“Stonewall of the West” : General Patrick Cleburne

“Stonewall of the West” : General Patrick Cleburne

US Civil War

Patrick Cleburne was one of the greatest battle leaders in the Confederate army. An immigrant from Ireland, his original ambition was medicine, like his father. When he failed his entrance exam, he joined the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army. He moved to Arkansas and in 1855 worked as a pharmacist. He and his business partner, Thomas Hindman (who also rose to generalship) were shot in a street fight with Know-Nothings (Cleburne was Irish and Catholic). He was shot in the back, turned around, and killed his attacker; the others hid until he collapsed in the street. Then he and Hindman moved to Mississippi where he studied law.

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne became the highest-ranking Irish -born officer in American military history, attaining the rank of major general.

With secession he joined the Confederate army not because he supported slavery, which he claimed he had no opinion about, but because the Southern people had welcomed him. He joined as a private, becoming one of just a few to rise all the way to major general. He fought with distinction at Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Atlanta. Throughout, his leadership was courageous and active. Braxton Bragg called him “one of the best and truest officers in our cause.”

The Confederate Congress officially thanked him for his actions at Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap. General Lee referred to him as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky”, which, really, is an amazing compliment from the General himself.

He fought at Shiloh and was wounded in the face at the Battle of Richmond. At Stones River, Cleburne filled a gap in the Confederate line of attack; he was advancing behind the first line and filled in without an order from General Bragg. His attack drove the Union right wing back to its final line of defense. At Chickamauga his led his division in a daring night battle. During the Battle of Missionary Ridge, he successfully resisted the attack of the Union left led by General Sherman. Cleburne ultimately held the hill despite severe fighting. At Ringgold Gap, his division single handedly held off the Union army as the rear guard of the Confederate army retreated after the loss of Lookout Mountain.

Statue of General Cleburne at Ringgold Gap

His courage was supplemented by intelligent understanding of terrain. Yet despite these accolades, Cleburne was passed over for promotion to Corps Commander three times, remaining a division commander. He was, of course, killed leading a charge at Franklin. The memoirs he never wrote is probably the greatest disappointment in the civil war genre.

Yet he was never promoted past the brigade command level. The fact that he was an immigrant who was not a Virginian and who did not study at West Point would have been well outside the usual Davis formula for promotion. Another problem was that he was in Hardee’s Corps, and it’s hard to see Cleburne advancing unless Hardee is promoted as well.

There were professional conflicts as well. Generals Benjamin Cheatham (also wrongly accused by Hood in the Schofield affair)  and William Loring (who took the place of Bishop Polk & wounded at Ezra Church, but who had his own contentious moments) were senior to him, and undoubtedly expected promotion first. General William HT Walker is often considered Cleburne’s rival partly because he was the man who most conspicuously worked behind the scenes to cast doubt on Cleburne’s political stability, and who would also be in line for promotion. Walker is known to have made certain that General Bragg and President Davis were aware of Cleburne’s political views.

Certainly, his famous suggestion in 1864 to the top leadership of the Army of Tennessee that the South should consider the emancipation of slaves to enlist them in the army, recognizing that his country was losing the war, may have been one reason.

Allowing slaves to fight in the Confederate army due to pragmatic (diminishing confederate soldiers) and moral reasons (to show the north and perhaps posterity that the war wasn’t only about slavery but about a broader way of life he had grown fond of in the south since leaving Ireland) was not widely countenanced by his colleagues.  Obviously, Cleburne’s suggestion was not politically correct in his environment.

Moreover, his statement that slavery was the Confederacy’s “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness ”was poorly received by Confederate politicians and other military leaders. Davis directed the proposal be suppressed; this could not have been a career enhancing moment. 

Memorial at the Battlefield at Franklin near where Cleburne was killed.
Cleburne was killed leading a poorly devised attack on Union fortifications at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.

He and 2 other generals (including Cheatham and Nathan Bedford Forrest) had told Hood it was a mistake, but Hood was adamant and perhaps blamed Cleburne in part for Schofield’s slipping past him on the way to Franklin. He was last seen advancing on foot toward the Union line with his sword raised, after his horse was shot out from under him. His body was found just inside the Union line, and he was laid out on the back porch at Carnton. Confederate war records indicate he died of a shot to the abdomen. Hardee said of his death, “Where this division defended, no odds broke its line; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once; and there is the grave of Cleburne.”

Civil War Historian Dr. Lloyd W Klein

Civil War Historian Dr. Lloyd W Klein Dr. Lloyd W. Klein is Clinical Professor of Medicine in the Cardiology Division of the University of California, San Francisco. In addition, Dr. Klein is an accomplished consultant, author, lecturer and investigator. In addition, with over thirty-five years’ experience and expertise in managing myocardial infarction and tailoring coronary revascularization strategies. 

Moreover, Dr. Klein is a nationally recognized expert in individualizing coronary revascularization strategies. He has published extensively on analyzing operator quality and decision making.

Dr. Klein is also an amateur historian who has read extensively on the Civil War with a particular interest in political and military leadership and their economic ramifications. Furthermore, Dr. Klein has published numerous articles on the Civil War. Moreover, with a special concentration in why decisions were made and the people who made them. Lastly, using his professional experience in appraising leadership, he is especially insightful in evaluating the internal and external motivations which influenced decisions in battle and in the political hall.

Please see Dr. Klein’s Works:

Siege of Vicksburg

The Battle of Shiloh

The Hampton Roads Conference

Sherman’s March To The Sea

Why Did the North Win the Civil War (and, Alternatively, Why Did the South Lose?)

The Atlanta Campaign : The Conundrum of General Joseph E Johnston

The “Lost Order” Of General Lee

What caused the South to start the Civil War?

Was the Reconstruction of the Civil War successful?

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Greatest Victory

  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Vol. 3, Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Jacobson, Eric A., and Richard A. Rupp. For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin. Franklin, TN: O’More Publishing, 2007.

“Stonewall of the West” : General Patrick Cleburne