Civil War regiments were the products of a democratic society. Many officers were elected, not appointed, at least early in the war. When the 15th Alabama elected its first commander, they chose Irish immigrant Pat Cleburne. The unit was part of General Thomas Bradley’s Arkansas command.1
General Bradley sent Cleburne and his men on a wild goose chase against a perceived Union threat in northern Arkansas. Bradley’s mission was so poorly planned and executed that the useless march led to the loss of men, supplies, and equipment. 2
When Col. Cleburne returned from the misbegotten expedition, he had General Bradley placed under arrest. Cleburne was convinced that Bradley was so incompetent that he was a danger to the lives of the men in the ranks. When he was finally released, Bradley charged Cleburne with mutiny, but it was Bradley who was forced to leave the army. Cleburne, instead of being court martialed, was promoted to command a brigade. A few months later he was commissioned a brigadier general.3
Pat Cleburne’s first big battle was at Shiloh in April, 1862. His brigade saw hard fighting there, losing 38% of its men. Cleburne’s superior, General Hardee, commended him for conducting “his command with persevering valor. [He] was conspicuous for his gallantry.” From Shiloh onward, Cleburne would craft a record of accomplishment in the Army of Tennessee.4
Shiloh was the first massive battle of the Civil War
While Cleburne displayed strong leadership qualities and great personal bravery at Shiloh, it was only after his first experience of a major battle that he began innovating to adapt 1860s military tactics to the rough battlefields of the west. He recognized that the Napoleonic tactics used in Virginia were not appropriate for mountainous Tennessee. He created specialized sharpshooter companies that stressed small unit tactics and maneuverability in broken terrain. These soldiers could scurry along mountainsides or penetrate swamps to attack Union troops in ambush. They took advantage of the difficult geography of the region and of the longer-range accuracy of rifled weapons.5
In August, 1862, Cleburne led two brigades at the Battle of Richmond in Kentucky. His outnumbered men defeated a a force twice as large and helped capture 4,300 prisoners. Cleburne himself was shot in the mouth at the climax of the fighting.6
Two months later, Cleburne put in another outstanding performance at the Battle of Perryville. Afterwards, he was hailed by the army’s commander Braxton Bragg as “exceedingly gallant…and the admiration of his command” in a letter he wrote to Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President. In December 1862, Cleburne was promoted to major general and he was given command of a division.7
As 1862 came to an end, Cleburne was ordered to launch a desperate attack on the Union army at Stones River, Tennessee. Even though the division that was supposed to support him went off in the wrong direction, Cleburne’s 6,000 men pressed the attack. In eight hours of fighting, they overran five Union defensive lines. Cleburne’s division nearly cut the Union army’s supply line, but when no reinforcements arrived to support him, the opportunity to defeat the Unionists slipped away.8
Mistakes and miscommunications had become commonplace in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Officers had been calling for the removal of the army’s commander Braxton Bragg for months. After the problems at Stone’s River, Pat Cleburne joined the ranks of the disaffected. Cleburne was remarkably frank when the lives of his men were at risk. When Bragg asked Cleburne if he still had the support of the men, Cleburne replied “you do not possess the confidence of the army.” Bragg would seek to punish Cleburne for his honesty.9
Pat Cleburne’s early rise had been remarkable. In two years he had become the highest ranking Irish immigrant in the Confederate army. His fellow officers may have jokingly called him their “Wild Irishman,” but they respected him for his intelligence, his coolness in battle, and his bravery, and his soldiers admired him. In General Bragg, however, Cleburne now had an enemy.10
VIDEO: A Very Short Introduction to the Leading Confederate Generals, Including Pat Cleburne
1. Meteor Shining Brightly: Essays on Major General Patrick R. Cleburne by Mauriel Phillips Joslyn Terrell House Publishing (1998); Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 50-51; Biographical Sketches of Gen. Pat Cleburne and Gen. T.C. Hindman by Charles Nash published by Tunnah & Pittard (1898); Biographical Sketch of Major-General P.R. Cleburne by Gen. W.H. Hardee Southern Historical society Papers Vol. XXXI edited by R.A. Brock 1903 pp. 151-164
2.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 50-51.
3.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 50-51.
4.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 78-79.
5.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 81.
6.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 89-91.
7.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 96-98.
8.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 108-111.
9.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 115.
10.Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) pp. 123-125.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites