Patrick Cleburne was the Confederacy’s highest-ranking foreign-born general, and one of the best of any nationality.
He been born in Ireland (County Cork) on St. Patrick’s Day. His first ambition was to be a chemist (British parlance for druggist) but he failed the exams and joined the British Army as a junior officer. That paled after a while and me moved to America and set up as a druggist – our laws were looser. After a bit he became a property attorney and did very well.
In 1861 he was Captain of the Yell Rifles, which became Company F of the 1st Arkansas State Troops. Almost immediately he became Colonel of the whole regiment, whose number was shortly changed to the 15th. The Confederacy needed troops in Tennessee more than in Arkansas, and his regiment was moved under Hardee’s leadership. Cleburne’s ability won him promotion to Brigadier General even before the battle of Shiloh. He fought there, then in the siege of Corinth. When Kirby Smith moved into Kentucky, Cleburne’s brigade was the advance guard, and he fought at Richmond and Perryville, even being wounded at both.
His reward was promotion to Major General (December 1862) and command of a division. He led them through the battles of 1863: Murfreesboro, the Tullahoma Campaign, Chickamauga. After the disaster at Missionary Ridge, Cleburne’s division covered the Confederate retreat; his stand on Tunnel Hill may have saved the army.
Cleburne was more than a bold general; he was intelligent. He proposed in the winter of 1863-64 that the South emancipate those slaves that fought in defense of Southern independence, and that the Confederacy admit that slavery as a whole would have to end in a “reasonable time”. Probably the idea was too little, too late; it wouldn’t have had much effect in Europe, nor in the North. Furthermore, it was too much for the authorities in Richmond. Jefferson Davis liked Cleburne (one of the rare cases of Davis’s favorites being good) but that wasn’t enough to get such a radical plan approved.
The 1864 campaign was plenty more hard fighting for Cleburne’s division. He fought all the way through the Georgia mountains in the retreat back to Atlanta, then under Johnston’s and then Hood’s command around Atlanta. When Hood took the Army of Tennessee back into Tennessee in the winter of 1864 Cleburne was at his place, but he was one of six Confederate generals killed at the battle of Franklin, the futile end of the campaign.
Cleburne had many admirers, and some said that if he’d lived a year longer he, rather than Lee, would have been the South’s greatest general.
Content provided by:
Eicher, John H. & David J. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray - Lives of the Confederate Commanders.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.