Southern Historical Society Papers.
Vol. XVIII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1890.
General P. R. Cleburne.
May 10th, 1891, which was observed as decoration day at Helena, Arkansas, and also witnessed the dedication of the monument erected to the memory of the gallant General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, by the devoted exertions of the patriotic ladies of the Phillips County Memorial Association. The reverential occasion convened numerous gallant veterans from a distance, including many from Memphis, Tennessee.
ADDRESS BY GENERAL GORDON.
General Gordon, after acknowledging the complimentary introduction, said:
“One of the noblest duties of the living is to perpetuate the virtues and memories of the dead. And in obedience to the impulse of this sacred sentiment, we have here assembled to dedicate that beautiful monument (pointing to the shaft), with its expressive and appropriate symbols, to the glory and memory of a great soldier, a true patriot and a grand man–General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, who fell at the battle of Franklin, Tenn., November 30, 1864. Although more than a quarter of century has elapsed since he perished in the cause of his country, that shaft but now gives visible expression to those cherished sentiments of remembrance and veneration which have ever since, and ever should, animate the minds and hearts of a grateful people.
“General Cleburne was born in the county of Cork, Ireland, March 17, 1828, and was consequently in the thirty-seventh year of his age at the time of his death, and just in the full prime and pride of his glorious manhood. He was a descendant of William Cleyborne, the colonial secretary of Virginia in 1626.(*) His mother was of the lineage of that Maurice Ronayne, who obtained from King Henry the IV ‘a grant of the rights of Englishmen.’ He early indicated a predilection for the profession of arms by leaving Trinity College, England, where he was being educated for the medical profession, and enlisted as a soldier in the English army. After several years of service in that capacity, he came to the United States and located in this city (Helena, Ark.), where he began the study and practice of law, in which he was succeeding at the outbreak of our civil war. He enlisted in the Confederate army as a private; contrived the capture of the United States arsenal in Arkansas in March, 1861, thus early displaying that promptness, sagacity and enterprise which characterized him throughout his military career. He was made captain of a company, and very soon afterward promoted to the rank of colonel, and as early as March, 1862, was made a brigadier-general. At the battle of Shiloh he commanded a brigade, and was highly commended for his courage and ability. Was wounded at the battle of Perryville, Ky., in October, 1862, and in December following was advanced to the important rank of major-general. His martial qualities were recognized and rewarded in his rapid promotion to higher commands. At the battle of Stone river, or Murfreesboro, he commanded a division of the right wing of the Confederate army and again signalized himself for valor and efficiency.
At the battle of Chickamauga, one of the most interesting and thrilling conflicts of the war, the persistent spirit and shining courage of General Cleburne and his gallant command were again conspicuous. This great battle was fought on the 18th, 19th, and 20th of September, 1863, the contending armies being pretty equally matched as to numbers. On Friday, the 18th, there was heavy outpost fighting, on Saturday heavy fighting, and on Sunday desperate fighting. On the morning of the last and third day, the contest was renewed with augmented fury. All day the earth trembled with the thunder of three hundred guns and the clamor of one hundred thousand rifles. The very waters quivered within the banks of the Chickamauga river from the concussion of artillery. Troops were rushed from point to point. Column after column was hurried into combat. The thrilling shouts of contending hosts could be heard amid the battle’s roar. Couriers bearing orders dashed on panting steeds through the jungles and into the lines. Battle flags and flying banners mingled in the dreadful strife. The lurid smoke of battle rose and spread in purple waves as volley after volley thundered its deadly contents amid surging columns and resounding arms. All day the battle raged, and the issue seemed doubtful. But late in the afternoon both wings of the Federal line began to recede, and later were driven to confusion. But the left center of the enemy still stood firm and fighting. Upon that fortified point the flower of the Confederate army, embracing Cleburne and his division, had been hurled and rehurled without success. Charge after charge had been made and repulsed, and it seemed that the position was not to be taken. But just as the sun, encrimsoned with the smoke of battle and like a great, bloody disk in the sky, was sinking beneath Lookout mountain, that towered upon our left, news was swiftly brought to our center that both wings of the enemy’s line were in full retreat, and orders were given to charge again the Federal center. Quickly our shattered columns were rallied for the last grand struggle. The “charge” was sounded, and, with a shout that rent the heavens and an impetuosity that swept away all opposition, they dashed into the enemy’s works and poured a volley into their flying forces. The battle was over, the victory won, the rout complete. Pursuit was brief. Night closed the scene. For a few moments a strange silence reigned. It was indeed strange, in its mysterious contrast to the uproar and confusion of the last three days. But just then, miles away to our left, through the deep and darkening forest, could be faintly heard the shouting of troops. And what did that mean? Listen! listen! it is the shout of victory! Nearer and nearer it came, louder and louder it grew, grander and grander it rose, as it was taken up by each successive command in the line, till it passed and repassed the entire line of the Confederate army. From wing to wing it went and