Life of Patrick Cleburne


     Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was born in Ovens, County Cork, Ireland on March 16, 1828. The second son of Dr. Joseph Cleburne, the only physician in the locale, Patrick grew up in comfortable, middle class surroundings and privilege. However life was not without its tragedy. His mother died when he was eighteen months old, and by the time the boy reached age fifteen, his father had also died. He pursued the family tradition of studying medicine, but failed the entrance exam to Trinity College in February 1846. Pride and his sense of honor led him to enlist in the 41st Regiment of Foot of the British Army to escape his failure. Three and one half years later, he bought his discharge and came to America with two brothers and an older sister. He settled in Helena, Arkansas, in 1850, first as a druggist until he became a naturalized citizen. In 1856 he began the practice of law, and was senior partner with Cleburne, Scaife and Mangum by 1860.  

The Cleburne Crest

The Cleburne Crest

     Cleburne joined the Yell Rifles of Phillips as a private, and was soon elected Captain of the company. From this position he rose swiftly in rank, through the early months of the war and became Colonel of the 1st Arkansas. When Gen. William J. Hardee was put in command of Confederate troops in Arkansas, he quickly recognized the gem he had in an officer, and secured Cleburne’s promotion to Brigadier General on March 4, 1862.

     Shiloh, the Kentucky Campaign and Murfreesboro were ahead for Patrick Cleburne. He was severely wounded in the mouth at Richmond, Ky. on August 30. Returning to duty in time to participate in the Battle of Perryville on October 8, he proved his capability in a charge on the field that led to Confederate victory. After the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee December 31and January 1, 1863, Cleburne was promoted to Major General.

     Through the campaigns of 1863, Cleburne became more outspoken along with his superior and mentor William J. Hardee on the incompetence of Gen. Braxton Bragg. After the Battle of Chickamauga and the Chattanooga Campaign, Cleburne achieved lasting military fame for his defense of Tunnel Hill on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee and at the Battle of Ringgold Gap in North Georgia. His brilliant tactical command in the use of his small force, and strategic utilization of terrain remain among the most compelling in military history to study.

    Always pensive and observant, he realized the deplorable state of morale in the army, and the straitened conditions of the Confederacy in general were working against the goal of independence. He had a solution which he earnestly believed would turn the tide in favor of the South, both militarily and politically, and on January 3, 1864, he met with Gen. Joseph Johnston and other high command personalities in Dalton, Georgia to read his proposal on emancipating the slaves and enlisting them in the Confederate army. His concept was shocking to some, endorsed by others, but ultimately rejected by President Jefferson Davis at the urging of his military advisor in Richmond, Braxton Bragg.

     Patrick Cleburne accepted his superiors’ suggestions to suppress his proposal on enlisting slaves, and accompanied his friend William J. Hardee as best man to Hardee’s wedding in Demopolis, Alabama. Cleburne met Susan Tarleton, the 24-year-old daughter of a Mobile, Alabama planter, and was love struck. He proposed to her before his ten-day furlough was up, and she agreed to become engaged to him. The spring of 1864 began military operations, which culminated in the Atlanta Campaign. Patrick Cleburne fought valiantly at every battle, from the opening shots at Rocky Face Gap until the end at Jonesboro in August. He received no other promotions, though vacancies occurred for corps commander. He was distressed when Hood replaced Joe Johnston as commander-in-chief of the Army of Tennessee, and marched his division north with the army in the Tennessee Campaign. In a desperate assault on Union breastworks at Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864, Patrick Cleburne was killed in action beside his men. He was buried at St. John’s Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee. In April 1870, his remains were disinterred and brought back to Helena, Arkansas, where he was reburied in an impressive ceremony in Evergreen Confederate Cemetery. His fiancée Susan Tarleton, married a classmate of her brother’s, but died of a swelling of the brain on June 30, 1868.

Recommended Reading-

A Meteor Shining Brightly by Mauriel Joslyn
(Terrell House, 1997)

Embrace An Angry Wind
by Wiley Sword
(Harper Collins, 1992; Kansas University reprint, 1996)

Cleburne and His Command by Irving Buck
(Broadfoot reprint, 1995)

Pat Cleburne, Confederate General
by Howell and Elizabeth Purdue
(Hill Jr. College Press, 1973; Old Soldier Books reprint, 1987)


Patrick Cleburne Society
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1113 Murfreesboro Rd, Franklin, Tennessee 37064

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