. He had impressed upon his officers the necessity of carrying the position he had been ordered to attack, a very strong one, at all cost. The troops knew from fearful experience of their own, and their enemies, what it was to assault such works. To encourage them, Cleburne led them in person to the ditch of the opposing line. There rider and horse, each pierced by a score of bullets, fell dead against the reverse of the enemy's works.

The death of Cleburne cast a deep gloom over the army and the country. Eight millions of people, whose hearts had learned to thrill at his name, now mourned his loss, and felt there was none to take his place. The division with which his fame was identified merits more particular mention. It was worthy of him, and he had made it so. Its numbers were made up, and its honours were shared, by citizens of five communities—Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In it was also one regiment of Irishmen, who, on every field, illustrated the characteristics of the race that furnishes the world with soldiers. No one of its regiments but bore upon its colours the significant device of the 'crossed cannon inverted,' and the name of each battle in which it had been engaged. Prior to the battle of Shiloh, a blue battle flag had been adopted by me for this division; and when the Confederate battle flag became the national colours, Cleburne's division, at its urgent request, was allowed to retain its own bullet-riddled battle flags. This was the only division in the Confederate service allowed to carry into action other than the national colours; and friends and foes soon learned to watch the course of the blue flag that marked where Cleburne was in the battle. Where this 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. In this sketch of Cleburne there has been no intention of disparaging, by omission or otherwise, the merits and services of other officers and troops, some of which are eminently worthy of commemoration; but the limits of a sketch, personal in its character, and giving a bare outline of the military operations with which the subject of it was connected, necessarily preclude an account of the services, however great of others, even when rendered in the same action.

Cleburne at the time of his death was about 37 years of age. He was above the medium height, about 5 feet 11 inches, and though without striking personal advantages, would have arrested attention from a close observer as a man of mark. His hair, originally black, became grey under the cares and fatigues of campaigning. His eyes, a clear steel-grey in colour, were cold and abstracted usually, but beamed genially in seasons of social intercourse, and blazed fiercely in moments of excitement. A good-sized and well-shaped head, prominent features, slightly aquiline nose, thin, greyish whiskers worn on the lip and chin, and an expression of countenance when in repose rather indicative of a man of thought than action, completes the picture. His manners were distant and reserved to strangers, but frank and winning among friends. His mind was of a highly logical cast. Before expressing an opinion upon a subject, or coming to a decision in any conjuncture of circumstances, he wore an expression as if solving a mathematical proposition. The conclusion when reached, was always stamped with mathematical correctness. He was modest as a woman, but not wanting in that fine ambition which ennobles men. Simple in his tastes and habits, and utterly regardless of personal comfort, he was always mindful of the comfort and welfare of his troops. An incident which occurred at Atalanta illustrates his habitual humanity to prisoners. A captured Federal officer was deprived of his hat and blankets by a needy soldier of Cleburne's command, and Cleburne, failing to detect the offender or to recover the property, sent the officer a hat of his own, and his only pair of blankets.

Among his attachments was a very strong one for his adjutant, General Captain Irving A. Buck, a boy in years, but a man in all soldierly qualities, who for nearly two years of the war, shared Cleburne's labours during the day and his blankets at night.

He was also much attached to his youngest brother, who was killed in one of Morgan's fights in South-Western Virginia. This brother inherited the brave qualities that belonged to the name, and after being promoted from the ranks for 'distinguished gallantry,' fell in a charge at the head of his regiment.

Cleburne had enough accent to betray his Irish birth. This accent perceptible in ordinary conversation, grew in times of excitement into a strongly marked brogue. He was accustomed to refer to Ireland as the 'old country,' and always in the tone of a son speaking of an absent mother. He possessed considerable powers of wit and oratory, the national heritage of the Irish people; but his wit, perhaps characterised by the stern influences that had surrounded his life, was rather grim than humorous. He had a marked literary turn, and was singularly well-versed in the British poets. Indeed, he had at one period of his life wooed the muse himself, and with no inconsiderable success, as was evidenced by some fragments of his poetical labours which he had preserved.

It was known that he had a brother in the Federal army, but he seldom mentioned his name, and never without classifying him with the mass of the Irish who had espoused the Federal cause, of whom he always spoke in terms of strong indignation. His high integrity revolted at the want of consistency and morality shown in the course of that class of Irish who, invoking the sympathies of the world in behalf of 'oppressed Ireland,' gave the powerful aid of their arms to enslave another people.

Cleburne's remains were buried after the battle of Franklin, and yet rest in the Polk Cemetery, near Columbia, Tennessee, the most beautiful of the many beautiful spots in the valley of the Tennessee. Generals Granberry and Strahl, brave comrades who fell in the same action, were buried at his side. On the march to Franklin, a few days before his death, Cleburne halted at this point, and in one of the gentle moods of the man that sometimes softened the mien of the soldier, gazed a moment in silence upon the scene, and turning to some members of his staff said, 'It is almost worth dying to rest in so sweet a spot.'

It was in remembrance of these words that their suggestion was carried out in the choice of his burial-place. In this cemetery is set apart a division called the 'Bishops' Corner.' Here were buried the remains of the late Right Rev. Bishop Otey of Tennessee—here are to be placed the ashes of the heroic bishop, General Leonidas Polk, and here it is purposed that the tombs of the future bishops of Tennessee shall be ranged beside these illustrious names. In this spot, where nature has lavished her wealth of grace and beauty, in ground consecrated by the dust of illustrious patriots, churchmen, and warriors—in the bosom of the State he did so much to defend, within whose borders he first guided his charging lines to victory, and on whose soil he finally yielded to the cause the last and all a patriot soldier can give—rests what was mortal of Patrick Cleburne, and will rest until his adopted State shall claim his ashes, and raise above them monumental honours to the virtues of her truest citizen, her noblest champion, her greatest soldier.

Cleburne had often expressed the hope that he might not survive the independence of the South. Heaven heard the prayer, and spared him this pang. He fell before the banner he had so often guided to victory was furled—before the people he fought for were crushed—before the cause he loved was lost.

Two continents now claim his name; eight millions of people revere his memory; two great communities raise monuments to his virtues—and history will take up his fame, and hand it down to time for exampling, wherever a courage without stain, a manhood without blemish, an integrity that knew no compromise, and a patriotism that withheld no sacrifice, are honoured of mankind.

SELMA, ALABAMA: May 1, 1867.

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