returned, from flank to flank it rolled. Shout after shout rent the skies, echo after echo died upon the heavens. I imagine it was like the shouting of the hosts of Joshua at the taking of the city of Jericho. In the exultation of that moment, every man felt that he was compensated for all the effort, all the anguish, and all the danger that the three days’ fight had cost him. For let me here say, that the sublimest emotion that ever filled the human heart, is that inspired by the shout of victory after a long and doubtful contest. The exultation ceased. Then was a time for memory and tears. The army sank down upon the earth to rest, “the weary to sleep, and the wounded to die.” Silence and moonlight wrapped the bloody scene. General Cleburne and his valiant division were in the charge that I have just described–the charge that completed the Confederate victory on the famous field of Chickamauga. The Confederate loss in this battle, as I now remember it, was about seventeen thousand in killed, wounded and captured–the Federal loss being about the same.
The next battle in which General Cleburne participated was that of Missionary Ridge, November 30th, 1863, where he achieved additional distinction by the handsome manner in which he repulsed the repeated assaults made upon his position in the right wing of the Confederate line. And although this battle resulted in a victory to the Federal arms, General Cleburne’s position was never shaken, much less taken, by any of the furious and repeated assaults that were made upon it during the action, but was abandoned in good order after the left wing of the Confederate army had been outflanked, beaten and routed by largely superior numbers–storming in column of three lines of battle, and making one of the most superb and gallant charges that we witnessed during the war. General Cleburne again distinguished himself in covering the retreat of the Confederate army from this field, and for his heroic defence of Ringgold Gap was specially commended by the Confederate Congress.
He was among the first to suggest and advocate the use of the colored troops in the armies of the Confederacy. This was in the winter of 1863 and 1864 when the “Army of Tennessee” was en-camped at Dalton, Georgia. His advice in this regard was met with a prompt and almost unanimous rejection by that army. But viewed in the light of the vital fact that at that time our available resources in men were practically exhausted; that our armies in the field were daily diminishing by death from disease and casualties in battle, and no means by which to increase them; and also viewed in the light of subsequent results, the wisdom and propriety of such a policy cannot be successfully questioned. There were then no other available resources by which the ranks of our armies could be recruited and maintained. And so it now appears that General Cleburne and his few supporters in this idea were wiser and more prescient than the many who differed with them. Expediency suggested the policy he advised.
Artwork by Will Smith
General Cleburne was a division commander under General Joseph E. Johnston during his celebrated campaign in North Georgia, and distinguished himself in a number of its various battles, and more especially at New Hope church, where he repulsed the enemy with signal firmness and efficiency and with heavy losses to their charging columns. He commanded an army corps at the battle of Jonesboro’, Georgia, and covered the retreat of General Hood’s defeated army from that field. He also commanded a corps at the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, where he was killed in storming the second line of the Federal works. Touching his action in this, his last charge, his last battle, I speak as a messenger from the field where he fell. This battle-ground lies in a beautiful valley and immediately south of the town of Franklin. About noon of November 30, 1864, the Confederate army under command of General Hood, appeared on the heights of an elevated range of hills [editor’s note: Winstead Hill] that overlooked the valley and the village, and distant about one and a half miles from the main line of the Federal works, which were immediately south of the town and inclosing the same. Some hours after our arrival on these heights, and after examining the enemy’s fortified positions, General Hood determined to assault the place. Troops were promptly moved from the central and main road, upon which they had arrived, to the right and left under the cover of these hills, until they were opposite the positions they were directed to take in the line of battle, and were then moved over the hills to the front, and to their proper posts, preparatory to the assault. When these dispositions were made the advance was ordered–not in battle array, however, for we were too far off to begin the charge–but in a regimental movement we called “double columns at half distance,” in order that we might move with more system and facility, and also more easily pass obstacles, such as fences and small groves of trees which here and there interspersed the otherwise open plain upon which the great struggle was soon to take place. In the battle disposition General Cleburne’s corps was immediately on the right of the main highway or pike leading into Franklin from the south, and Cheatham’s corps was immediately on the left of it. This road was Cleburne’s left guide, and Cheatham’s right guide in moving to the attack. And as General Granberry’s brigade constituted the extreme left flank of General Cleburne’s command, and my brigade the extreme right flank of Cheatham’s, we were therefore contiguous in the order of battle, and both in the front line. As the array of columns which I have mentioned, with a front of two miles or more in length, moved steadily down the heights and into the valley below with flying banners, beating drums and bristling guns, it presented a scene of the most imposing grandeur and magnificence. When we had arrived within about four hundred paces of the enemy’s advanced line of entrenchments our columns were halted and deployed into two lines of battle preparatory to the charge.
