Civil War Photo Contest
Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Cleburne and His Command
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day and the 188th anniversary of the birth of Patrick Roynane Cleburne, March 17, 1828, in County Cork, Ireland, I completed reading the first full biography of the man who was the highest-ranking general of Irish birth on either side of our Civil War. First published in 1906, it was reprinted in 1958 in the edition pictured above with an introductory essay Pat Cleburne - Stonewall Jackson of the West by Thomas R. Hay who also edited the book. Hay's introductory biography and essay on sources fill the first fifty pages and contain several period and later photographs and engravings pertaining to Cleburne and his career; the main body of the work was written by Capt. Irving Buck, who himself had his own interesting career.
I previously read and reviewed here an account called Manassas to Appomattox - The Civil War Memoirs of Edgar Warfield, 17th Virginia Infantry, a regiment that served entirely in the Army of Northern Virginia; imagine my surprise to again encounter that very same unit here! The 17th Va. was made up of men from militia companies in Alexandria and other Northern Virginia communities like Front Royal where Buck and two other friends enlisted in Co. B. At Manassas, the three were assigned as clerks to the staff of General P. G. T. Beauregard and accompanied him when he was transferred to the West in Feb., 1862. Buck was eventually assigned to the staff of Pat Cleburne in Dec., 1862, in time for the Battle of Stones River, serving continuously until wounded at the Battle of Jonesboro, Ga., Sept. 2, 1864. The other two served on the staffs of Cleburne's friend and commander William J. Hardee and his subordinate, brigade commander D. C. Govan; all three survived the war.
Buck's writing is slightly annoying in the way many nineteenth century accounts are: he is reluctant to write in the first person lest he appear to be showboating, referring to ... a single staff officer instead of merely saying, I ... His account of Cleburne's early life is spotty at best in comparison with more recent works like Stonewall of the West and is apparently based largely on things he learned from the notably modest and reticent Cleburne himself. Also disappointingly, the stories of the battles at Shiloh and in Kentucky before Buck joined the staff are lacking in details. To somewhat remedy this, Cleburne's own reports found in the Official Records are included for Murfreesboro, Liberty Gap, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Ringgold Gap, and Pickett's Mill in the lengthy Appendix. Also, Buck extensively quotes from other letters and articles written before publication of his book, including a lengthy account by Gen. Govan on the Battle of Franklin and the affair at Spring Hill. The latter was at the time of writing especially important since other authors, notably John B. Hood in his own Advance and Retreat, had thrown a pall over Cleburne's part in that fiasco that Buck and Govan sought to refute.
If the work has a real flaw it's in the lack of really personal information about Cleburne's personality; unfortunately that was an earmark of the more private times in which it was written. For example, his betrothal while on leave in Mobile, Alabama in January, 1864, is dismissed in a single sentence before returning to military matters. On the other hand, Cleburne's controversial recommendation to enlist, arm, and emancipate slave soldiers into the Confederate ranks is given a full chapter and his letter of proposal is given in full. Buck also takes considerable trouble to dispel myths about Cleburne's death - some of which I've encountered here in the forums - in another separate chapter. Although this now-dated work has its limitations and fuller details about the subject's personal life and pre-war and early military career can be found in more recent works, Buck's account remains essential for anyone interested in the life of this great Irish soldier.
Last edited by a moderator: