Tuesday, June 12, 2018

'Garden of Eden' to Arkansas: Patrick Cleburne's final ride

Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne was buried at a cemetery
behind St. John's Church near Columbia, Tenn.  The Irish-born officer's remains were disinterred  
and re-buried in Arkansas in 1870. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter

For nearly six years, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne's remains rested in a church cemetery near Columbia, Tenn., among the oaks and magnolias. A comrade of the Irish-born officer called the spot as "beautiful as the Garden of Eden -- seemingly a fit place for pure spirits to dwell, and for the haunts of angels."

In late April 1870, a delegation from Arkansas arrived at St. John's Church Cemetery for the disinterment of Cleburne's body for reburial in his adopted state. The division commander had been killed during a charge against Union breastworks at Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864 -- one of six Confederate generals to die of wounds suffered in the battle. Two of them -- Otho Strahl and Hiram B. Granbury -- also were interred at the cemetery with Cleburne before they too were removed and re-buried elsewhere.

The delegation found Cleburne buried in a gray uniform in a "good state of preservation," according to a local newspaper, but the "coffin was very much decayed, and not a particle of flesh was remaining on the skeleton."

       PANORAMA: Patrick Cleburne was buried at left, by the trees nearest the church.
                                    (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Until 1870, Cleburne was buried in the cemetery behind historic St. John's Church, built from 1839-1842.
Historical sign and Civil War Trails marker in front of St. John's Church.

On April 28, while en route to Helena, Ark., Cleburne's hometown, the group stopped at the train depot in Memphis for a procession through the city with his remains. If anyone doubted the popularity of the "Stonewall Jackson of the West," those doubts were erased that spring afternoon. While a band played a funeral march, the coffin containing "Arkansas' greatest soldier" was placed in a hearse for a procession called "perhaps the finest ever witnessed in the city."

"The cosmopolitanism of an interior city was never more thoroughly illustrated than in the conduct of Memphis ... when its whole population went forth to tender a deserved tribute of respect to the memories and virtues of a great soldier," the local newspaper said, omitting any reference to its black population.

"Helena and Memphis, Arkansas and Tennessee, yesterday wept side by side over Cleburne's bier," the Daily Appeal wrote, "and if Helena did not claim the body of the illustrious soldier, that it may find its final resting place within the city which was his home, Helena would concede to Memphis the trust of giving worthy sepulture to the most famous of all citizen soldiery of Arkansas."

War-time image of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, 
who was in the procession with Patrick Cleburne's remains
in Memphis in 1870.
Through the heart of Memphis, the city's leading citizens -- politicians, lawyers, merchants and others -- joined the procession with Cleburne's hearse. Members of the city fire department, Confederate veterans' organizations, the Irish Literary Society, Fenian Brotherhood and Hibernian Mutual Relief Society also were part of the solemn event. Seated in an open carriage were the most notable attendees, ex-Confederate generals Frank Cheatham and Gideon Pillow and the former president of the Confederacy himself, 61-year-old Jefferson Davis.

His head uncovered, Davis stood at attention "straight as an Indian" as he watched Cleburne's coffin carried from the depot to the hearse. "The whole history of the past ten years," a reporter noted, "ran like a flash of lightning over Mr. Davis' expressive face. There was an intensity of feeling and thought written upon the strongly marked lineaments of his eloquent features that unfolded the profoundest emotions."

Added the observant reporter about Davis:
"There were tears in his eyes and his face expressed sympathies, emotions and strong memories, seemingly shared by none of those who sat beside him. As a statesman and soldier -- we read it there -- Mr. Davis was relentless in direct paths of duty. The duty of the hour often drew a veil over the heart and the inner man, while the fate of an empire was dependent on his words and acts [and] was rarely revealed to the outer world. His heart was on his lips yesterday, and there was the tenderness of woman's love in his soulful eyes when Cleburne's encoffined body was borne into his presence."
Other ex-Confederates and a few U.S. soldiers followed the hearse, decorated with black plumes, crape and green ribbon. Cleburne's remains were in a "handsome metalic case, the lid of which was closely screwed down so that even a glance at the remains through the glass was impossible." A large cross wreath and white flowers lay atop his coffin.

Grave marker for Patrick Cleburne
at Confederate Cemetery in Helena, Ark.
(Find A Grave)
The crowds along the route were "composed of every nationality, all anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to the departed hero," an Arkansas newspaper noted. "The whole white population shared in the imposing  demonstration. The streets along the line of march were thronged with people.

"Balconies and windows were everywhere filled with people who watched the hearse and its multitude of silent followers with eager interest," it added. "The bells were tolled, and skillful musicians burdened the air with mournful melody."

The crowd was so huge that street cars became hopelessly stuck along the route.  "There were countless vehicles," the newspaper reported, "in which were seated the matrons and youth and beauty of the city."

After the procession ended, pall-bearers removed Cleburne's coffin from the hearse and placed it aboard the steamer George W. Cheek, docked in the Mississippi River. Before the vessel departed for the trip downriver to Helena, hundreds of Cleburne's former army comrades crowded to view the coffin that contained "the sacred dust" of the beloved Confederate general.

 "At Helena the same ceremonies will be gone through with," the Arkansas newspaper noted, "when all that is left of the immortal Cleburne will be conveyed to their final resting place.

"Peace to his ashes."

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Memphis Daily Appeal, April 29, 1870.
-- The Southern Standard, Arkadelphia, Ark., May 14, 1870.
-- Public Ledger, Memphis, Tenn., May 3, 1870.
-- The Herald and Mail, Columbia, Tenn., April 28, 1870.


  1. Great work again, John! I will be taking a group of folks on a bus tour to the Franklin area in October. Your blog has been "encouraged reading" for them as they prepare for the trip. Thanks!

  2. Great post! Thank you Sir.

  3. Very good post. THanks

  4. Thank You John, My Great Grandfather, Jefferson Kasey Murley must have been in his footsteps when the General fell, he was in the 32nd Miss. Inf Reg under Mark Perrin Lowery.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Beautiful interment spot in Columbia. Is there still a marker there like Jackson’s grave? Thank you for bringing us the rest of the story.

  7. Thank you sir, all your works are much appreciated.

  8. Anonymous11:54 PM

    Thank you.great story.
    I used to live in Granbury Texas. Second resting place of General. Hiram Granbury. He had a similar story. Perhaps without quite as much fanfare.

  9. Appropriate reminder of his journey home to Helena. Thank you John. I am the great, great, great nephew of Dan Govan, and actually attended Battle Ground Academy, the site where Cleburne fell. I've visited St. John's Episcopal Church, as well, and always remember this tragic end to the war on this anniversary of the Battle of Franklin. Thank you for sharing this reminder of his journey home.

  10. And in Helena much the same procession. His grave is on one of the highest hills there at Magnolia Cemetery along with other soldiers, many being casualties of the battle of Helena. I was always moved by a story, I included in my article in the Confederate Veteran magazine back in the 80's or 90's....it was a proper ending to my article , and I am trying to quote from memory ...."in the winter, when the trees were bare, the tall marble shaft on Cleburne's grave was visible from the Mississippi River. When men who served with Cleburne traveled the river, they stood at attention."