This advanced position of the enemy was not a continuous but a detached line, manned by two brigades, and situated about six hundred paces in front of his main line of formidable works. This detached line was immediately in front of Cleburne’s left and Cheatham’s right. When all was ready the “charge” was ordered. With a wild shout we dashed forward upon this line. The enemy delivered one volley at our rushing ranks and precipitately fled for refuge to his main and rear line. At this juncture the shout was raised, “Go into the works with them.” This cry was taken up and vociferated from a thousand throats as we rushed on after the flying forces we had routed–killing some in our running fire and capturing others who were slow of foot–sustaining but small losses ourselves, until we arrived within about one hundred paces of their main line and stronghold, when it seemed to me that hell itself had exploded in our faces. The enemy had thus long reserved their fire for the safety of their routed comrades who were flying to them for protection, and who were just in front of and mingled with the pursuing Confederates. When it became no longer safe for themselves to reserve their fire, they opened upon us (.regardless of their own men who were mingled with us) such a hailstorm of shot and shell, musketry and canister that the very atmosphere was hideous with the shrieks of the messengers of death. The booming of cannon, the bursting of bombs, the rattle of musketry, the shrieking of shells, the whizzing of bullets, the shouting of hosts and the falling of men in their struggle for victory, all made a scene of surpassing terror and awful grandeur.
“Such a din was there,
As if men fought on earth below,
And fiends in upper air.”
It seemed to me if I had thrown out my hand I could have caught it full of the missiles of death, and it is a mystery how any of us ever reached the works. Amid this scene General Cleburne came charging down our lines to the left, and diagonally toward the enemy’s works, his horse running at full speed, and if I had not personally checked my pace as I ran on foot, he would have plunged over and trampled me to the earth. On he dashed, but for an instant longer, when rider and horse both fell, pierced with many bullets, within a few paces of the enemy’s works. On we rushed–his men of Granberry’s brigade and mine having mingled as we closed on the line, until we reached the enemy’s works; but being now so exhausted and so few in numbers, we halted in the ditch on the outside of the breastworks, among dead and dying men–both Federals and Confederates. A few charged over, but were clubbed down with muskets or pierced with bayonets. For some time we fought them across the breastworks, both sides lying low and putting their guns under the head-logs upon the works, firing rapidly and at random, and not exposing any part of the body except the hand that fired the gun. While this melee was going on across the works we were exposed to a dangerous fire from some of our own men of General Stewart’s corps to our right rear, there being an angle in the enemy’s line in that direction. At the same time we were subjected to an enfilading fire from the enemy to our left. Finally, the fatality to us from these three fires–front, rear and left–became so great that we shouted to the enemy across the works to “cease firing” and we would surrender. At length they heard us, understood us, and ceased their fire; we crossed the works and surrendered.
It was fatal to leave the ditch and endeavor to escape to the rear. Every man who attempted it (and a number did) was at once exposed and was shot down without exception. Pardon me if I further digress sufficiently to say that the left of my brigade, under command of Colonel Horace Rice (I was on the right), successfully broke the line and some of my brave and noble men were killed fifty paces or more within the works. But just at this critical juncture a reinforcement of a Federal brigade confronted them with a heavy fire, and being few in numbers they were driven back to the opposite side of the works, behind which they took position and bravely held the line they had previously taken. Night soon intervening, the Federal army withdrew from the field and retired to Nashville.
This was a gallant and glorious fight on the part of the Confederates, but a sad disaster to their cause and their country. The intrepid Cleburne had fallen. Generals Granberry and Adams of his command, Generals Carter, Strahl and Gist of Cheatham’s command and of the division of which my brigades composed a part, had also fallen, while hundreds of others, less notable but no less brave and self-sacrificing, had made their last charge and had fought their last battle. For reckless, desperate courage this conflict will rank with Gettysburg or Balaklava.
Referring again to General Cleburne’s action upon this memorable field, it appears upon first view as if inspired by desperation. For he was so close to the enemy, so conspicuous upon his stately steed, as he charged along the closing lines, that it seems impossible that he could have expected any other result to himself than that which occurred. But, be it remembered that he was without fear, that he loved victory and defied defeat. I am informed by those who knew him better than I, and who were usually closer to him in battle, that he often exposed himself unnecessarily to the most imminent danger. Besides, it is not improbable that he had predetermined to win a victory upon this field or die in the attempt. This hypothesis is supported by Hon. T. W. Brown, of Memphis, who relates that during the march of the army on General Hood’s ill-fated campaign from Georgia to Tennessee, some occasion at night had called together a large number of officers and soldiers. Public speaking became the order of the evening, and General Cleburne was called on for a speech. He at first declined, for he was not a talking man. But being repeatedly called for, he at last appeared, and after instructing the soldiers as to how they should fight, and especially advising them that when once under fire to press bravely forward and never turn back, he said in effect: “I will accomplish what I next undertake or else I will perish in making the attempt.” Franklin was his next battle; it was also his last. Thus perished the “Stonewall of the West,” as he was often called. A truer patriot or knightlier soldier never fought and never died. Valor never lost a braver son or freedom a nobler champion. As he charged amid the tempest of conflict he seemed the impersonation of the genius of battle–a veritable Mars on the field of war. He was a patriot by instinct and a soldier by nature. He loved his country, its soldiers, its banners, its battle-flags, its sovereignty, its independence. For these he fought, for these he fell. He could not have done more for his own loved fatherland than he did for the land of his chosen allegiance, in whose just defence he relinquished his life. He fell in the uniform of his adopted country, amid her soldiers and advancing flags. He died unconquered, and in doing so, threw Eastern lustre upon Southern valor. Two countries share in the glory of his name. Ireland gave him to the world; the Confederacy to immortality. Their joint emblems–a happy conception–fitly mark the monument that here speaks to posterity–Erin’s harp in bed of shamrock; the Confederate seal, showing Washington on warhorse, wreathed in Southland’s blooms and products; the sunburst of Ireland over the inscription “Franklin,” symbolizing that his life passed thence in an effulgence of glory. All the honors we can do him cannot equal his deserts. This beautiful monument, which love erects to memory and gratitude gives to glory, is but a modest expression of his country’s esteem. I think we do no injustice to any one, living or dead, when we say that he was the most distinguished and efficient soldier of his rank that fought in our Western armies–the most illustrious exponent of Irish valor and prowess that has yet appeared upon American fields. He knew how to lead a charge or rally a wavering column; possessed those martial qualities that achieve success and inspire in soldiers devotion to their leader. Though a stern disciplinarian, he was loved by his soldiers, who were ready to go wherever he commanded. He was not only a commander, but a comrade, fighting with his men. And if every Confederate soldier had been a Cleburne, we question not that the issue of the war would have been reversed and the political destiny of a people changed. He was a fearless soldier, a sagacious leader, a true patriot and a reproachless man. In his devotion to the cause he espoused he shrank from no sacrifice. Inspired by a sense of right “and sustained by a sublime courage he challenged danger and died gallantly in the cause of his country.”
His deeds we honor, his death we mourn; and in token of our recognition of his sacrifices, our admiration of his deeds and our veneration for his memory this modest monument has been erected. And on behalf of the ex-Confederate soldiers, and indeed of the people of the South, I would offer our thanks to those who have especially had charge of and accomplished this noble work. Beautify it with flowers, wreath it with laurel and crown it with immortelles. At the call of Arkansas he went to the field and it is fitting that his remains should repose in her soil; and more especially upon this beautiful spot, said to have been a favorite resort in his walks before the war. Tennessee, whose bosom received his blood, unites in honoring his memory to-day. Her soldiers, her patriots, her citizens are here, while her histories contain high tributes to his name. A work, entitled the “Military Annals of Tennessee,” contains a chapter (written by Colonel C. W. Frazer, of that State, and who served in General Cleburne’s command), in which this paragraph appears:
“The hero worship (amounting almost to idolatry) on the one hand, and the sympathy and admiration on the other, that existed between this regiment (the Fifth Confederate, composed of Tennesseeans), and General Cleburne was remarkable, and can only be partially accounted for by their common birthplace, their devotion to the Southern cross, and the ties that bind men who have often met a common foe in the death grapple. The snows of twenty winters have covered his modest grave at Helena, Ark., but now the mention of the name of Pat. Cleburne, brightens the eye and quickens the pulse of every man who fought under him. A born soldier, he was in battle the embodiment of war, and as a general, in his position, I think he had no superior; and withal he was as modest and true-hearted a man as ever wore the gray. It ought to be the pride as it is the duty of the historian to give this dead hero a white stone.” This book (The Military Annals of Tennessee) contains an excellent steel engraving of General Cleburne, and also a beautiful poem in honor of his memory by a Tennessee poetess, Mrs. Virginia Frazer Boyle.
In conclusion, while we would especially memorialize General Cleburne to-day, we cannot forget the thousands of our humbler comrades who also died valiantly for the country they loved. They, too, deserve our grateful remembrance, our paeans of praise, our tributes of love. All grateful people have remembered and venerated their patriot dead. Erin, that little land that has given more than her share of genius and valor to the world, still honors the name of her martyred Emmet. Enslaved and unhappy Poland still breathes a sigh for her Poniatouski; Sparta, though dead, echoes from her tomb the name Leonidas. Buried Carthage consecrated her sepulcher with the dust of her patriots. And the South, God smile upon her, still remembers her martyred dead, and speaks of their deeds with veneration and pride. Peace to their shades, honor to their ashes!
Numerous were the outbursts from his audience while touched upon the character of Cleburne, and the instances of the war which were deeply inscribed in the hearts of many of his listeners, who, too, had engaged in the battle at which General Cleburne fell and saw him meet his death.
Tears glistened in the eyes of many as the eloquent speaker’s words portrayed to them the vivid pictures which even the flight of years is unable to dim.
Immediately following the orator a choir composed of male and female voices sang the hymn, “When the Spirit Leaves Its Clay.”
Then followed the benediction by Rev. Father O’ Reilly, of Helena, after which the graves of the Confederate deceased were completely covered by loving hands with beautiful flowers. A larger crowd of visitors never before gathered in Helena for a purpose of this kind. For several days visitors have been coming from all parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
The ladies of the Memorial Association, of Memphis, contributed a beautiful floral offering, which was placed upon the monument. It was a Confederate flag composed of geraniums, helitropes, and stars <shv18_272>of Bethlehem. In attendance upon the ceremonies were several relatives of the lamented Cleburne, in whose memory the shaft has been erected. It is a shaft of white marble, twenty-five feet in height, with the following inscription on the western side:
PATRICK RONAYNE CLEBURNE,
Major-General of C. S. A.,
Born in County of Cork, Ireland, March 17, 1828.
Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., November, 1864.
On the north side the word “Chickamauga” and the Confederate seal, and the following words from the poem of Mrs. Virginia Frazer Boyle:
A rift of light
Revealed the horse and rider, then the scene was dim;
But on the inner works the death hail
Rang in dying Cleburne’s ears a battle hymn.
On the east side was the sunburst and the legend, “Franklin.” On the side facing the south was the harp of Erin entwined with the shamrock, below which was the stanza:
“Memory ne’er will cease to cherish deeds of glory thou hast won.”
After appropriately decorating the graves, Confederate and others, the spectators departed for the outgoing trains and boats, which bore away the various crowds who joined in commemorating and honoring the noble Confederates of rank and file.