Patrick Cleburne — Stonewall of the West

March 16/17, 1828–November 30, 1864

Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was one of the Confederacy's leading general officers in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. Toward the end of the war, he proposed a plan to enlist slaves in the Confederate Army.

General Patrick Cleburne, Civil War

During the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), Patrick Cleburne demonstrated valor when his horse was shot from beneath him and he was wounded twice. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Who was Patrick Cleburne?

Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was one of the Confederacy’s leading general officers in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.

Cleburne entered the Civil War as a private in the Arkansas militia, but by 1862 he had risen to the rank of major general in the Confederate Army. He took part in the Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth, the Battle of Richmond — where he was shot through the mouth — the Battle of Perryville, the Battle of Chickamauga, and the Battle of Chattanooga.

On November 30, 1864, a gunshot wound to the torso killed Cleburne while he was leading an assault during the Battle of Franklin, near Franklin, Tennessee. Cleburne was temporarily laid to rest at St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee. In 1870, his remains were disinterred and reburied in Maple Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Helena, Arkansas.

Patrick Cleburne Facts

  • Full Name: Patrick Ronayne Cleburne
  • Birth Date: March 16 or March 17, 1828
  • Birth Location: Ovens, County Cork, Ireland
  • Parents: Dr. Joseph Cleburne and Mary Anne (Ronayne) Cleburne
  • Education: No formal education
  • Occupation: Pharmacist, lawyer
  • Career Summary: Major General (CSA)
  • Spouse: None
  • Nickname: Stonewall of the West
  • Place of Death: Franklin, Tennessee
  • Date of Death: November 30, 1864
  • Place of Burial: Maple Hill Cemetery, Helena, Arkansas

Early Life

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was born in Ovens, County Cork, Ireland on March 16 or March 17, 1828. He was the third child and second son of Dr. Joseph Cleburne and Mary Anne Ronayne Cleburne. Cleburne’s mother died when he was eighteen months old. His father later married Isabella Stewart. When Cleburne was fifteen years old, his father died from typhus, leaving Cleburne to live with his stepmother. Cleburne apprenticed for two years to become a pharmacist, but he did not pass his college entrance exam. Feeling disgraced, Cleburne enlisted in the British Army in 1846, hoping to escape to India. Instead, officials assigned him to the 41st Regiment of Foot in his native Ireland. By 1849, Cleburne became disenchanted with military life. Using an inheritance from his mother’s family, he purchased an early discharge from the army.

Emigration to the United States

After leaving the army, Cleburne emigrated from Ireland to the United States of America with his older sister, Anne, and his brothers, William and Joseph, in November 1849. The Cleburnes arrived in New Orleans on Christmas day and traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Cleburne gained employment in a pharmacy for a short time. In 1850, Cleburne moved to Helena, Arkansas, where he worked as a prescription clerk at Nash and Grant’s Drugstore while studying law in the office of T. B. Hanley. Cleburne became a U.S. citizen in 1855, and he passed the Arkansas bar exam the next year.

Ambushed

Upon passing the bar, Cleburne formed a law partnership with his friend Thomas C. Hindman. He also became involved in Democratic Party politics, supporting Hindman’s candidacy for the Senate. In 1856, Hindman’s Know-Nothing Party opponent, W. D. Rice, and some associates ambushed Cleburne and Hindman on the streets of Helena. Although severely wounded, Cleburne killed Rice.

Civil War

By the time the American Civil War began, Cleburne had become a successful lawyer and land agent. He had also become a leading citizen in Helena. Although he neither owned slaves nor supported slavery, he endorsed Arkansas’s secession because he believed

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.

Confederate Officer

As the war approached, Cleburne joined the Yell Rifles, a local militia company named for Arkansas Governor Archibald Yell. Cleburne joined as a private, but the men soon elected him as captain. When the war began, the Yell Rifles became part of the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, attached to the Army of Tennessee. Soldiers elected Cleburne as a colonel and he spent the winter of 1861-1862 at Bowling Green, Kentucky, training his regiment. When army officials promoted Cleburne’s superior, Brigadier General William J. Hardee to divisional command, they placed Cleburne in charge of the 2nd Brigade, Hardee’s Division, in the Army of Central Kentucky. On March 4, 1862, Confederate officials commissioned Cleburne as a brigadier general.

Battle of Shiloh

Cleburne’s first major combat assignment was at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), where his brigade routed Brigadier General William T. Sherman’s Division near Shiloh Church, contributed to the Rebel victory at the Hornet’s Nest and advanced to within four hundred yards of the Union headquarters at Pittsburg Landing by the evening of April 6. The next day, Cleburne’s command suffered heavy losses during a federal counterattack. Afterward, Cleburne’s men protected retreating Confederate troops during Major General Henry Halleck’s Corinth Campaign.

