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From the Anniston (Alabama) Star

Hero’s salute: Residents celebrate life of Gen. Cleburne

By Nathan Solheim
Anniston Star Staff Writer

A Confederate honor guard gives a 21-gun salute at Gen. Patrick Cleburne Day in Heflin. Photo: Stephen Gross.

It was said of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne that where he attacked, no force could defend, and where he defended, no force could overcome save only once, and there you’ll find his grave.

Though Cleburne died in Tennessee during the waning days of the Civil War and is buried in Arkansas, a rural county in Northeastern Alabama bears his name.

More than 500 people gathered on the lawn of the Cleburne County Courthouse Sunday to celebrate the Irish immigrant on St. Patrick’s Day.

The sounds of the Irish music group Lisdoonvarna floated through the muggy afternoon air and Forrest’s Escort Camp, a Confederate honor guard from Villa Rica, Ga., fired a 21-gun salute after a portrait of Cleburne was unveiled. Janet Babel, whose family has roots in Cleburne County and currently resides in south Florida, painted the portrait from the only known picture of Cleburne, which was taken in 1864 in Mobile.

The day was more of a history lesson than party.

Mauriel Joslyn, author of A Meteor Shining Brightly, read a brief biography of Cleburne, an immigrant who settled in Helena, Ark., only to enlist in the Confederate Army. Cleburne rose through the ranks and commanded troops in several Civil War battles, including the battles of Murphreesboro, Tunnel Hill and Ringgold Gap. In November of 1864, Cleburne was killed in an assault on the Union Army in Franklin, Tenn. According to the Cleburne County historical society, his most notable idea was to emancipate the slaves and enlist them in the Confederate Army.

A cannon is fired in honor of Gen. Patrick Cleburne during a celebration in his honor in Heflin. Photo: Stephen Gross.
A veteran of the battle of Franklin suggested the Cleburne name for a new county that was to be carved from three surrounding counties in Alabama.

“I lived here until I was 18,” said Ed Rowell, a Cleburne County native who now lives in Mt. Olive. “And I learned more about it today than I did when I lived here.”

The event drew a number of people from other places in the south with ties to Cleburne.

David Gass, adjutant of the Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans based in Jonesboro, Ga., also attended the day’s events.

He came because of the obvious connection but said Cleburne’s name is known in Jonesboro because he commanded a battle there. There’s also a Confederate cemetery in Jonesboro named after Cleburne.

“I thought it was fantastic to combine the two,” Gass said. “Honoring a great general and St. Patrick’s Day in one, and what better place than Cleburne County.”

The event’s organizers — the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce and the Cleburne County Historical Society — hope it will grow into an annual outing that attracts people from throughout the Southeast.

Jane Sanders, who has worked on a number of historical projects in Cleburne County including the restoration of the courthouse, said the event went very well.

“We’re hoping the whole county will get more involved than today,” Sanders said. “I think we’d like to make it a big celebration every year.”

Minnesota native Nathan Solheim is a University of Georgia graduate. He covers the city of Anniston for The Anniston Star.