Ormsby MacNight Mitchell

Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel was born July 28, 1809, in a log cabin on the site of the present town of Morganfield, Kentucky. When Mitchel was an infant, his father died and his widowed mother moved to Lebanon, Ohio, where he obtained his early education and in turn began to support himself by clerking in a store in nearby Xenia. Mitchel would have been accounted an exceptionally bright student in any contemporary high school, and in 1825 secured an appointment to West Point from which he was graduated in 1829. In the next seven years he served as an instructor at West Point, was married, studied law, was admitted to the bar, resigned from the army, moved to Cincinnati, and became a member of the faculty of Cincinnati College, where he taught astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics, and devoted some time to railroad projects. But it was as a popularizer and dedicated student of astronomy that Mitchel's main claim to fame rests. He was corapellingly articulate on his favorite subject, arousing enthusiasm throughout the nation. Largely responsible for establishing the Naval Observatory and the Harvard Observatory, he also directed the Cincinnati Observatory and the Dudley Observatory at Albany. On August 9, 1861, President Lincoln appointed him a brigadier general of volunteers and he was assigned to command of the Department of the Ohio, which would soon be absorbed into Buell's Army of the Cumberland. Thereafter General Mitchel fought in no battle, but in March, 1862, seized the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at Huntsville, Alabama, and sent raiding expeditions to Stevenson and Decatur, Alabama, which temporarily secured the track to the Union forces. For this exploit he was made a major general to rank from April 11, 1862, but differences soon became apparent between himself and General D. C. Buell, who pronounced the management and control of his division as highly wanting in discipline. Mitchel tendered his resignation, but it was not accepted, and on September 17, 1862, he was transferred to command of the miniscule Department of the South and the X Corps, with headquarters at Hilton Head, South Carolina. There he came down with yellow fever and died at Beaufort, October 30, 1862. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.