Patrick Cleburne – From Cork to The Battle of Franklin

Have you heard of Major General Patrick Cleburne? He was killed in action in the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee in 1864. In this letter, we look at his early life in County Cork in Ireland - and his subsequent emigration to Arkansas in the USA.

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Patrick Cleburne – From Cork to The Battle of Franklin

Have you ever walked into an old house and immediately felt a sense of history between those four walls? Today’s letter is all about a house located ten miles from us here in county Cork and the man who was born in one of its bedrooms almost 200 years ago.  

Patrick Cleburne is born in a house in Ovens, County Cork.

Back in the 1980s, we took a notion to buy and renovate an old house over time. We visited a suitable contender in a place called Ovens (a place name coming from the Irish ‘”uaimh” meaning caves) to have a look. We found a typical “long house” of the early 1800s – it probably started life as a single story house with three rooms and then extend upwards and lengthways over time. As a result, there were few corridors and you needed to go through one room to get to another room. We asked the builder with us what he thought: “well, once you knock three of the walls and replace the roof you might have a good house to start with”.

Patrick Cleburne's Birthplace in Ovens, County Cork.
Patrick Cleburne’s Birthplace in Ovens, County Cork.

That advice sent us on our way – but before we left, I had a good walk around the house and spent some time in a comfortable bedroom tucked away upstairs at the end of the house.

It was in that bedroom that Patrick Cleburne was born on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1828. He was the son of a local doctor and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps in time. However, both of his parents succumbed to fatal illness by the time Patrick was fifteen years of age. Patrick and his three siblings joined thousands of Irish people heading the the USA in the late 1840s to start a new life.

Cleburne becomes “Stonewall of the West”.

Patrick ended up in Helena, Arkansas  – was accepted into local society and became a lawyer and naturalised citizen by 1860. He felt grateful for the welcome in his new home and when the civil war started he felt obliged to join the local militia as a volunteer. It turned out that Cleburne had a good tactical brain and was quickly elevated to captain then, following a number of successful campaigns, eventually to major general. His superiors recognised an ability within this division commander to take and hold ground in a way that was beyond many of his peers. As a result he was given the nickname “Stonewall of the West”.

While Cleburne may have had a superior tactical brain, his political brain was not so well-tuned. As it became clear that the confederacy was losing the war in 1863, he called together his superiors and regional commanders to present a proposal on emancipating the local slaves to bring them into the army and boost the war effort. You can only imagine the incredulous sounds and looks inside that tent as Cleburne outlined his ideas. These were men – the cream of local society – who were brought up in a culture where slavery had been the driving force for generations behind the economic success of their families and communities. Cleburne was a “blow-in” from Ireland who was brought up with a very different world view.

Following this meeting, Cleburne was regarded with suspicion and essentially became an “outsider” among his brother officers. He was overlooked for further promotion and it is believed that he was regarded as expendable and put in harms way more than once. Things came to an end for Cleburne at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee on November 30th, 1864. He died of a wound to the abdomen and was eventually interred in his adopted hometown of Helena in Arkansas.

A plaque commemorating the birthplace of Patrick Cleburne was eventually erected at that long house in Ovens. I wonder what would have happened if we had bought and renovated that house back in the 1980s. I do hope that we would have preserved all of those wonderful stone walls – within which the amazing story of Patrick Cleburne started back on St. Patrick’s Day, 1828.

cleburne state park jpg - Patrick Cleburne - From Cork to The Battle of Franklin
Cleburne Park, Franklin, Tennessee.

If you would like to hear more about Patrick Cleburne and other amazing individuals who left Ireland in the 1800s – head over to this podcast episode that we recorded in the Cobh (Queentstown) heritage centre. In this episode, Carina chats with the centre manager, Jack Walsh, about just some of the famous characters who left Ireland through the port of Cobh. Jack is a natural storyteller and gives us a great sense of the life and times of many of our shared Irish ancestors.

That’s it for now – feel free to send on your Irish surnames and stories – and we do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Mike & Carina.

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