Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel was born near Morganfield in Union County, Kentucky, to John and Elizabeth McAllister Mitchel, who had moved there from Virginia. His father died when Ormsby was three years old.
|Union County, Kentucky|
When I was a boy of twelve years, I was working for twenty five cents a week with an old lady, and I tell you I had my hands full; but I did my work faithfully. I used to cut wood, fetch water, make fires, and scrub and scour of mornings for the old lady before the real work of the day commenced; my clothes were bad, and I had no means for buying shoes, so was often barefooted. One morning I got through my work early, and the old lady, who thought I had not done, or was specially ill humored then, was displeased, scolded me, and said I was idle, and had not worked. I said I had; she called me ‘a liar.’ I felt my spirit rise indignantly against this, and, standing erect, I told her that she should never have the chance of applying the word to me again.
I walked out of the house, to re-enter it no more. I had no a cent in my pocket when I thus stepped out into the world. What do you think I did then, boys? I met a countryman with a team. I addressed him boldly and earnestly, and offered to drive the leader, if he would only take me on. He looked at me in surprise, but said he did not think I’d be of any use to him. ‘Oh, yes, I will,’ said I; ‘I can rub down and water your horses, and do many things for you if you will only let me try.’ He no longer objected. I got on the horse’s back. It was hard traveling, for the roads were deep, and we could only get on at the rate of twelve miles a day.
This was, however, my starting point. I went ahead after this. An independent spirit, and a steady, honest conduct, with what capacity God has given me have carried me successfully through the world.
|Robert E. Lee|
Ormsby Mitchel graduated in 1829, ranked fifteenth in his class of forty-six cadets. After graduation, the Army assigned him to teach mathematics at West Point. While teaching, he met Mrs. Louisa Clark Trask, the young widow of a West Point graduate, with a son, Thomas, who had been born in 1828. Ormsby and Louisa married in 1831.
In 1831, he was reassigned to St. Augustine, Florida and served as a second lieutenant of artillery. Unhappy with military life, he studied law. While in Florida, the Mitchel's first child, Harriett, was born in 1832.
He was 50 years old when the Civil War began.
|George Hunt Pendleton|
The Mitchels had five more children while living in Cincinnati: Virginia, born in 1834; Louisa, born in 1836 (died in 1837); Edwin William, born in 1838; Louise, born in 1842; and Ormsby McKnight, born in 1843.
In 1836 and 1837, he also filled the office of Chief Engineer of the Little Miami Railroad, which was then in process of construction. He surveyed and recommended the route of the planned railroad between Cincinnati and Springfield, Ohio. He was adjutant-general of the state of Ohio from 1841 to 1848.
In three weeks, 300 subscribers had been obtained, and Mitchel set out to purchase the telescope. On June 16, 1842, he booked passage on a sailing vessel to Europe, not having enough money to go in a steamer. He traveled to Fraunhofer's optical institute in Munich, where he procured a 12-inch objective lens for his telescope. In England he entered the Greenwich Observatory as a student for a few months.
Returning to the United States, Mitchel undertook the supervision of the construction of the observatory. On the 9th of November, 1843, the cornerstone was laid by John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States. Adams had a deep interest in astronomical science, and had tried unsuccessfully in 1825 to persuade Congress to found a National Observatory. Although 77 years old, and not in the best of health, Adams travelled to Cincinnati for the occasion because he felt that the founding of the Cincinnati Observatory was an important step to be taken if the United States were to become internationally recognized for its intellectual and scientific endeavors. At the dedication, Adams gave his last public speech. Mt. Ida was renamed Mt. Adams following this event.
|John Quincy Adams|
The telescope arrived in January 1845. In March 1845 Mitchel began hoisting the telescope into place; it went into operation on April 14, 1845. At the time, it was the second-largest refracting telescope in the world. By June 1845 the building was complete and its telescope in place. Under Mitchel's leadership, the observatory was utilized for astronomical research, as well as general viewing and educational purposes.
|The Mt. Adams Observatory|
It was also during this period that he founded The Sidereal Messenger, the first astronomical publication in the United States. In 1848 he also developed what was probably the first working chronograph for automatically recording the beats of a clock, a necessity for accurate timing observations. This was part of a larger program to automatically transmit time and observational information in "real time" over telegraph wires. It was developed, in part, because of an experiment using telegraphy of time signals to determine the longitude of Cincinnati with respect to Philadelphia. It had been suggested by Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal in England, that Cincinnati be the zero-point for land surveys in the United States, as Greenwich was in England.