Battle of Shiloh, Illustration, Thulstrup
Battle of Shiloh. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Wounded at the Battle of Richmond

In July 1862, the focus of the Confederate war effort in the West shifted to Kentucky and Tennessee. Cleburne received temporary command of a division in the Army of Kentucky and was shot through the mouth as he led an assault during the Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) on August 29 and 30, 1862. After a month of recuperation, Cleburne rejoined his command on September 21, but he returned to a brigade commander after officials dissolved his division.

Battle of Perryville

During the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), Cleburne again proved his valor, when Rebels shot his horse from beneath him and wounded him twice. After General Braxton Bragg ordered the Confederate withdrawal from Kentucky into Tennessee, Cleburne had to ride part of the way in an ambulance as his wounds healed.

Major General

On December 13, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis promoted Cleburne to major general, making him the highest-ranking Irish-born officer in American military history. Commanding his new division, Cleburne performed well during the Confederate loss at the Battle of Stones River (First Battle of Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga

During the summer campaigns of 1863, Cleburne took part in the Confederate evacuation of Tennessee and the Rebel victory at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19 and 20, 1863). That fall, he confronted William T. Sherman again, as his division withstood an assault by a much larger force at Missionary Ridge on November 25. Two days later, Cleburne’s division held back 15,000 Federals commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Ringgold Gap, allowing the Army of Tennessee to escape into Georgia. The Confederate Congress awarded an official citation to Cleburne and his men for their actions at Ringgold Gap.

Battle of Chickamauga, Rosecrans and Bragg in the Field
Battle of Chickamauga. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Proposal to Enlist Slaves

After the Union breakout from Chattanooga, Cleburne discerned what his superiors had yet to comprehend or were loath to admit—the Confederate situation in the West was bleak. Sherman’s vastly superior army was preparing to begin its drive toward Atlanta in the spring. On January 2, 1864, during a summit with the leaders of the Army of Tennessee, Cleburne proposed a plan to enlist slaves in the Confederate Army in return for a promise of emancipation if the South won the war. Cleburne argued that enrolling slaves would help minimize the South’s manpower disadvantage and that emancipation would increase the chances of securing much-needed foreign aid from European nations. Cleburne’s fellow officers, and Confederate leaders, including President Jefferson Davis, coldly rejected his proposal. Some historians have speculated Cleburne’s proposal prompted Davis to pass over Cleburne when he selected General John Bell Hood to replace General Joseph Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee in 1864. Not as farsighted as Cleburne or, perhaps, not as desperate, Southern leaders did not embrace Cleburne’s proposal until 1865, when it was too late to affect the outcome of the war.

Death at the Battle of Franklin

Before the 1864 campaign season began, Cleburne and Susan Tarleton of Mobile, Alabama became engaged and planned a fall wedding. Cleburne returned to action in Georgia, taking a leading role in the Atlanta Campaign. After Atlanta fell, Cleburne accompanied the Army of Tennessee during General John Bell Hood’s Franklin-Nashville Campaign in the fall of 1864. On November 30, 1864, a gunshot wound to the torso killed Cleburne while he was leading an assault during the Battle of Franklin, near Franklin, Tennessee.

Burial

Cleburne was temporarily laid to rest at St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee. In 1870, his remains were disinterred and reburied in Maple Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Helena, Arkansas.

Patrick Cleburne Significance

Cleburne’s valor and leadership abilities earned him the nickname “Stonewall of the West.” The Confederacy’s most famous general, Robert E. Lee, referred to Cleburne as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.” After Cleburne’s death, two counties in Alabama and Arkansas, a city in Texas, a park in Tennessee marking the site of his death, and a memorial cemetery in Georgia were named in his honor.

