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John C.

Australian  Veterans

The story of the Mitchel Boys and their service with the Confederate States Army, begins with the father; John Mitchell, the son of a Presbyterian Minister who was exiled to Van Dieman’s Land in Tasmania, Australia and who was one of Ireland’s most well known rebels. His story began in the early 1850’s in Tasmania, during which seven Irish political prisoners, known in England as “The Young Irelanders”, were being incarcerated. The seven had been brought up on charges for their continued refusal to accept British rule over Ireland and their ongoing harassment and demonstrations against the Crown. When brought before the bench, John Mitchel was the first to be adjudicated. He was a highly educated individual, a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, held a full degree in Law, and at the time of his arrest was the lead writer for ‘The United Irishman’; Ireland’s nationalist newspaper.

John had been travelling around the Irish countryside observing the devastation wrought by the ‘Potato Famine’ and as with others, became extremely critical of the British Government and its Irish henchmen; calling upon the people in public demonstrations to rise up against the oppressive British rule and stop the exporting of Irish produce to England while the British allowed the Irish population to starve. Eventually the British government moved against the ‘Young Irelanders’ and John and six others were arrested. Banished from his homeland, Mitchel said;

"An exile in my circumstances is a branch cut from its tree; it is dead and has but an affectation of life."

The British law under which they were arrested was created ex post facto; specifically to incarcerate John Mitchell. They were all charged with sedition and sentenced by a British court to fourteen years; being separated from his co-conspirators and sent to a prison hulk off the island of Bermuda. During his incarceration Mitchel unburdened his thoughts into the pages of his ‘Jail Journal’. While aboard the hulk, however, John developed asthma and almost died, requiring he be moved to avoid his death; eventually arriving at the penal colony in Tasmania. Upon his arrival John was reunited with his six comrades, who had been sent directly to Tasmania, and Governor Denison of Tasmania agreed to allow John to move in with his close friend and fellow ‘seditioner’ John Martin; in the Bothwell, Tasmania area.

After a long period of recovery from his bout with asthma, John made an appeal to the Governor to be allowed to bring his family from Ireland to be with him. His appeal was granted and his wife Jeannie and their five children were soon in route for Tasmania as well. In anticipation of their arrival, John leased a small parcel of land in Bothwell and established a new home at ‘Nant Cottage’. After his family’s arrival the Mitchell’s lived at Nant Cottage for some three years and were socially accepted by the community. John continued to meet with his former colleagues, making two trips to ‘New Norfolk’ with one of his sons to meet with the leader of the movement on Van Dieman’s Island; William Smith O’Brien who had his residence there.

At the time wealthy Irishmen from New York who called themselves ‘The Directory’, were formulating plans for the escape of O’Brien and his men from Van Dieman’s Island. Two of

his men, Terrance Bellew McManus and Patrick O’Donoghue had already arranged their own escape to America, followed soon after by Thomas Francis Meagher. The topic of escaping from their island prison had become an obsession. Devising a plan of escape for a number of the collaborators, but unable to accommodate them all, William Smith O’Brien rejected his bid for freedom; insisting during a meeting at Glen Derwent, that John Mitchel take his place.

Enduring several months of aborted escapes, for one reason and another, a final plan was eventually carried out. James, John’s brother, had ridden to Hobart without anyone knowing of the plan and had returned with ‘Shipping News’; revealing what ships were in port, which were sailing out, when and to where. With that information in hand the escapees made their way to Hobart, quietly boarded a ship and he made yhis way to Sydney, through Tahiti, on to San Francisco and then New York. With the assistance of many Tasmanian settlers the escape plan had been put into effect and was carried out successfully.

Upon arriving in New York in 1853, John was welcomed like a returning prince by the Irish and as the civil war dispute in America grew in ferocity, John lined up on the side of the South. John hated capitalists, he hated socialists and he hated the English, as everyone knew; but he hated the Yankees no less.

"I despise the civilization of the nineteenth century," he said, "and its two highest expressions and grandest hopes most especially."

In New York he continued his career as a newspaperman and voiced loudly his opinions in print. Right or wrong, John claimed slavery was an acceptable policy; even claiming many slaves were actually healthier and better treated than many of the cities poor and rural ‘hillbillies’. Although he was right in many cases, his views set him apart from most Northerners; but John refused to back off his beliefs. In the Southern states, however, John and his writings were heralded as a hero. He extended his antipathy to all abolitionists in general, whom he considered a sub-branch of the Know-Nothing party. To make his opinion heard, he started a proslavery newspaper in New York; the Citizen.