Eventually, Mitchel had to temporarily leave Cincinnati to find some source of income. Because his lectures in Cincinnati had been so well received, he spent much of his time from 1842 to 1848 lecturing around the country on astronomy to large public audiences. Mitchel's enthusiasm and clarity impressed the people who heard his talks. The great expansion of interest in astronomy, and the proliferation of observatories during the next few years owes a great deal to the efforts of Mitchel, who has sometimes been called "The Father of American Astronomy."
Mitchel was the author of several works on astronomy, the principal of which are The Planetary and Stellar Worlds (1848) and The Orbs of Heaven (1851). In his Astronomy of the Bible, the theology which he learned from the stars was Calvinistic. In his final lecture, after showing that the universe was governed by immutable law, he concluded with this passage:
No, my friends, the analogies of nature applied to the moral government of God would crush out all hope in the sinful soul. There for millions of ages these stern laws have reigned supreme. There is no deviation, no modification, no yielding to the refractory or disobedient. All is harmony because all is obedient. Close forever if you will this strange book claiming to be God’s revelation, blot out forever if you will its lessons of God’s creative power, God’s super-abounding providence, God’s fatherhood and loving guardianship to man, his erring off-spring, and then unseal the lids of that mighty volume which the finger of God has written in the stars of heaven, and in these flashing letters of living light we read only the dread sentence, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall surely die.’In another place, in speaking of the power of the astronomer, he said,
“By the power of an analysis created by his own mind the astronomer rolls back the tide of time and reveals the secrets hidden by countless years, or, still more wonderful, he predicts with prophetic accuracy the future history of the rolling spheres. Space withers at his touch, Time past, present and future become one mighty NOW.”In 1852, Mitchel provided the plans for another observatory, the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York. In 1859, he accepted the directorship of Dudley, which paid him a regular salary.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Mitchel made a speech in Union Square, New York City:
I owe allegiance to no particular State, and never did, and, God helping me, I never will. I owe allegiance to the Government of the United States. A poor boy, working my way with my own hands, at the age of twelve turned out to take care of myself as best I could, and beginning by earning but four dollars per month. I worked my way onward until this glorious Government of the United States gave me a chance at the Military Academy at West Point. There I landed with my knapsack on my back, and, I tell you God's truth, just a quarter of a dollar in my pocket. There I swore allegiance to the Government of the United States. I did not abjure the love of my own State, nor of my adopted State, but high above that was proudly triumphant and predominant my love for our common country. . . . When the rebels come to their senses we will receive them with open arms; but until that time, while they are trailing our glorious banner in the dust, when they scorn it, condemn it, curse it, and trample it under foot, I must smite, and in God's name I will smite, and as long as I have strength I will do it I am ready, God help me, to do my duty. I am ready to fight in the ranks or out of the ranks. Having been educated in the Academy, having been in the army several years, having served as a commander of a volunteer company for ten years, and having served as an Adjutant-General, I feel I am ready for something. I only ask to be permitted to act; and in God's name, give me something to do!Mitchel gave several speeches in Cincinnati, encouraging men to enlist. On August 8, Mitchel received a commission as a brigadier-general of Ohio volunteers.
|Mitchel in Uniform as Union General|
At the request of the citizens of Cincinnati, Mitchel was transferred to that city and commanded the Department of the Ohio from Sept. 19 to Nov. 13 1861. He organized the northern Kentucky defenses around Cincinnati. Mitchel led a division in the Army of the Ohio from December 1861 to July 1862. William Haines Lytle of Cincinnati commanded the Fourth Ohio Regiment in General Mitchel's brigade.
