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Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne.

This sketch is condensed by permission of Judge L. H. Mangum from his well-written history of General Cleburne; which appeared in the Kennesaw Gazette of June 15th, 18S7. General Cleburne was born near Cork, Ireland, on the 17th of March, 1828, the descendant of an ancient Tipperary family of English Quakers, who crossed the Irish channel after Cromwell became master of England. His father was a graduate of the best colleges of medicine and surgery, and felt great solicitude in the education of his children, but died during Patrick's minority, and a collegiate education was never attained by the wayward youth. At sixteen years of age necessity taught him the propriety of adopting some avocation in life, and he chose that of druggist, and apprenticed himself to Mr. Justin, in the little town of Mallow. Soon thinking himself master of the business, he went to Dublin and applied for examination, but was subjected to mortification and deep chagrin on learning that a knowledge of Latin and Greek was indispensable. He failed, and his sensitive nature drove him to hide his shame as a common soldier in the British army, which he forthwith joined and kept himself concealed for more than a year, but was finally recognized by Captain Pratt, an officer in the regiment, who knew his family. This brought him a sympathetic friend, and ultimately his release from the now dull and monotonous British army confined to the barracks in Dublin.

Released from the army, he headed for Queenstown, and on the 11th of November, 1849, embarked for the United States via the Mississippi and New Orleans. His first abiding place was Cincinnati, where he became clerk to a druggist under our practical system which ignores Greek verbs and Latin roots. At a later day he came to Helena and commenced his career in Arkansas as a prescription clerk. In a year or two he became part owner of the establishment, and began the study of law and general literature. In 1854, as orator of the day at a masonic celebration, he achieved local celebrity, and met with much encouragement to prosecute his legal studies. In 1856 he was admitted and enrolled on the roster of the bar, and entered immediately on his professional career. When he came to the bar a violent, spasmodic contest was in progress between the democratic party, under the brilliant leadership of the hot-headed Thomas C. Hindman, and Dorsey Bice, a leader of the know-nothing party, into which Cleburne was unintentionally drawn as a participant in one of the bloodiest tragedies ever enacted in Helena. On the forenoon of the fatal day the mutual friends of Bice and Hindman interceded and thought they had amicably settled the trouble. At this juncture Hindman invited his friend and non-combatant Cleburne to dine with him, and the invitation was accepted. On their way to dinner Dorsey Bice came suddenly on them, leveled his pistol at Hindman’s breast and fired. Hindman was wounded, but immediately drew his pistol and returned the fire. Cleburne stepped aside, drew his pistol, without firing or raising it, and stood looking on to see that no friend of Rice interfered to the prejudice of Hindman. At this instant Jamison Rice, brother to Dorsey, shot Cleburne clear through the body, unobserved by the latter. Cleburne wheeled in the direction from whence the ball came, without knowing who shot him, and saw James Marriott, Dorsey’s brother-in-law, standing, pistol in hand, and shot Marriott dead, supposing him to be his assailant. A moment later Cleburne fell from exhaustion, and was carried home by his friends, where he lingered between life and death a long time, but finally recovered. In 1859 General Cleburne became associated with Judge Mangam in the practice of law.

As a lawyer he commanded respect and a good practice, but was not at the bar long enough to make and impress a lasting record in that widely-extended and difficult field. He had much of the milk of human kindness in his nature, and he felt that he was brother to every sufferer. He remained at his post in Helena during the terrible yellow fever scourge of 1855, and nursed the sick and buried the dead, after all who could had fled. Moral and upright, he despised a mean act, and acknowledged no guide, but his honor and conscience. Proud and sensitive, he demanded respect, and always accorded it to others when deserved. He lived much to and within himself, and often sought in soltitude the wild-wood charms of forest and glen, often contemplating the inner, rather than the outer world. He appeared morose and taciturn, and for this reason had but few devoted friends and confidants. He loved his fellowmen and deeply sympathized with their distress and misfortunes, but for himself there was a well-spring of inner consciousness to which he ever turned for consolation, silent, glorious and grand, and like the waters of the deep sea, hidden from the sight and intrusion of man. An Episcopalian in religious faith, he was for years a vestryman in St. John’s Church, Helena. He read men with remarkable quickness and accuracy and always accorded due consideration to the deserving, wdiether the possessor stood in a private’s or general’s uniform. He had a sad, a sacred love, which death denied fruition on earth. He attended General Hardee’s wedding at Selma, Alabama, as groomsman, with Miss Sue Tarleton of Mobile, bridesmaid, early in 1864. Manliness wedded to a hero’s fame won the hand and heart of the beautiful and intelligent belle of Mobile, and they were trothed as devoted lovers. But lie fell asleep whilst leading the charge “on fame’s eternal camping ground” that fatal 30th of November, 1864, in the awful battle of Franklin, where so much chivalry was needlessly sacrificed to incompetent generalship. The letters he wrote his betrothed from the tented field were elevated in sentiment, full of pathos and exquisite in tenderness. Both have passed the dark river and entered on the fruition of love immortal.

When the civil war commenced Cleburne stepped to the front immediately as captain of the Yell Rifles first, then as colonel of the first Arkansas regiment to enter the Confederate service, composed of the flower of the land; promoted by election — soon a brigadier’s commission came, to be quickly followed by a major-general’s commission. From the opening to the close of his career in the army his record is a series of triumphs. Physically he was six feet in height, broad of shoulders and slender build, and rather ungainly in appearance. After the battle his body was found; boots, sword, belt, pocket-book and diary were gone. His remains were deposited in Ashland, the private burying-ground of the Polk family, six miles south of Columbia, Tennessee, Bishop Quintard officiating. The Ladies’ Memorial Association of Phillips county, Arkansas, with Mrs. Judge John T. Jones at its head, modeled and arranged a fine cemetery at Helena, for the Confederate dead, and thither the remains of General Cleburne were brought and deposited in 1869.

John Hallum, Biographical and Pictorial History of Arkansas, Volume 1 (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Company, Printers, 1887), 429-432.


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