Image of Gen. Cleburne

General Patrick R. Cleburne

1828 - 1864

Partick Ronayne Cleburne (1828 - 1864) was a native of Cork County, Ireland. Known as the "Stonewall of the West," he had imigrated to America after purchasing his way out of the British 41st Regiment of Foot in which he had served for several years. He worked first as a druggist and then as a property attorney. In 1861 he resided in Helena, Arkansas. Appointed Colonel in March 1862, he was soon promoted to Brigadier and then Major General.

His command became the most celebrated of those composing the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the battles of Shiloh, Richmond (Kentucky), Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and those of the Atlanta campaign. At Missionary Ridge his Division held its position against superior numbers and checked Union pursuit. In the thickest of fighting, he could be found, saber in hand, leading his men.

At Franklin, Tennessee he led his troops into the eye of the storm. A survivor said of the brutal, hand-to-hand fighting his Division engaged in that "it was if all the fires of earth and hell had been turned loose in one mighty effort to destroy each other." The survivor of a severe wound to his face a year earlier, Cleburne fell in a dramatic, but futile, frontal assault.

In a letter to his family in 1861 he wrote that "I am with the South in death, in victory or defeat. [Like most Southrons, he said] I never owned a Negro and care nothing for them, but these people have been my friends and have stood up to me on all occasions. In addition to this, I believe the North is about to wage a brutal and unholy war on a people who have done them no wrong, in violation of the constitution and the fundamental principles of the government. They no longer acknowledge that all government derives its validity from the consent of the governed."

In January 1864 Cleburne took the then radical step of advocating emancipating slaves who agreed to fight for the Confederacy. In a letter first presented to his subordinates that he sent to the general commanding the Army of Tennessee he wrote:

"Moved by the exigency in which our country is now placed, we take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, our views on the present state of affairs....We have now been fighting for nearly three years, have spilled much of our best blood, and lost, consumed, or thrown to the flames an amount of property equal in value to the specie currency of the world. Through some lack in our system the fruits of our struggles and sacrifices have invariably slipped away from us and left us nothing but long lists of dead and mangled. Instead of standing defiantly on the borders of our territory or harassing those of the enemy, we are hemmed in today into less than two-thirds of it, and still the enemy menacingly confronts us at every point with superior forces. Our soldiers can see no end to this state of affairs except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters which promise no results....

Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late. We can give but a faint idea when we say that it means the loss of all we not hold most sacred - slaves and all other personal property, lands, homesteads, liberty, justice, safety, priode, manhood. It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision....

...The President of the United States announces that 'he has already in training an army of 100,000 negroes as good as any troops,' and every fresh raid he makes and new slice of territory he wrests from us will add to this force. Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy....Our single source of supply is that portion of our white men fit for duty and not now in the ranks. The enemy has three sources of supply: First, his own motley population; secondly, our slaves; and thirdly, Europeans whose hearts are fired into a crusade against us by fictitious pictures of the atrocities of slavery, and who meet no hinderance from their Governments in such enterprise, because these Governments are equally antagonistic to the institution. In touching the third cause, the fact that slavery has become a military weakness, we may rouse prejudice and passion, but the time has come when it would be madness not to look at our danger from every point of view, and to probe it to the bottom. Apart from the assistance that home and foreign prejudice against slavery has given the North, slavery is a source of great strength to the enemy in a purely military point of view, by supplying him with an army from our granaries; but it is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness....Like past years, 1864 will diminish our ranks by the casualties of war, and what source of repair is there left us?....

Our country has already some friends in England and France, and there are strong motives to induce these nations to recognize and assist us, but they cannot assist us without helping slavery, and to do this would be in conflict with their policy for the last quarter of a century, England has paid hundreds of millions to emancipate her West India slaves and break up the slave-trade. Could she now consistently spend her treasure to reinstate slavery in this country? But this barrier once removed, the sympathy and the interests of these and other nations will accord with our own, and we may expect from them both moral support and mateiral aid....This measure will deprive the North of the moral and material aid which it now derives from the bitter prejudices with which foreigners view the institution, and its war, if continued, will henceforth be so despicable in their eyes that the sources of recruiting will be dried up. It will leave the enemy's negro army no motive to fight for, and will exhaust the source from which it has been recruited. The idea that it is their special mission to war against slavery has held growing sway over the Northern people for many years, and has at length ripened into an armed and bloody crusade against it....Knock this away and what is left" A bloody ambition for more territory, a pretended veneration for the Union, which one of their own most distinguished orators (Doctor Beecher in his Liverpool speech) openly avowed was only used as a stimulus to stir up the anti-slavery crusade, and lastly the poisonous and selfish interests which are the fungus growth of the war itself. Mankind may fancy it a great duty to destroy slavery, but what interest can mankind have in upholding this remainder of the Northern war platform?

The Constitution of the Southern States has reserved to their respective governments the power to free slaves for meritorious services to the State. It is politic besides. For many years, ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced, the negro has been dreaming of freedom, and his vivid imagination has surrounded that condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes. To attain it he will tempt dangers and difficulties not exceeded by the bravest soldier in the field....The slaves are dangerous now, but armed, trained, and collected in an army they would be a thousand fold more dangerous; therefore when we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question, and thus enlist their sympathies also....

It is said that Republicanism cannot exist without the institution. Even were this true, we prefer any form of government of which the Southern people may have the molding, to one forced upon us by a conqueror....It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties."

The idea of the Confederacy considering enlisting blacks isn't quite so far fetched as it seems today. Early in the War, for example, it was reported in the Southern press that some mixed race, free men had offered to organize regiments composed of their peers. Uniformed, black musicians served from the start of the War. In addition, there have recently appeared in various publications reports of various individual slaves serving as personal servants, laborers, or cooks who picked up guns and fought and black or mixed-race individuals who enlisted in the Confederate army.

Ultimately, a number of Confederate soldiers, including General Robert E. Lee, advocate the enlistment of blacks. On 15 March, 1864, for example, several commissioned offcers in Thomas' Brigade (14th Georgia) asked General Thomas to forward a request that almost all the enlisted men had agreed to which proposed "...that negroes in the counties of Georgia which our companies hail from be conscribed [sic] in such numbers and under such regulations as the War Department may deem proper....

...When in former years," they explained, "for pecuniary purposes, we did not consider it disgraceful to labor with negroes in the field or at the same work bench, we certainly will not look upon it in any other light at this time, when an end so glorious as our independence is to be achieved. We sincerely believe that the adoption throughout our army of the course indicated in the above plan, or something similar to it, will insure a speedy availability of the negro element in our midst for military purposes and crate, or rather cement, a reciprocal attachment between the men now in service and the negroes highly beneficial to the service..." On 18 March, 1865, General Thomas approved and forwarded this proposal.

According to Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. in his book, Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, after the Confederate Congress approved of the enlistment of blacks--something General Robert E. Lee had been advocating for a good while--a few black units participated in minor engagements.

A complete copy of General Cleburne's proposal to enlist blacks can be found in The Gray and the Black, The Confederate Debate on Emancipation by Robert F. Durden.

 "If this cause that is so dear to my heart is doomed to fail, then I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is turned toward the enemy and my right arm battling for that which I know to be right." -- Patrick R. Cleburne in a address to his troops on 2 October, 1864.