|William Haines Lytle|
The following interesting scrap of news is told by an eye-witness to the scene: One day last week General Buell and the Brigadiers of the Department, who were present, went in a body to call upon Mrs. James K. Polk and her niece, daughter of Rev. Gen. Leonidas Polk. Mrs. Polk seemed determined that no doubt should be entertained as to her sentiments in regard to our unhappy difficulties. The gentlemen present, as they were severally addressed, simply bowed in silence, until Gen. Mitchel who was standing somewhat away from the party, was singled out. To him Mrs. P. remarked: "General, I trust this war will speedily terminate by the acknowledgment of Southern Independence." The remark was the signal for a lull in the conversation, and all eyes were turned upon the General to hear his reply. He stood with his lips firmly compressed, and his eyes looking fully into those of Mrs. Polk, as long as she spoke. He then said: "Madam, the man whose name you bear was once the President of the United States; he was an honest man and a true patriot, he administered the laws of this Government with equal justice to all. We know no independence of one section of our country which does not belong to all others, and judging by the past, of the mute lips of the honored dead, who lies so near us, could speak, they would express the hope that this war may never cease if that cessation was purchased by the dissolution of the Union of States over which he once presided." Needless to say that remark was, in a calm dignified tone, apt with that earnestness for which the General is noted, no offence could be taken. Southern independence was not mentioned again during the interview.Mitchel conspired with Union espionage agent James J. Andrews of Kentucky on plans to steal a Confederate train in Georgia and disrupt a railroad vital to the Confederate Army coincident with Mitchel's planned attack on Chattanooga. Mitchel planned to move south with his army and seize Huntsville, Alabama, before turning east in hopes of capturing Chattanooga. He believed that if he could block railroad reinforcement of the city from Atlanta to the south, he could take Chattanooga. And, once taken, the Union could enjoy the city's natural defenses. The Union Army would then have rail reinforcement and supply lines to its rear, leading west to the Union-held stronghold and supply depot of Nashville. Andrews, a civilian scout and spy, proposed to Mitchell a daring raid to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad as a useful supply link to Chattanooga, thereby isolating the city from Atlanta. He recruited the civilian William Hunter Campbell and 22 volunteer Union soldiers from three Ohio regiments. Andrews instructed the men to arrive in Marietta, George; they traveled in small parties in civilian attire to avoid arousing suspicion.
|James J. Andrews|
The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, along with two other men, chased the stolen train, first on foot, then by handcar. Locomotives of the time normally averaged 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), with short bursts of an average speed of 20 miles per hour. In addition, the terrain north of Atlanta is very hilly; even today, average speeds are usually never greater than 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Since Andrews intended to stop periodically to perform acts of sabotage, a determined pursuer, even on foot, could conceivably have caught up with the train before it reached Chattanooga. Fuller spotted the locomotive Yonah at Etowah and commandeered it. Two miles south of Adairsville, however, the raiders had destroyed the tracks, and Fuller was forced to continue the pursuit on foot. Beyond the damage, he took command of the southbound locomotive Texas at Adairsville, running it backwards and tender-first northward.
|William Allen Fuller|
Andrews’ explanation to the station masters he encountered moving northward was that his train was a special northbound ammunition movement, ordered by General Beauregard. This story was sufficient for the isolated station masters Andrews encountered as he moved northwards (as he had cut the telegraph wires to the south), but it had no impact upon the train dispatchers and station masters north of him, whose telegraph lines to Chattanooga were working. The authorities in Chattanooga had given the conductors of southbound trains superior right of passage over all other train movements between Chattanooga and Atlanta, including the regularly scheduled passenger train that Andrews had stolen and was operating northbound. It was this mechanism of delay that gave Fuller all the time needed to close the distance between them.The raid on April 12 failed. Andrews and a number of his men were captured. Andrews himself was among eight men who were tried in Chattanooga. They were hanged in Atlanta by Confederate forces.
|Trial of James Andrews|
The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863.Secretary of War Edwin Stanton awarded some of the raiders with the first Medal of Honor. Private Jacob Wilson Parrott, who had been physically abused as a prisoner, was awarded the first medal.
|Jacob Wilson Parrott|
Later all but two of the other soldiers also received the medals, with posthumous awards to families for those who had been executed. As a civilian, James Andrews was not eligible.
|Monument to the Andrews Raiders, National Cemetery, |
|Buster Keaton in the film, The General|
HEADQUARTERS THIRD DIVISION, Huntsville, April 17, 1862.
Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
On Friday, the 11th, I entered Huntsville, capturing a large number of engines and cars. On Saturday expeditions were dispatched by rail east and west, seizing Stevenson and Decatur. Decatur was at once occupied. On Sunday we advanced cautiously upon Tuscumbia and Florence, and found the enemy had burned the railroad bridges. These were repaired and reconstructed. On Monday night I threw forward a strong force by rail to within 15 miles of Tuscumbia, and ordered them to advance prudently, in the hope of opening our communication directly with General Buell. From deserters we learn that the enemy had burned just in advance of us the bridge at Florence across the Tennessee and railway bridge between Tuscumbia and Corinth, thus manifesting their alarm at our approach. My point of operations extended from Stevenson to Tuscumbia. My entire effective force on that line scarcely exceeds 7,000 men. One of my regiments is at Fayetteville, another at Shelbyville, protecting my line of communication and supplies. Had I sufficient force I would deem it my duty to advance promptly upon Tuscumbia and throw myself in the rear of the enemy to Jacinto, on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. I send this directly to the Secretary of War, as I am uncertain whether any of my dispatches reached General Buell. None of them have been answered. I deem the line I occupy one of vast importance, and a heavier force is required for its defense and protection.
O. M. MITCHEL, Brigadier-General, Commanding Third Division.
|Union Soldiers in Huntsville, Alabama|
April 28, 1862: General Mitchel has been in a rage all the week on account of the cutting of the telegraph wires, the tearing up of the railroad track, firing into trains, and holds the citizens responsible for the same, having had 12 of the most prominent arrested. .. Great depredations have been committed by the Federal cavalry in the country surrounding Huntsville, and the citizens of Athens have suffered terribly.
|Mary Jane Chadick|
conditions of release to us in writing. These were considered by the whole 12, and we declined subscription. We must take the consequences. I know not what they will be. I am very quiet & easy in mind. The way of duty is very plain— and to do nothing is easy."
Ivan Turchaninov was born into a Don Cossack family in the Russian Empire. In 1856, he and his wife immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Chicago and worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. John Basil Turchin, as he was now known, joined the Union army at the outbreak of the war in 1861 and became the colonel of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His unit was under the command of the newly organized Army of the Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell, who was impressed by Turchin. Buell promoted him to command a brigade in the Army of the Ohio's Third Division, commanded by General Mitchel.
|John Basil Turchin|
The list of charges from The Official Record of the War of the Rebellion includes details of his soldiers' actions:
A party entered the dwelling of Milly Ann Clayton and opened all the trunks, drawers, and boxes of every description, and taking out the contents thereof, consisting of wearing apparel and bed-clothes, destroyed, spoiled, or carried away the same. They also insulted the said Milly Ann Clayton and threatened to shoot her, and then proceeding to the kitchen they there attempted an indecent outrage on the person of her servant girl.
A squad of soldiers went to the office of R.C. David and plundered it of about $1,000 in money and of much wearing apparel, and destroyed a stock of books, among which was a lot of fine Bibles and Testaments, which were torn, defaced, and kicked about the floor and trampled under foot.
For six or eight hours that day squads of soldiers visited the dwelling house of Thomas S. Malone, breaking open his desk and carrying off or destroying valuable papers, notes of hand, and other property, to the value of about $4,500, more or less, acting rudely and violently toward the females of the family. This last was done chiefly by the men of Edgarton’s battery. The plundering of saddles, bridles, blankets, etc., was by the Thirty-seventh Indiana Volunteers.