Through the spring and summer of 1854 there was a lengthy public feud in his press with Gavan Duffy and a fight with Archbishop Hughes of New York; running in instalments through many months. Mitchel wrote to the archbishop;

"The Constitution of America (which may God long preserve!) happily fixes a bit between the teeth of you all; and clips your claws and draws your fangs. . . . Although your Grace should wear a Hat as red as fire, you will hardly in our times preside at an auto da fe in the Park."

His newspaper could not survive his manic pace, and before the year was out Mitchell was forced to sell the Citizen and move on. In a farewell article he wrote;

"The `Alabama Plantation' swept off ten thousand readers at one blow."

But John had made good friends elsewhere and was invited to visit Virginia. There

he saw the "luckiest, jolliest, and freest negroes on the face of the earth," and learned that "the cause of negro slavery is the cause of true philanthropy."

With the outbreak of the American War of Southern Independence, referred to by the north as the Civil War, John moved to Richmond, Virginia as editor of the Enquirer and later the Examiner. He believed the South's prospects were excellent, and argued that the North, like old England, was financially bankrupt if the truth were known. He said "the greenbacks support the war and the war supports the greenbacks." With the outbreak of war John sent his sons to fight with the Confederate Army, and all of the Mitchel boys immediately enlisted. John C. enlisted in the 1st South Carolina Permanent Artillery, which was the Light Artillery; and Sgt/Capt James and William Mitchell enlisted in

the 1st Virginia Infantry Co. E. and later served in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry. They enlisted in the Edgefield District on April 15, 1862. James was wounded in Virginia in 1864 and Paroled in Augusta, Georgia on May 19, 1865.

Captain James Mitchel survived three years with Lee, Private William Mitchel enlisted in Pickett's division, Army of Northern Virginia and died at Gettysburg, Captain John Mitchel died of wounds at Fort Sumter at the close of the wa and the father, John Mitchell served in the Ambulance Corps.

The War of Southern Independence began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861; the majority of the shelling directed from Fort Moultrie and the 1st Carolina Artillery positioned there. John Mitchel, Jr. was there; under Beauregard. Immediately the local newspaper, the “Charleston Mercury”, reported on April 13, 1861 who had fired the first ‘effective’ shot of the war;

“Fort Moultrie left its mark upon Fort Sumter. Many of its shells were dropped into that fort, and Lieut. John Mitchell, the worthy son of that patriot sire, who has so nobly vindicated the South, had the honour of dismounting two of its parapet guns by a single shot from one of the Columbiads, which at the time he had the office of directing.”

The Commander in charge of the guns stated;

“To Lieutenant Mitchel, under my command,  belongs the honour of having first dismounted two guns for Anderson at one shot”

After other outstanding efforts during the battle, ‘Captain’ John Mitchel was cited for conspicuous gallantry by a special resolution of the legislature. It was while acting as Major and Officer commanding Fort Sumter that John Mitchel, Jr. was fatally wounded by an exploding shell fragment; on July 20, 1864. John Mitchell died as an Australian fighting for the Confederacy, in an illegal war of oppression over states rights to secede from the union; as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Today Captain John C. Mitchel, lies in Charleston, South Carolina’s Magnolia Cemetery; the outline of his grave plot a miniature of the famous fort in the harbor. On March 2, 2002 an ‘Iron Cross’ ceremony was held honouring Capt. John C. Mitchel, an Irishman and an Australian of 1st Reg., SC Art. CSA. He died on the parapet of Fort Sumter during the bombardment, July 20, 1864.

His last dying words were; "I willingly give my life for South Carolina; Oh! that I could have died for Ireland." Captain John C. Mitchel was the third CSA commander of Fort Sumter and the coping around his grave is in the shape of the parapets, at Fort Sumter.

John Mitchel, Junior had outlived his youngest brother William, however, who was killed at Gettysburg in June 1863. Private William Mitchel received a mortal wound while carrying the flag of his regiment, one of several carriers on July 3, 1863, in Pickett's charge. He was killed during Longstreet's assault on July 3rd. Confederate companions found William’s body and wrapped it in a blanket; secured by three pins. To one of the pins was attached a simple note, "Private Mitchel, son of Irish patriot."

