Patrick Cleburne: The Irish Confederate & The Know Nothings

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When Pat Cleburne went for a walk with his friend Thomas Hindman on May 24, 1856, he made sure he was armed. It was not the young lawyer’s habit to carry a pistol when he walked around in Helena, Arkansas, but he was afraid of being attacked by Know Nothings. 1

Patrick Cleburne was born in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day Eve, March 16, 1828. His family was neither of the poor indigenous Irish Catholic majority, nor from the large Scots Irish settler minority. His father was from the Anglo-Irish professional class. While his parents were not wealthy, the Cleburnes were more prosperous than 9 out of 10 people in Ireland.2

baptized-graveThe Anglican church where Patrick Cleburne was baptized. His father’s grave is in the foreground. Thanks to Damian Shiels for all pictures of Cleburne related sites in Ireland.

Cleburne’s father was a doctor and he appears to have been a liberal. At a time when Irish Catholics lived under a British version of Jim Crow, Dr. Joseph Cleburne cast his vote in favor of Catholic Emancipation. A third of a century later, his son would propose an emancipation plan for the Confederacy.3

upper-roomPat Cleburne was born in the upper room above the bay window. He lived here at this County Cork home for eight years. Photo Damian Shiels.

Pat Cleburne lost his mother while he was still a baby. Soon after, his father married Pat’s governess. As the young boy grew, his father’s situation improved and the family moved into a fine country home. When he reached his teens, Cleburne was sent to an expensive Protestant boarding school to prepare him for a professional career. However, his academic life ended in 1843 when his father died. 4

pat-cleburne-8The Cleburne family home during their last thirteen years in Ireland. According to archelogist Damian Shiels, it was considerably larger in the 1840s. Two tenant families farmed the fields owned by the Cleburnes.

The Cleburne family’s economic status began to decline right after Dr. Cleburne’s death. Rather than burden his distressed step-mother by moving home, the fifteen year old Pat Cleburne apprenticed himself to a druggist. His bid for self-sufficiency did not last long. When the Irish Potato Famine hit, the entire Irish domestic economy collapsed and Cleburne lost his job. 5

The young man tried to get licensed as a pharmacist, but when he failed, he disappeared from his family. He later said he felt disgraced by his failure. The now seventeen-year-old hid his identity and enlisted in the British army as a private, something only a desperate man would do. The army was feared throughout Ireland for its mind-numbing routine and the wanton brutality of its discipline. Very few men bred to the Anglo-Irish gentry served as enlisted men.6

The regiment Pat Cleburne served in was made up of poor landless Irish Catholics and hardscrabble Scots Irish. If Cleburne was assertive, he would have been a target for both groups. Instead, he appears to have served quietly and without distinction during years when Ireland’s peasantry slowly starved to death. 7

potato-famine-mapThe Cleburne family lived in rural County Cork, one of the areas hardest hit by the Famine. Source

In 1849, the third year of the Great Famine, Pat Cleburne’s step-mother proposed that the entire family move to America. Pat responded that “the prospects of [Ireland] are anything but good; and experience goes very far to prove that they will not be better.” With the Cleburne’s family home likely to be gobbled up by creditors, Pat wrote to his sister that “if Mamma has made up her mind to go, the best plan would be to go as soon as possible.”8

Cleburne purchased his way out of the army. He had no regrets in leaving. He later told friends that if he had stayed “I would now be a poor servile mercenary without a will…of my own.”9

Only two weeks after leaving the army, Cleburne was on his way to America. 10

Unlike the Irish peasants who were crowded into the storage areas of the Famine Era “coffin ships” where the death rates could be frightening, Cleburne could afford food and to sleep in a cabin. While the economic catastrophe associated with the Famine forced his immigration, he was not escaping starvation. Instead, he was hoping to take advantage of the vast opportunities open to him in the new world11

Patrick Cleburne arrived in New Orleans on Christmas Day, 1849. He was not destined for the South, instead he was traveling upriver to Ohio. He soon found work in a Cincinnati drugstore. While working there, he was offered a job running the apothecary store owned by two doctors in Helena, Arkansas. Five months after he came to America, Cleburne was on his way South. A year later he owned the drug store he had been invited to run.12

helena-arkansas-1871Helena, Arkansas in 1871.

Helena in 1850 was a small Mississippi River city of six hundred people. A small number of Irish immigrants lived in the town, but many more came through as crewmen on river boats or as members of road building work gangs. 13

Pat Cleburne quietly distinguished himself in his new home by his abilities as a druggist, but friends recalled that he was disdained by the local single women as a “raw, gawky young Irishman.” He also compromised his standing in the community with his youthful drinking bouts. He apparently had difficulty controlling himself when he drank and he was forced to largely abandon alcohol.14

After just a short time in Helena, Cleburne was able to achieve a prominence that would take most immigrants years to reach. Even though he was not yet a citizen, he became the master of the local Masonic Lodge and a leader in the city’s Episcopal Church. In an article praising Cleburne that was also inflected with bigotry, the local newspaper pronounced him “thoroughly Americanized.”15

Just as Cleburne was securing his place in the community, a national movement against immigrants was taking hold. The anti-immigrant Know Nothings were on the rise in the mid-1850s. Although they are often thought of as a Northern phenomenon, they had a great deal of support in the South. 16

The 1856 presidential election was the only true national contest to gauge the Know Nothing strength. Nationally the Know Nothings received 22% of the vote. The vote for the Know Nothing ticket exceeded that in every Southern and Border State. In Arkansas the Know Nothings received 32% of the vote. 17

65 percent of voters support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
65 percent of voters support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

In his first years in America, before he became a citizen, Pat Cleburne had been a supporter of the Whig Party, the same party as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and John Quincy Adams. When that party disbanded over the slavery question, the young immigrant shifted about trying to find a new political home. His need for political direction was fueled by his fear of the Know Nothings.18

While he was working at his drug store, Cleburne spent his spare time studying law. When he was admitted to the bar, he became a prize for the Helena Democrats. Thomas Hindman, who would later become a Confederate general, was a tough Democratic leader. Cleburne was won over by Hindman’s solid opposition to the Know Nothings. While Cleburne did not seek a political career, he joined the Democratic Party and he worked to shape local politics even before he took the oath of citizenship.19

know-nothing-newspaperMasthead of a Know Nothing newspaper published in Boston.

Cleburne’s first political speech was an attack on the rising tide of anti-immigrant politics. As an immigrant, and speaking with a noticeable Irish accent, he denounced the Know Nothing proposal to bar the foreign born from holding all government jobs. Although he himself was a Protestant, he described the Know Nothings’ demand that all Catholics be barred from political office as “unwise, unjust, and unconstitutional.”20

This July 1855 speech marked Pat Cleburne’s first public association with the fight against the Know Nothings. It would set the stage for the deadly violence of May 24, 1856 that would nearly take his life.21

Video: The Memory of the Civil War in Arkansas:

Resource: Damian Shiels explored the Cleburne homes in County Cork, Ireland.
Sources:
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); 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) [NOTE: all sources will be inserted by Nov. 1, 2013]
3. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
4. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
5. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
6. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 21
7. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
8. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 21-23
9. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 23-24
10. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
11. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 94.
12. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
13. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
14. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 39.
15. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 32
16. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
17. The Know Nothing vote in the North fell off sharply after the founding of the Republican Party in 1854. In the South, its membership was swelled by the absence of an alternative to the Democrats.  Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
18. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
19. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)
20. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997) p. 37-38.
21. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds published by University Press of Kansas (1997)

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.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

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.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

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.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

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.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

Cultural

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