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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Malvern Hill

battle-of-malvern-hillIrish take up arms against each other in the American Civil War as the Irish Brigade of the Union Army and the Confederate 6th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry take part in the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

Also known as the Battle of Poindexter’s Farm, the Battle of Malvern Hill is fought between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac under Major General George B. McClellan. It is the final battle of the Seven Days Battles, taking place on a 130-foot elevation of land known as Malvern Hill, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and just one mile from the James River. Including inactive reserves, more than fifty thousand soldiers from each side take part, using more than two hundred pieces of artillery and three warships.

The Seven Days Battles are the climax of the Peninsula Campaign, during which McClellan’s Army of the Potomac sails around the Confederate lines, lands at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, southeast of Richmond, and strikes inland towards the Confederate capital. Confederate commander-in-chief Joseph E. Johnston fends off McClellan’s repeated attempts to take the city, slowing Union progress on the peninsula to a crawl. When Johnston is wounded, Lee takes command and launches a series of counterattacks, collectively called the Seven Days Battles. These attacks culminate in the action on Malvern Hill.

The Union’s V Corps, commanded by Brigadier General Fitz John Porter, takes up positions on the hill on June 30. McClellan is not present for the initial exchanges of the battle, having boarded the ironclad USS Galena and sailed down the James River to inspect Harrison’s Landing, where he intends to locate the base for his army. Confederate preparations are hindered by several mishaps. Bad maps and faulty guides cause Confederate Major General John B. Magruder to be late for the battle, an excess of caution delays Major General Benjamin Huger, and Major General Stonewall Jackson has problems collecting the Confederate artillery.

The battle occurs in stages: an initial exchange of artillery fire, a minor charge by Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, and three successive waves of Confederate infantry charges triggered by unclear orders from Lee and the actions of Major Generals Magruder and Daniel Harvey Hill, respectively. In each phase, the effectiveness of the Federal artillery is the deciding factor, repulsing attack after attack, resulting in a tactical Union victory.

After the battle, McClellan and his forces withdraw from Malvern Hill to Harrison’s Landing, where he remains until August 16. His plan to capture Richmond has been thwarted. In the course of four hours, a series of blunders in planning and communication had caused Lee’s forces to launch three failed frontal infantry assaults across hundreds of yards of open ground, unsupported by Confederate artillery, charging toward firmly entrenched Union infantry and artillery defenses. These errors provide Union forces with an opportunity to inflict heavy casualties.

The human toll of the Battle of Malvern Hill and the Seven Days Battles is shown clearly as both capitals, Washington and Richmond, set up numerous provisional hospitals to care for the dead and wounded. Ships sails from the Peninsula to Washington carrying the wounded. Richmond is nearest to the battlefields of the Seven Days, and the immense number of casualties overwhelms hospitals and doctors. People from about the Confederacy descend upon Richmond to care for the conflict’s casualties. Graves cannot be dug quickly enough. In total, the Confederacy counts some 5,650 casualties while the Union Army estimates approximately 3,000 casualties.

In the aftermath of the battle the Confederate press heralds Lee as the savior of Richmond. In stark contrast, McClellan is accused of being absent from the battlefield, a harsh criticism that haunts him when he runs for president in 1864.

(Pictured: A watercolor painting of the Battle of Malvern Hill, made by Robert Sneden during the American Civil War at Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia. Sneden was the mapmaker for Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps.)

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Birth of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

patrick-ronayne-cleburnePatrick Ronayne Cleburne, called the “Stonewall of the West” and one of the finest generals produced by either side during the American Civil War is born on March 17, 1828 at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens, County Cork, just outside Cork City.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, this native Irishman is nevertheless extremely loyal to his adopted country, saying, “if this [Confederacy] that is so dear to my heart is doomed to fail, I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is toward the enemy and my arm battling for that which I know to be right.” Sadly, Cleburne ultimately receives his wish.

Cleburne begins his military career in an unlikely manner. When he fails the entrance exam at Trinity College, Dublin, he cannot face his family. He enlists in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army. In 1849 he purchases his discharge and leaves for the United States, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas in June 1850 and earning his citizenship in 1855. He loves his new country, taking part in many community projects, and even being one of the few volunteers to care for the sick during a yellow fever outbreak.

In January 1861 Cleburne joins the local militia company, the Yell Rifles.  He leads the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock in January 1861. When Arkansas left the Union, the Yell Rifles became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment. By fall of 1861 he has risen to command the 2nd Brigade, Hardee’s Division, in the Army of Central Kentucky. His first major battle is at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. At the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) in August 1862, he is wounded in the mouth and loses several of his teeth. Still, he earns the thanks of the Confederate States Congress for his actions there. During the October 1862 Battle of Perryville he is wounded again – twice, yet stays in command during the battle. In December 1862 he is promoted to Major General.

At the December 1862 Battle of Stones River, Cleburne and his division earn the praise of General Braxton Bragg for their incredible skill and valor. Cleburne’s actions and character play a large role in his men’s determination during battle.

In 1863 Cleburne faces off against Union General George Henry Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga. His and General John C. Breckinridge’s assaults force General Thomas to call repeatedly for reinforcements. In November 1863 the Confederate army is forced to retreat after the Chattanooga Campaign. However, Cleburne has defeated every assault against his men eventually charging his attackers. After the battle, he and his men are charged with covering the retreat.

On January 2, 1864, Cleburne makes his most controversial decision ever. He gathers the corps and division commanders in the Army of Tennessee to present his proposal. The Confederacy is unable to fill its ranks due to a lack of manpower. He states that slavery is their “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” His proposed solution is for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom. The proposal is not well received at all. In fact, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, directs that the proposal be suppressed.

In the spring of 1864 the Army of Tennessee moves towards Atlanta, Georgia. Cleburne and his men fight at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Ringgold and Kennesaw. The Atlanta Campaign begins in the summer and lasts until September, when General John Bell Hood evacuates Atlanta. Hood had taken command from General Joseph E. Johnston, which Cleburne felt to be a disaster for the Confederacy.

General Hood hopes to stop Union General John Schofield and his men before they can reach Nashville to reinforce General Thomas. Due to poor communications and nightfall, Schofield slips past the Army of Tennessee into Franklin.

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin is a tragic loss for the Confederacy. Hood throws his men into well-fortified Union troops. The results are disastrous. About 6,000 men are killed or wounded including six generals who are killed or mortally wounded. Cleburne is one of these six, killed while attacking Union breastworks. He is last seen advancing on foot toward the Union line with his sword raised, after his horse had been shot out from under him. Accounts later say that he is found just inside the Federal line and his body is carried back to an aid station along the Columbia Turnpike. Confederate war records indicate he died of a shot to the abdomen, or possibly a bullet that went through his heart. When Confederates find his body, he has been picked clean of any valuable items, including his sword, boots and pocket watch.

Cleburne’s remains are first laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. At the urging of Army Chaplain Biship Quintard, Judge Mangum, staff officer to Cleburne and his law partner in Helena, his remains are moved to St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, where they remain for six years. In 1870, he is disinterred and returned to his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas, with much fanfare, and buried in the Helena Confederate Cemetery located in the southwest corner of the Maple Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Several geographic features are named after Patrick Cleburne, including Cleburne County in Alabama and Arkansas, and the city of Cleburne, Texas. The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery is a memorial cemetery in Jonesboro, Georgia that is named in honor of General Patrick Cleburne.