In 1861, Cleburne joined the Confederate army, and he was elected the colonel of the 15th Arkansas. Within the first year, in March 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general. He led a brigade into battle at Shiloh. He was temporarily in command of a division at the Battle of Richmond, in Kentucky. In October, he was back in command of a brigade at Perryville. However, in December, he received his next promotion to major general. He later served in command of Confederate forces during the Chattanooga campaign, and during the Atlanta campaign. On November 30, 1864, at the Battle of Franklin II, he fell mortally wounded.