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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

General O. Mitchel Was A True Raider

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 275
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel astronomer, renowned lecturer, engineer, teacher and Civil War General, was born in Morganfield, Ky., July 28, 1809. At the age of four, General Mitchel moved, with his widowed mother, to the village of Miami in Clermont County, and shortly after to Lebanon in Warren County, Ohio.
Ormsby, during his youth devoted himself to books. At the age of 12 he thought it was time to support himself. He moved to Xenia, Ohio, and was placed in a country store as errand boy and clerk. He worked for twenty-five cents a week. After an incident in the clerking trade, he talked his way into becoming a teamster. Teamster life was not for a boy who had read Virgil at the age of nine and knew something of Greek at the age of twelve.
His mother was a relative of Judge McLean of the Supreme Court of the United States, who was at the time a resident of Lebanon. Through the pressure of his mother, Judge McLean and John Ross of Lebanon secured an appointment to West Point for young Ormsby, not yet fifteen.
Mitchel graduated in the class of 1829, ranking fifteenth. Among this class was Robert E. Lee, second; Joseph E. Johnston, thirteenth; both who would become famous Confederate generals. Our subject was also a very good friend of Jefferson Davis, who later became President of the Confederate Nation.
In 1833, he moved to Cincinnati and began the practice of law with Edward D. Mansfield, the vocation paying very little at that time. Arriving in Cincinnati, he was appointed professor of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy in the College of Cincinnati.
At the age of 26, Mitchel was called upon for his engineering expertise. A railroad was needed to open up a path from Cincinnati to the North. With a loan of $200,000 secured from Cincinnati, the Little Miami Railroad was underway; professor Mitchel was its chief surveyor.
Through his teachings of astronomy, his mind wandered in the direction of an observatory. No one had at that time in the United States an observatory; why should a back-woods town like Cincinnati have one? Through his endless lectures and speeches, he was at last able to organize a company, a joint stock company in which the shareholders would buy at twenty-five dollars each share a part of the venture.
Professor Mitchel traveled the world finding parts and lenses in which to build his controversial telescope. In March 1845, this giant venture was finalized. Only the Russians had this caliber of telescope.
The spring of 1861 was the end of a career for the man of genius. His days of lecturing, railroading and oratorical skills as a civilian were over. The fall of Fort Sumter aroused the patriotic pride in a man that was really too old to endeavor in a war. However, he felt the freedom of the country was at stake. The ninety days war was not a reality. Bull Run was a tragedy to the North. This was a major setback for the Union troops.
On August 8, 1861, Mitchel was appointed Brigadier General of volunteers. He was assigned to command the Department of the Ohio, with headquarters in Cincinnati. Gen. Mitchel was first assigned to the Cumberland Gap area. With this order countermanded he was relieved of his position, and the Department was put under the command of Gen. Buell.
Gen. Mitchel was then put in the command of a division in the army then organizing at Bacon Creek, between Louisville and Bowling Green, Ky. Working with raw recruits, he worked frantically to bring his command into shape. His nervousness and eagerness to confront the enemy was a pitfall as jealousy sprung up amongst his superiors. Mitchel was the opposite of Gen. Buell who had replaced him. This instilled jealousy in the latter.
Gen. Mitchel was not in any major battles, but his raiding parties in Alabama, in which he seized the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at Huntsville, cut Confederate lines of communication, and harassed secessionists in northern parts of the State, were fore-runners of the strategies of Sherman and other generals of note. Two years before Sherman, Mitchel showed how armies might depend on single lines of railroad through great tracts of the enemy's country for supplies. Eighteen months before Rosecrans, he secured the essential point of the whole central half of the Southern States.
He was ordered from his command in Alabama on the 2nd of July 1862. He was assigned to command the Dept. of South Carolina on the 12th of Sept. 1862. Gaining success in this venture was a reward for the Union troops. Confederate railroads were destroyed, salt works were burned at Bluffton, and the general instilled confidence in all.
Five weeks after his arrival in the Department, on the 26th of October 1862, General Mitchel contacted yellow fever. He died October 30, 1862.
General Mitchel is probably best known in the circles of war as the man who gave the O.K. to the "Andrew's Raid" or in literary circles, "The Great Locomotive Chase."


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This page created 28 July 2004 and last updated 19 April, 2009
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