Posted By : manager

Posted : January 30, 2024

By Michael Thomas

Just 83 Brigadier-Generals in the entire Confederate army were promoted to the rank of Major-General during the War For Southern Independence. These promotions were based on meritorious leadership and personal bravery exhibited as Brigadier-Generals. Most possessed two other personal qualifications; (1) established battle or campaign experience from the Indian wars or the Mexican-American War as officers and (2) they possessed a college education. It should be no surprise that 57 of them were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A close review of the remainder finds 23 others having at least one of these qualifica-tions and quite a few had both. The army sought educated men with meaningful military exposure to fill its higher levels of leadership.

However, three men rose to Major-General despite having spent neither a day in college nor possessing a substantial pre-war military background. Two are very well-known but the third might very well be a surprise.
The first name on this short list is the incomparable Nathan Bedford Forrest of Tennessee. Enlisting as a Private in 1861, he rose to Lt. Colonel and then progressively to Lieutenant-General. Forrest’s exploits are legendary and well-chronicled. Known as “The Wizard of the Saddle”, most historians consider him the best cavalry officer in either army of the war.

The next man is Patrick Cleburne who earned the nickname “Stonewall of the West” for his superb service as an infantry brigade and division commander. Cleburne, an Irish immigrant who was orphaned at age 15, served 3 years in the English army as an enlisted man but never left Ireland and most of his enlistment was as a prison guard. He immigrated to the United States in 1850 and settled in Arkansas. Cleburne became a Colonel in the Confederate army in 1861, a Brigadier-General in 1862, and a Major-General in 1863. General Robert E. Lee likened his service & rapid promotion to “A meteor shining from a clouded sky.” Cleburne provided distinguished service in nearly every major battle of the Army of Tennessee until he died in late 1864.

Concluding this small group is South Carolinian Joseph B. Kershaw of Camden. Kershaw never entered college but possessed sufficient secondary schooling and personal attributes to become a lawyer at age 21. His military service as a Lieutenant in the Palmetto Regiment during the Mexican-American War was abruptly cut short by disease which led to his early return home without any significant military experience. Kershaw was elected Colonel of the 2nd SC Infantry in 1861, promoted to Brigadier-General February 1862, and then raised to Major-General June 1864. He saw action in nearly all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia. Prominent historians since the war’s end have rated him as one of the very best brigade and division commanders of the Confederacy. One, the renowned Ed Bearss, wrote that” [Kershaw] repeatedly demonstrated he was without peer as a combat leader.”

These 3 men, altogether different in temperament & personality and despite their apparent shortcomings of formal education or pre-war combat experience, were chosen as major generals only after the closest scrutiny from the highest levels. Their service throughout the war fully justified their selection. 

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