According to History of a Great Island, by Rev. Henry Dennehy, Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was born at Annbrook House, Glenmore, Great Island in County Cork. His father was a doctor and his mother was one of the Berry-Hill Ronaynes who built the home. Enlisting in the 41st Regiment of Foot after failing a medical exam, Cleburne's unit was charged with maintaining order in a country racked by potato famine. The lessons he learned would serve him well.
When Patrick Cleburne moved to America in 1849 he settled in Helena, Arkansas, a port city on the Mississippi River south of Memphis, Tennessee. At first a pharmacist, Cleburne joined a law firm in 1856, practicing law in Arkansas.
When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 (Civil War - 1861) he had risen to senior partner in the law firm of Cleburne, Scaife and Magnum. Joining the Yell Rifles as a private, the respected lawyer was elected Captain and in less than a year was placed in charge of all Confederate troops in Arkansas by Georgian William Hardee. General Hardee also secured Patrick Cleburne his commission as brigadier general in the Confederate Army. One of two foreign born officers to attain the rank of major general in the Confederate armed forces, he was recognized as a skilled combat officer and distinguished himself in many battles.
At the battle of Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh), Patrick Cleburne troops had become disoriented in a swamp and came out of the obstacle about 400 yards north and east of William Tecumseh Sherman's position near Shiloh Church. His men immediately came under heavy fire, especially the 6th Mississippi. When Union colonel Jessie Appler called retreat, Cleburne secured a position on Rea's Ridge. It was Appler's last battle. Cleburne reorganize and at noon began a second attack that forced Sherman to withdraw and drove Prentiss and Hurlbut into the Hornet's Nest.
Made Brigadier General in the Confederate Army of Tennessee following his actions at Shiloh, Cleburne's pickets were engaged by a hesitant Henry Halleck as his army moved south from Shiloh. On May 28, Cleburne's brigade engaged a division of the Army of the Tennessee, but P. G. T. Beauregard ordered a general retreat to Tupelo the following day. Cleburne's defense of Corinth turned into a rear guard action.
When Union forces struck Rebel cavalry under the command of John S. Scott Cleburne moved forward in support of the Rebels on August 29, 1862 between Big Hill and Richmond, Kentucky. Cleburne's men capture 100 breech loading Sharp's carbines. Cleburne successfully engaged the enemy on August 30. General "Bull" Nelson took command late in the day of a Union force opposing Cleburne in organized retreat. Both Nelson and Cleburne were shot and Cleburne turned command over to Kirby Smith, who lead the Confederates to victory.
Cleburne recovered in time to command of a brigade during the pivotal Confederate engagement at Perryville on October 7. Bragg, afraid that Don Carlos Buell was only feinting towards Hardee, refused to commit his entire force to Perryville. With his brigade under Hardee, Cleburne engaged the enemy and was wounded twice. On December 12, 1862, Patrick Cleburne was promoted to Major General.
On Bragg's left as the Army of Tennessee wheeled to the right, Cleburne and his men had the longest distance to cover on December_31, 1862. Cleburne's division drove McCook's Corps back 5 different times over rocky terrain and nearly routed Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland. On the second day of battle Cleburne supported the advance of John Breckinridge.
Pat Cleburne was ordered to support Daniel Harvey Hill's attack against 5,000 Union troops that were crossing McClemore Cove. Hill's attack failed to materialize, so Braxton Bragg gave Cleburne the order to attack the Union force as it crossed Chickamauga Creek near the town of Davis Crossroads. Shortly after the engagement began, Hill's men joined the battle. Bragg wavered on his commitment and ordered the forces to withdraw.
Late on the first day of battle (September 19, 1863), Patrick Cleburne, division commander under Leonidas Polk, struck George Thomas's line and drove it back about a mile. Only the dark of night, which prevented Cleburne's men from telling friend from foe stopped the general.
The following day Cleburne and John C. Breckinridge stuck Rosecrans northern line with limited success, but the attack forced Rosecrans to issue the Thomas Wood that cleared a path for Longstreet's men to breakthrough at the Brotherton Cabin.
General Ulysses S. Grant gave William Tecumseh Sherman a plum assignment at Chattanooga. The red-haired Ohioan was to attack Braxton Bragg's flank on the northeast end of Missionary Ridge, the last of a series of Battles for Chattanooga, Tennessee. After taking most of the morning to gain control a hill from Pat Cleburne's men, Sherman realized he had taken Billy Goat Hill instead of Missionary Ridge. Cleburne's men held the right flank on Missionary Ridge, repelling General Sherman's attack in spite of being outnumbered 10 to 1, forcing a dangerous frontal assault on the mountain from Orchard Knob. Unfortunately, Bragg had not placed his men to defend against such an assault and the attack pierced the Confederate line at the center of the mountain.
In spite of bearing the brunt of General Sherman's attack on the previous day, Bragg chose Cleburne to defend his rear at Ringgold Gap. Personally placing his men during the night, Cleburne's men watched as "Fighting Joe" Hooker's men advanced in a standard 4-abreast formation towards their fortified position. As the forward elements of the Union army came within range, Cleburne gave the order to "open fire." In the first volley a hundred or more Union soldiers fell. Quickly, Cleburne repositioned his men to his flanks, correctly anticipating Hooker's standard attempt to probe the flanks. Upon finding both flanks heavily fortified Hooker withdrew, deciding to wait for his artillery, a day behind the infantry. Patrick Cleburne won the Battle of Ringgold Gap although Hooker had 3 men for Cleburne's 1.
Cleburne played a key role in defending Jonesboro, Georgia, in the Battle of Jonesboro. A cemetery bearing his name near the depot contains the graves of hundreds of unknown Confederate soldiers who died in the battle.
During the Nashville Campaign Cleburne succeeded to the command of Hardee's Corps. On his way north during this campaign, Cleburne stopped at a church in Maury County, Tennessee, and by local tradition was heard to comment at the cemetery of Saint John's Church that, "it is almost worth dying for to be buried in such a beautiful place." Cleburne was killed in battle a few days later at Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864 and buried here until later disinterred.
His sobriquet(nickname) was "Stonewall Jackson of the West". It would have been more accurate to call Jackson "Pat Cleburne of the East". Fighting on the western front Cleburne generally got less glory than generals in the east. Fighting under Braxton Bragg, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood, arguably the most incapable succession of commanding officers, Cleburne repeatedly demonstrated his abilities. Fighting for the losing side he got less attention and coverage than the Union generals. But Cleburne fought for a cause(states rights), and one in which he firmly believed.
One other event affected how he was viewed during and after the war. Stationed at Tunnel Hill, Ga. after the defeat at Chattanooga, Cleburne, leading a group of commissioned officers, proposed drafting Negroes into the Confederate Army in return for their emancipation. He reasoned that in one stroke they could increase the size of the army and eliminate a reason for the Federals to fight. While it is doubtful that the resolve of President Lincoln would have been altered (he was fighting to preserve the Union, not to end slavery), the proposal caused quite a backlash in the south and possibly affected the length of the war. When Jefferson Davis decided to remove Johnston from command during the Battle of Atlanta, he selected John Bell Hood over Pat Cleburne in part because of this proposal.
Today, a statue, dedicated in 2009, sits atop Ringgold Gap with the general studying the disposition of troops under the command of Joe Hooker as he approached the gap from the west. Cleburne's stand at Missionary Ridge, the rearguard action at Ringgold Gap, and bloody Pickett's Mill are among the best tactical engagements in the Western Theater of Operation of the Civil War.