Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ireland Remembers Cleburn

Gen. Cleburne not forgotten in Ireland

Elizabeth Farrell (

Through local attorney M.M. Bandy Jr., I first heard of Gen. P.R. Cleburne. A portrait of the general overlooks Citizens Park from Cleburne Building across the Street. Bandy added the brick building to complete his Cleburne Mall in downtown Ringgold.

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was born in 1828 in Ireland and died in 1864 in battle for the Confederacy. In 1863 he urged freeing the slaves for military service. Their families would also be freed. By then heavy casualties had weakened the South.

Some dozen Confederate officers gave support. More support came from rank-and-file. Bandy told me Cleburne polled his men while camped in Tunnel Hill. Would they fight alongside former slaves? All voted yes.

In 1849 Cleburne left Ireland. The Irish Famine (1845-1850) led to mass emigration. Most of the emigrants were Catholic and poor. Cleburne was neither.

His father was a physician and his mother a descendant of English nobility. When she died, Cleburne was not yet two. An inheritance went to her four little ones. Each child re-ceived an annual dividend and a final lump sum at age 21.

Cleburne attended a Protestant boys school until age 15 when his father died. Eight chil-dren were fatherless, four by a second wife. She managed their country estate and kept the family close-knit. A medical colleague apprenticed young Cleburne and taught him to mix powders for prescribed medicine.

Famine undid the rural economy. Cleburne lost his apprenticeship. He tried and failed to enter Apothecaries Hall, a college of pharmacy in Dublin. Medical know-how did not offset his shaky grasp of Latin.

To pick up the pieces, Cleburne joined the British army at 17. He lied about his age. In-dia, another English colony, was the regiment’s assignment.

Famine conditions again intervened. Cleburne’s unit stayed in Ireland. Tenant farmers near starvation were unable to pay rent. The British army shielded landlords and handled forcible evictions.

About his new role, Cleburne said “every feeling of a softer nature is accounted as a con-temptible weakness.” Widespread hunger and death shook his stepmother’s prosperity. Emigration became her goal for the family.

Cleburne could not go anywhere until he bought a military discharge. If soldiers wanted out, they owed the equivalent of room and board. Now 21 (and a corporal), Cleburne got his inheritance and paid his army debt.

Twelve days later he began an ocean voyage to the port of New Orleans. Cleburne won recognition in Ireland for heroism in the American Civil War. After he was killed in action, the “Dublin Nation” printed this verse simply entitled “Cleburne”.

“There were eyes afar that watched your star/As it rose with the Southern Cross/There were hearts that bled when its course was shed/And old Ireland felt your loss.”