The store of Madison Thompson was broken open and plundered of a stock of goods worth about $3,000, and his stable was entered, and corn, oats, and fodder taken by different parties, who on his application for receipts replied “that they gave receipts at other places, but intended that this place should support them,” or words to that effect.
Squads of soldiers, with force of arms, entered the private residence of John F. Malone, and forced open all the locks of the doors, broke open all the drawers to the bureaus, the secretary, sideboard, wardrobes, and trunks in the house, and rifled them of their contents, consisting of valuable clothing, silver-ware, silver-plate, jewelry, a gold watch and chain, etc., and in the performing of these outrages they used coarse, vulgar, and profane language to the females of the family. These squads came in large numbers and plundered the house thoroughly. They also broke open the law office of said Malone and destroyed his safe and damaged his books. A part of this brigade went to the plantation of the above-named Malone and quartered in the negro huts for weeks, debauching the females and roaming with the males over the surrounding country to plunder and pillage.
A party of this command entered the house of R.S. Irwin and ordered his wife to cook dinner for them, and while she and her servant were so engaged they made the most indecent and beastly propositions to the latter in the presence of the whole family, and when the girl went away they followed her in the same manner, notwithstanding her efforts to avoid them.
Mrs. Hollinsworth’s house was entered and plundered of clothing and other property by several parties, and some of the men fired into the house and threatened to burn it, and used violent and insulting language toward the said Mrs. Hollinsworth. The alarm and excitement occasioned miscarriage and subsequently her death.
Several soldiers came to the house of Mrs. Charlotte Hine and committed rape on the person of a colored girl and then entered the house and plundered it of all the sugar, coffee, preservers, and the like which they could find. Before leaving they destroyed or carried off all the pictures and ornaments they could lay their hands on.
The house of J.H. Jones was entered by Colonel Mihalotzy, of the Twenty-fourth Illinois Volunteers, who behaved rudely and coarsely to the ladies of the family. He then quartered two companies of infantry in the house. About one hour after Captain Edgarton quartered his artillery company in the parlors, and these companies plundered the house of all provisions and clothing they could lay their hands on, and spoiled the furniture and carpets maliciously and without a shadow of reason, spoiling the parlor carpets by cutting bacon on them, and the piano by chopping joints on it with an axe, the beds by sleeping in them with their muddy boots on. The library of the house was destroyed, and the locks of the bureaus, secretaries, wardrobes, and trunks were all forced and their contents pillaged.
|Don Carlos Buell|
One of Gen. Mitchell's brigades is commanded by Col Turchin of Illinois. Turchin is an old European soldier, a Prussian by birth, an accomplished soldier but loose in his morals. His own regiment, the 19th Illinois, forms part of his brigade. "Since it has been in the service, the 19th Illinois has continually disgraced itself by committing depredations on citizens and especially upon Secessionists. At Bowling Green, their conduct was so outrageous, that Gen. Mitchell was compelled to interfere, and did so effectively. The regiment behaved themselves thereafter.
After Gen. Mitchell's arrival in Alabama, he dispatched Turchin, with his brigade, to Athens. The troops were constantly subjected to assassination by the citizens of that town. Almost every hour, soldiers were murdered in cold blood, by assassins who could not be discovered. Turchin became enraged, and one day let his men loose upon the town. As the story goes, he agreed to "shut his eyes" for two hours. The revenge of the men was fearful, no one being spared in the excesses which followed, and there is no doubt that crimes of a very grave character were perpetrated by the soldiery, especially by the 19th Illinois. At the end of the two hours, Turchin "opened his eyes" and the excesses ceased.
"I hope you will find Col. Turchin guilty of nothing unpardonable... severity and sternness should be turned to the punishment of rebels for the barbarities committed on our boys rather than to the punishment of our own... It seems very strange that as soon as a man begins to accomplish something in the way of putting down the rebellion he is recalled, or superseded, or disgraced in some way."
However, for the previous several weeks, Turchin's wife and influential Illinois statesmen had been seeking redress in Washington, D.C. Their efforts were successful: Secretary of War Edwin Stanton recommended to Congress that Turchin be promoted to brigadier general. The promotion became official in mid-July and invalidated the court martial verdict because officers could only be tried by equals or superior officers. As a result of the promotion, Turchin outranked six of the court's seven members.
|Jesse Smith Norton|
|Union Dock at Hilton Head|
“Good colored people, you have a great work to do, and you are in a position of responsibility. This experiment is to give you freedom, position, homes, your families, property, your own soil. It seems to me a better time is coming … a better day is dawning.”
~ Orsmby Mitchel
|U.S. General Hospital, Hilton Head, 1863|
Mitchel died in Beaufort, South Carolina of yellow fever on October 30, 1862. He was 52 years old.
|Mitchel family plot in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York|
LOVE GOD SUPREMELY AND EACH OTHER MOST DEEPLY ARE YOUR FATHER'S DYING WORDS
|Mitchel's Grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, New York|
In 1865, President Andrew Johnson ended the Port Royal Experiment, returning the land to its previous white owners.
MGS Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) observations of this region show the bright "Mountains of Mitchel" to be a somewhat elevated region of rough, heavily cratered southern highlands. However, the "Mountains of Mitchel" do not appear to be "mountains." There are other areas nearby at similar elevation that do not retain frost well into southern spring. Part of the Mountains of Mitchel feature includes a prominent, south-facing scarp (at center-left) that would tend to retain frost longer in the spring because it is somewhat protected from sunlight (which comes from the north). The persistence of frost on the Mountains of Mitchel remains mysterious, but new observations from the MGS MOC are helping to unravel the story. Thus far, it seems that the frost here, for whatever reason, tends to be brighter than frost in most other places within the polar cap.
After the Civil War broke out, the Cincinnati Observatory ceased operation, and remained dormant until 1868, with the appointment of Cleveland Abbe as its new director. Abbe strongly urged that the Observatory be moved, since the Mt. Adams site had been rendered unsuitable due to the heated air, smoke, and dust of the rapidly-growing city. At this time he also established a system of daily weather reports and storm predictions, earning him the nickname "Old Probabilities". His work impressed the federal government so much that he was summoned to Washington to establish the United States Weather Bureau, and the Observatory was once again shut down.
In 1871 the University of Cincinnati took over control of the Observatory, and began its move to a new location at Mt. Lookout, a few miles away. The move was complete in 1873, and the original cornerstone of the old observatory became part of the new building, built by Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford.
|The Observatory at Mt. Lookout|
|The Observatory and Mitchel Building|
|The Mitchel Building, Cincinnati Observatory|
|The 1843 Merz und Mahler 11-inch refractor in the Mitchel Building|
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky was also named for him. The original town of Fort Mitchell was incorporated in March 1910. Through an oversight, the name of the town was spelled with two L’s. The exact location of Fort Mitchel is believed to have been on the hill between the end of Summit Lane and Barrington Road near the Dixie Highway. It was one of 23 Civil War forts and batteries manned by the Union armies and located on the hills and ridges of Northern Kentucky.
There are plans for a permanent, national "freedom park", at Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island, to include a heritage and educational center, archaeological digs, genealogy research, statues, and replicas of the "freedmen's" cottages, school and prayer house. Mitchelville Preservation Project, a non-profit organisation, wants Mitchel's actions honored, and recognition for the slaves who risked their lives fleeing to Hilton Head.
Two of the campaigners are Priscilla Mitchel and Johnnie Mitchell. Priscilla, 53, is a direct descendant of Ormsby Mitchel, and Johnnie, 65, is the direct descendant of slaves he freed. Their shared names are no coincidence. "Ex-slaves tended to take the names of good white people who had been nice to them," explains Johnnie, whose husband's slave ancestors were named after the general. "Meeting Priscilla was like meeting family, family that I didn't know but loved and cherished, we just bonded as sisters."
|A BENCH BY THE ROAD|
The Mitchelville Preservation Project
Hilton Head, South Carolina
April 16, 2013