On the day following Christmas 1849, the barque “Bridgetown” finally docked in New Orleans and its 258 passengers disembarked. One of the cabin passengers was a 21-year-old Irishman who was destined to become the recipient of great admiration, devotion and loyalty especially during the last four years of his short life. He was Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. Over time many books and articles have been written on Cleburne’s life in the USA & military career, the following will try and give a small glimpse of his life in his native land.
Born at Bride Park Cottage in March 1828, Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was the third child born to Dr Joseph and Mary Anne Cleburne, named for his maternal grandfather and would be known to his family as “Ronayne”. In 1829 his mother died soon after giving birth o his brother Joseph and within two years his father, the local doctor and regimental doctor to the army garrisons at nearby Ballincollig, Mallow and on Spike Island in Cork Harbour, married the children’s governess Isabella Stuart. Patrick’s early years were spent playing with his siblings at Bride Park and Grange Farm, where the family moved as it increased in size, as well as visiting relations in Cove and in Co Waterford. Generally shy by nature, one cousin recalled that Patrick could be extremely mischievous at times and domineering his other siblings. It was also during this time that he developed a keen interest in hunting, fishing and poetry. As part of Protestant society, it was expected that Patrick would follow a military or professional career and this required a good education. Isabella tutored the Cleburne family until they reached the age of 12 when they would begin a more formal education. Dr Cleburne arranged for Patrick to become a border at a nearby school run by Rev. Spedding where for £50 per school year, students would be taught; history, geography, drafting, literature, mathematics and also French, Latin and Greek. Rev Spedding who was chaplain to the Ballincollig Army barracks also proposed to teach “Military Drill” for an extra fee but it is unknown whether Patrick availed of this. In the Autumn of 1840, Patrick started his first term in school and while he mastered the majority of subjects, he struggled with the languages and math. These struggles caused him to receive a number of canings from Spedding and led Patrick to have an intense, lifelong, dislike of the use of force in teaching or training. Despite these shortcomings, Patrick did enough to pass his end of year exams in his first two years in school. However, shortly after the commencement of the 1843 school term, Dr Cleburne died of typhoid fever and led to a change in the Cleburne family fortunes. Patrick’s eldest brother left TCD to manage Grange Farm while Patrick had to leave school and was apprenticed to Dr Thomas Justice, a family friend, in Mallow. In Mallow Patrick’s shyness prevented him from making friends so he threw himself into his trade and quickly gained the doctor’s trust. Within a year of him starting in Mallow, Dr Justice fully entrusted his apprentice in the making of poultices and powders for his patients as well as encouraging him to pursue a medical profession. Patrick took this on board and in 1845 he applied to “Apocathery Hall” in Dublin for a place to begin studying to become a doctor. Unfortunately, he was rejected but undaunted Patrick continued with Dr Justice and studying in his spare time until he felt he would be ready to reapply. In February 1846, Patrick took the coach to Dublin and applied in person to “Apocathery Hall”; the result was the same and it seemed that his deficiency in languages came back to haunt him. Desperately disappointed and feeling that he had left down his family Patrick didn’t return to Mallow. He roamed the streets of Dublin for a while until he decided on his future and wanting to disappear, he opted to join the army. Maybe it was because of his visits to Ballincollig Barracks, with his father or seeing the parades through the town that, subconsciously, attracted the military life to him.
So it was that on February 27 1846, Patrick enlisted in the 41st Regiment of Foot of the British Army, lying about his age, even though his birthday was only a matter of weeks away. He was listed as Private P. Cleburne, number 2242 and stood at 5’10” and weight being approximate 135lbs. Patrick was one of the 173 Irish born within the 41st which was due to be sent to Madras, India on garrison duty but other events took a hand. The potato crop in Ireland had failed, leaving much of the population facing starvation. This resulted in an increase in violent attacks on landowners and store-houses in search of food. In order to protect lives and stores, the British government increased its military presence and, within a month of enlisting, instead of Madras Patrick found himself, first in Mullingar Co. Westmeath some 60 miles or so from Dublin, and then Phillipstown (now Daingan Co. Offaly) where his regiment remained for nearly 4 months. On returning to Mullingar, a full regimental parade was held and during this Patrick was recognised by a young officer- Captain Robert Pratt whose father was the Rector in Athnown and a Cleburne family friend. Pratt immediately implored Patrick to contact his family to rest their worries over his whereabouts which the young soldier duly did and Pratt also had Patrick transferred to his company. In December 1847 the 41st was sent to Tarbert, Co. Kerry where during one particularly severe storm Patrick was on sentry duty following which he later collapsed and was diagnosed with rheumatism which necessitated a 17 day stay in the regimental hospital. During his convalescence Patrick made good use of the library facilities to study the life of his hero; Arthur Wesley, The Duke of Wellington and his campaigns in India and the Iberian Peninsula as well as a number of books on poetry. Passed fit to return to duty, the following March saw Patrick’s regiment was now stationed in his native county, with the main body at Charleville while he and his company were at Buttevant. During this period, Patrick took advantage of some regular furloughs to visit his family at Ovens and following a transfer to Ballincollig and later Mallow, these continued with increasing regularity. During one of these visits, Isabella first spoke of the family leaving Ireland, the financial strain of managing Grange Farm was proving to be a huge burden on the family resources. Returning to Barracks, Patrick thought about his family’s plight and shared his worries with Captain Pratt. Opting to remain in the army, for the time being, Patrick was, once again, moved to another place with a boyhood association; Cove and Spike Island in the early Spring of 1849. Cove was the town from where his later mother Mary-Anne was born and a place where he had spent time during his childhood years, with Spike Island in the middle of its harbour. While stationed on Spike Island in July 1849, Patrick was promoted to the rank of corporal, something of which he was extremely proud of, however, it was to be short-lived one. One day, a full kit inspection it was found that Corporal Cleburne had stuffed a pillow into his knapsack rather than the regular accoutrements and on its discovery, Patrick was immediately reduced back to the ranks! During August on a visit home, Patrick learned that some of his siblings were making preparations to immigrate to the USA and each one wished for Patrick to accompany them. He had a terrible dilemma, he loved the army life but he also loved his family and so it would prove that the strength of family would win out. On his return to Spike Patrick informed Captain Pratt of his desire to leave the army. Pratt tried to talk him into staying telling Patrick that he had the makings of a future officer, but because of the way the British Army was structured, Patrick would only be able to afford a relatively junior position. (Officer Ranks were usually purchased and the more money the greater the rank!) Even with the inheritance from his late mother’s estate, which was not a vast amount, Patrick’s prospects were limited, so he decided to use some of this to purchase his discharge; it would cost him the princely sum of £20. However, before his departure, Patrick was a part of the Honour Guard for the visit of Queen Victoria to Cove in late August 1849. On September 22 1849, Patrick Cleburne left the British Army, having served 43 months and his record simply stated that he was; “a good soldier”.
On a cold day the following month, Patrick was once again in Cove-now renamed Queenstown, as he, his brothers William and Joseph and sister Anne boarded the Bridgetown bound for New Orleans and a new life.
“A Meteor Shining Brightly”; Mauriel Phillips Joslyn
“Pat Cleburne, Confederate General”; Elizabeth & Howard Purdue
“Stonewall of The West: Pat Cleburne & The Civil War”; Craig L Symonds.