September 1864 was a rough month for Cleburne, professionally and personally. Hood blamed Hardee, and by association Cleburne, for the fall of Atlanta. Govan's loss was hard on Cleburne as those were Arkansas boys he had been with since the beginning of the war. Captain Buck of his staff had been wounded at Jonesboro and was now at a hospital. Chief of staff Major Benham resigned in despair and left for Mexico. His fiancé Sue was suffering from "neuralgia" and was unable to write.
On September 27 Hardee was finally transferred out of the army. Cleburne contemplated asking for a transfer as well and told his staff that he'd rather be an aide to Hardee than command a division in Hood's army. Cheatham was given Hardee's corps. The next day Cleburne went to Hood's headquarters to ask for a two week furlough so that he could go to Mobile and marry Sue. Hood denied the request saying that the campaign season was not yet over.
There was a bright spot that month though as Govan's men returned to the army after a particularly quick prisoner exchange. When President Davis visited the army that month he made a visit to every brigade. As Hood and Davis passed by Govan's brigade they chanted "Johnston! Johnston!"
The army now moved north towards Dalton. During the second week of October Cleburne's men wrecked the railroad with their bare hands. They lacked the proper tools so they just lined up on one side and lifted the whole rail up and were then able to remove the ties. From Dalton they went to Rocky Face Ridge, Lafayette, Alpine, Decatur and reached Tuscumbia on October 31. A pontoon bridge was built to cross the nearly one mile of river and Cleburne's division finally crossed on November 13 and camped at Florence. Cheatham's corps went north through Waynesboro and Cleburne left Mercer's brigade behind to guard the river crossings. On November 20 he set out with the brigades of Govan, Lowrey and Granbury.
On November 22 they passed through Waynesboro. South of Columbia on November 24 Cleburne met Lucius Polk again. Polk's house was across the road from Hood's headquarters. At Polk's chapel Cleburne idly remarked, "It is almost worth dying to rest in so sweet a spot." The next day they occupied Columbia on the Duck River. Across the river Schofield had two corps but Hood had no intention of a direct assault.
On November 29 Hood started his flank movement with Cleburne's division in the lead. By 3 PM Cleburne was near Spring Hill. There was a Union force south of town but Hood was more concerned with blocking Schofield's retreat. Schofield was still near Columbia apparently believing that Hood would assault him directly. Cheatham believed that Hood wanted him to assault Spring Hill and that the turnpike south of town was not his objective. Between 3:30 and 4 PM Cleburne deployed his division in echelon facing west, Lowrey on the right, then Govan and Granbury. Forrest deployed one brigade on Cleburne's right.
At 4 PM the division moved forward and then swung to the right. They quickly drove Bradley's brigade but came under fire from 18 cannon near Spring Hill. Lane's brigade then redeployed from Bradley's left and then came due south at Cleburne but nothing much came of this attack. It was now 5 PM (sunset was at 4:26) and Cheatham began to work at creating a solid line against Spring Hill. Bate's division was currently executing exactly the movement Hood desired, on the turnpike and moving south but at about 6 PM Cheatham ordered Bate to a different position. At 6:17 PM the field was completely dark and a hoped for second attack to be led by Brown was now impossible. The troops went to sleep a quarter mile from the turnpike. That night Schofield's army snuck past the Confederates.
When Hood woke in the morning and found out that the Union had slipped past he was furious. At a meeting of his generals he ranted and blamed them for the mistake. He had good reason to be upset but he also should accept some of the blame himself. From 4-6 the night before his headquarters were close to the front and yet he never ventured out or sent out aides to find out what was happening. There is also evidence that he went to sleep that night knowing that his troops were not in the right position but he did nothing to correct it. When Cleburne found out that Hood held him partly responsible he said to Brown that he would seek an investigation at the first opportunity. At a command conference at Harrison House Hood said that the Confederates should "go over the main works at all hazards." Cleburne replied "I will take the enemy's works or fall in the attempt." Later that day near Winstead Hill Govan noticed that Cleburne seemed more despondent than normal. He tried to engage him in conversation and said, "Well General there will not be many of us that get back to Arkansas." Unsmiling Cleburne responded, "Well Govan if we are to die let us die like men."
Cleburne arranged his brigades in column to the right of the Franklin Turnpike. They waited for about an hour when Cheatham gave the signal to advance at 4 PM. When the division hit the Union salient it turned into a race for the main Union line. Govan and Granbury's brigades pierced the line and Cleburne was soon with them. He was on foot now as two horses had previously been shot from under him. Fifty yards from the Carter cotton gin he was killed instantly when a single bullet entered his heart. Granbury and four other Confederate generals were also killed that day. Late that night the Union left Franklin.
Once Cleburne's body was identified he was taken to Carnton. He was later buried in Rose Hill cemetery in Columbia. Rose Hill though had former slaves, paupers and Yankees buried there too and so it was decided to rebury him at St. John's Chapel. This is the chapel that he had remarked upon the beauty of a week earlier in the presence of Lucius Polk. Finally in April 1870 his body was moved for a final time to Helena, Arkansas.
During Reconstruction he became a larger hero than he was in his lifetime. Veterans recalled with increased clarity his sterling character and devotion to duty. His martyrdom came to represent the martyrdom of the Army of Tennessee.