Cleburne & Shumer?

Prior to filming a cameo appearance for the Arts and Entertainment Network's Civil War Journal episode on immigrant soldiers, I browsed through Howell and Elizabeth Purdue's definitive biograpny, Pat Cleburne; Confederate General. Major General Cleburne, a County Cork native, recently made news when he was featured in a history of gays in the American military. Basing his premise on a letter of Cleburne's thanking another soldier for sharing a blanket one cold night, the author surmised that the Irish-American general may have been a homosexual.

It must be admitted that Cleburne's relationships with women were, to a modern mind, rather restrained and peculiar. My own reading suggests that he was not particularly unusual for his mid-Victorian generation, however.

The 19th century produced a large number of eccentric bachelors, ranging from the well-known Charles G. "Chinese" Gordon, who had what we today would view as in inordinate interest in the welfare of newsboys, to the obscure Lt. Col. Edward Campbell of the 15th New Jersey Infantry, who adamantly proclaimed his aversion to marriage on his pension application.

Whatever Cleburne's preferences, they were irrelevant to his military abilities. He was a hell of a soldier, and perhaps the best division commander on either side during the Civil War.

Now that I've got your undivided attention, it is perhaps germane to note General Cleburne's relationship to the usual topics covered in this column, which I admit can get a bit eclectic at times.

Cleburne was a shooter and a hunter and had served as an enlisted man in the British army before emigrating to America in 1849. Although he had shouldered a smoothbore musket in the service of her majesty Queen Victoria as a private and corporal in the 41st Foot, and his British army service predated the establishment of the musketry school at Hythe, Cleburne maintained an interest in military small arms development - an interest he put to good use in the Confederate army.

In my last column I wrote about the Hythe school, founded to provide a serious study of small arms capabilities and develop tactical doctrine. Hythe trained cadres who returned to their regiments and established unit musketry schools, percolating new doctrine down through the ranks. There was no such institution in the United States service.

At the outset of the Civil War, most Federal and Confederate comanders reflected the American military's pervasive lack of small arms technical knowledge. A casual reading of the war's literature provides numerous examples of officers instructing their men to hold their fire until an attacking enemy force was well within the range of smoothbore muskets, negating the advantages inherent in the rifle musket.

By 1864, commanders on both sides attempted to correct this oversight. Target practice of a sort was established in the Army of the Potomac in the weeks preceding the onset of that year's campaign. On the other side, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia established sharpshooter battalions, which would perform valuable service in the months to come.

In the west, General Cleburne had realized the tactical efficacy of the rifle musket as early as Shiloh, when he called for volunteer sharpshooters to pick off Yankee gunners supporting Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss' position in the "Hornet's Nest." Following that battle, Cleburne personally visited each regiment in his brigade to select sharpshooters, who were formally organized into a company under his direct command. The Arkansas Irishman employed his sharpshooters to good effect at Perryville and Murfreesboro.

By early 1863, Cleburne had acquired a copy of the British "Regulations for Conducting Musketry Instruction in the Army," published by the instructors at Hythe. The Irish-American General quickly mastered the manual and instituted a similar program in his division.

Imitating the British cadre system, Major Calhoun Benham of Cleburne's staff instructed officers from each regiment in Cleburne's division in the art and science of musketry. They in turn returned to their outfits and spread the knowledge, which included ballistics and range estimation, "with human flesh and blood as markers."

Artound the same time Cleburne requisitioned five Whitworth sniper rifles with telescopic sights, then held a rifle match to decide who would have the honor of carrying the prized guns. As with his sharpshooters, the general detached the five winners from their units and formed them into a special Whitworth squad, the first in the Army of Tennessee.

On June 24, 1863, at Liberty Gap, Tennessee, one of Cleburne's brigades held off three Union brigades with withering long range small arms fire. One Union oficer reported that "within one-half or three-fourths of a mile of the enemy, the effect of their sharpshooters was terrible."

Before the spring of 1864, Cleburne received 30 more Whitworths and 16 Kerr sharpshooter rifles. As the campaign opened, the Irishman's command had more sharpshooters than any other division in the Army of Tennessee. The Purdues accurately assert that General Cleburne's "corps of sharpshooters was perhaps the most skilled in the entire Confederate army;" that corps of sharpshooters wreaked havoc on General Sherman's army throughout the Atlanta campaign.

Cleburne's promising military career was stifled after the general circulated a memorandum proposing that the Confederacy grant black slaves their freedom should they enlist in the army. Not a slaveholder himself, Cleburne felt that African-Americans, given a stake in the future of the Confederacy, would flock to the colors. His assessment of the black community's response may well have been wrong, but his memorandum so disturbed the authorities in Richmond that he was never again promoted.

Still, he soldiered on. Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, one of the Confederacy's bravest and best commanders, met his death in a suicidal charge ordered by Lieutenant General John Bell Hood, one of the Confederacy's bravest and most incompetent commanders, at Franklin, Tennessee on Novermber 30, 1864.


Congressman Charles Shumer is at it again! The viscerally anti-gun New York legislator is horrified that the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is providing educational videos on hunting and its role in wildlife management to public and private schools.

Also appalled by the NSSF efforts to suggest that not eveyone who owns a gun is a slavering maniac is New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, a moderate liberal who often has something sensible to say. This was not the case in his December 14, 1994 column in the Times.

Herbert is patricularly angry that the NSSF received a grant from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help produce its conservation videos. Needless to say, the grant was approved during the Bush administration.

According to Herbert: "Like cigarette manufacturers, who have to replace 400,000 of their customers every year, the gun and ammunition people have turned their eyes towards the young." Ominous words. I suppose Mr. Shumer and Mr. Herbert would like to have me arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor for bringing my 10 year old son pheasant hunting this year or exposing him to the sound of musketry at an N-SSA skirmish.

Quite frankly, if more fathers took their sons afield target shooting and hunting there might be fewer cases like that reported in the previous day's Times, where a 15 year old Milwaukee youth, raised by his grandmother and mother, both of whom had killed errant boyfriends, was incarcerated for the murder of a fellow street gang member. This miscreant certainly didn't need an NSSF conservation video to set him off.

I believe that this tale serves to reemphasize my point that there is a vast cultural gulf between people who represent what I call an "urban culture," as opposed to the traditional American "rural culture." Rural and urban cultures both cross ethnic, racial and gender lines and are not geographic terms in this context, but philosphical ones.

You can live in a city and have "rural" values or, like an increasing number of people, move from the city and still maintain an "urban" mind set. To those of the "urban" persuasion, all guns are inherently evil and those of us who take any pleasure from their use in any way are probably psychotic.

"Urban" people must believe their meat or fish is somehow created on a foam tray wrapped in plastic, because they view people like myself, who prefer, on occasion, to eliminate the middle man in bringing food to the table by a deft use of the musket or fly rod, as wanton killers.

People like Charles Shumer, fired in their bellies by political ambition and intolerance, are beyond the reach of reasonable sport shooters. Columnists like Bob Herbert, who I believe to be a decent, rational man, may have their minds changed. Given the cultural chasm that exists, perhaps this is unlikely, but there's always room for hope.

1995, 1998 by Joe Bilby

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