Patrick Cleburne — Facts About His Life and Accomplishments

  • Patrick Cleburne was the third child and second son of Dr. Joseph Cleburne and Mary Anne Ronayne Cleburne.
  • Patrick Cleburne’s mother died when he was eighteen months old.
  • Patrick Cleburne’s father died when Cleburne was fifteen years old.
  • Patrick Cleburne apprenticed for two years to become a pharmacist, but he was unable to pass his college entrance exam.
  • Patrick Cleburne enlisted in the British Army in 1846 and served with the 41st Regiment of Foot in his native Ireland.
  • Using an inheritance from his mother’s family, Patrick Cleburne purchased an early discharge from the British Army in 1849.
  • After leaving the British Army, Patrick Cleburne emigrated from Ireland with his older sister Anne and his brothers William and Joseph in November 1849, bound for the United States.
  • Patrick Cleburne arrived in New Orleans on Christmas day 1849 and traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where gained employment in a pharmacy for a short time.
  • In 1850, Patrick Cleburne relocated to Helena, Arkansas, where he worked as a prescription clerk at Nash and Grant’s Drugstore while studying law in the office of T. B. Hanley.
  • Patrick Cleburne became a U.S. citizen in 1855.
  • Patrick Cleburne passed the Arkansas bar exam in 1856.
  • Patrick Cleburne entered into a law partnership with his friend Thomas C. Hindman.
  • Patrick Cleburne became involved in Democratic Party politics during the 1850s
  • In 1856, W. D. Rice and some associates ambushed Patrick Cleburne and his friend Thomas C. Hindman on the streets of Helena, Arkansas. Although severely wounded, Cleburne was able to kill Rice.
  • By the time the American Civil War began, Patrick Cleburne had become a successful lawyer and land agent in Helena, Arkansas.
  • Although Patrick Cleburne neither owned slaves nor supported slavery, he endorsed Arkansas’s secession.
  • As the Civil War approached, Patrick Cleburne joined the Yell Rifles, a local militia company named for Arkansas Governor Archibald Yell.
  • When the Civil War began, The Yell Rifles became part of the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, attached to the Army of Tennessee. Patrick Cleburne was elected colonel and spent the winter of 1861-1862 at Bowling Green, Kentucky training his regiment.
  • Patrick Cleburne was promoted to brigadier general on March 4, 1862.
  • Patrick Cleburne’s brigade routed Brigadier General William T. Sherman’s Division at the Battle of Shiloh.
  • Patrick Cleburne was shot through the mouth as he led an assault during the Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) on August 30, 1862.
  • During the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), Patrick Cleburne demonstrated valor when his horse was shot from beneath him and he was wounded twice.
  • On December 13, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis promoted Patrick Cleburne to major general, making him the highest-ranking Irish-born officer in American military history.
  • Patrick Cleburne took part in the Confederate loss at the Battle of Stones River (First Battle of Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863.
  • Patrick Cleburne took part in the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863).
  • Patrick Cleburne’s division withstood an assault by William T. Sherman’s much larger force during the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863.
  • Patrick Cleburne’s division held back 15,000 Federals commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Ringgold Gap, on November 27, 1863, allowing the Army of Tennessee to retreat into Georgia.
  • The Confederate Congress awarded an official citation to Patrick Cleburne and his men for their actions at the Battle of Ringgold Gap.
  • On January 2, 1864, during a summit with the leaders of the Army of Tennessee, Patrick Cleburne proposed a plan to enlist slaves in the Confederate Army in return for a promise of emancipation if the South won the war.
  • Before the 1864 campaign season began, Patrick Cleburne and Susan Tarleton of Mobile, Alabama became engaged and planned a fall wedding.
  • Patrick Cleburne took part in the Atlanta Campaign during the summer of 1864.
  • After the fall of Atlanta, Patrick Cleburne accompanied the Army of Tennessee during General John Bell Hood’s Franklin-Nashville Campaign in the fall of 1864.
  • On November 30, 1864, a gunshot wound to the torso killed Patrick Cleburne while he was leading an assault during the Battle of Franklin, near Franklin, Tennessee.
  • After his death on November 30, 1864, Patrick Cleburne was temporarily laid to rest at St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee for six years.
  • In 1870, Patrick Cleburne’s remains were disinterred and reburied in Maple Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Helena, Arkansas.
  • Patrick Cleburne’s valor and leadership abilities earned him the nickname “Stonewall of the West.”
  • Robert E. Lee referred to Patrick Cleburne as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.”
  • After Patrick Cleburne’s death, two counties in Alabama and Arkansas, a city in Texas, a park in Tennessee marking the site of his death, and a memorial cemetery in Georgia were named in his honor.

Patrick Cleburne: A Biography

This video from Civil War Digital Digest discussed the life and career of Patrick Cleburne and explains why he is considered one of the most successful commanders of the Civil War. His military service ranged from a Corporal in the British Army to a Major General in the Confederate Army. His legacy includes proposing the emancipation and enlistment of enslaved people, which was not supported by others, and leading an ill-fated charge from the front, despite not supporting it himself.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Patrick Cleburne — Stonewall of the West
  • Date March 16/17, 1828–November 30, 1864
  • Author
  • Keywords Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, Stonewall of the West
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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