A Letter from his mother to James, after the war, revealed the details of his burial;

“… (Charles Joice said that) after the battle, he and three others going on the field looking for wounded soldiers. And that they found Willie rolled in a blanket pined with three pins- that his face had been washed and there was a slip of paper pinned to the blanket with his name W. J. Mitchel son of Irish patriot- with the help of a colored man they dug a grave on the banks of a small cabin (foundation) so close that no plow would ever disturb it- and laid him there and took the paper and fastened it to a piece of cracked board and hammered it there at the head of the grave. It was near a little brick house (Codori farm) that the body was found…..”

He lies buried in an unmarked grave somewhere by the Codori farmyard scarcely a hundred yards from the high water mark of the Confederacy. He was a studious individual that had been destined for academia and even during the war carried in his knapsack, collections of insects and butterflies; including some he had taken with him from Tasmania.

James Mitchel, the middle Mitchel son, received a devastating chest wound at Marye’s Heights in May 1863; but survived. He had been serving as Captain and Chief of Staff to General Gordon. After the war James became Marshall of the New York Fire Brigade and married Mary Purroy. Their son, John Purroy Mitchel, went on to become a noted politician, Mayor of New York City, the greatest city in the United States, was promoted by powerful political figures as a candidate for President of the United States in opposition to President Wilson and aviator; dieing while flying in 1918. At the entrance to New York’s Central Park a larger than life bust was erected in his honour. The father, John Mitchel, continued his work with the Ambulance Corp until the Battle of Appomattox.

Immediately after Appomattox, in 1864, John hastened north again and while all the northern newspapers were still in shock from Lincoln's assassination, he turned up in New York; ready to begin work as editor of the copperhead newspaper, the New York Daily News

He was appointed Editor of the New York Daily News and though the Civil War had ended, John Mitchell, Sr. never stopped being a seditionist. He continued in his capacity as Editor of the New York Daily News to attack northerners for their arrogant treatment of the defeated Southern people and for the imprisonment of the former President of the Confederacy; Jefferson Davis, who was kept locked away in Fort Monroe awaiting his trial for treason. His condemnation of the U.S. Government became so strong and vocal that he was forcibly removed from the offices of the Daily News, and without any charges being brought against him, taken aboard a Virginia-bound naval vessel before his friends could appear with a writ of habeas corpus; and was incarcerated in a cell along side President Jefferson Davis for several long months. John, the former resident of Nant Cottage, Bothwell, Tasmania and a frequenter of New Norfolk’s Bush Inn, had now been imprisoned on three continents. One of his sons, John, Jr. had fired the first effective shot of the war; another son, James, had ended up as head of the New York Fire Brigade even though he had lost an arm for the cause of the Confederacy. His grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, became Mayor of New York City; and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, in Bronx, New York.

Four months later Irish-American patriots applied pressure on Secretary of War Stanton and secured his release; on condition that he leave the United States. He agreed and upon his release went then to Paris, France where he received a letter from his son, Captain James, asking him to sit down and compose a vindication of the defeated South. John, however, had had enough of a lost cause and wrote his wife saying;

"I must admit that I grudge what it cost us . . . the lives of our two sons in defence of a country which, after all, was not their own."

He besieged his wife to stop James from making "a martyr of himself" - "it is quite a bad trade. . . . I had rather be a farmer." She conveyed his wishes and James underwent a transfiguration, emerging as a successful New York politician.

With the passing years John’s demoralization healed and he came back to life, taking on the role of an historian, and retraced his life leading to his 1848 downfall. The fruit of his efforts was a series of memoirs of his troubled times, beginning with "An Apology for the British Government in Ireland," published serially in 1858 and rewritten in 1860 as “The Last Conquest of Ireland”. In 1874 John Mitchel, the old revolutionary, was elected by the people of Tipperary to be their Member of Parliament. When the British government declared John ineligible, as he was a felon, Tipperary simply elected him again in 1875; but John boycotted anything English and refused to take his seat in London, preferring an Irish representative body. He died just days later and is buried in his parent's family plot in Newry, County Down. His wife died on December 31, 1899 and a Celtic cross dominates her large family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. Jeanie Mitchel, the daughter, survived all but Captain James Mitchel, and lies in a Paris convent yard; a convert to the Roman church.

The Mitchel family further impacted on Australia when John Mitchel’s sister, Margaret, migrated to Australia on the death of he husband; Hill Irvine. Her son, John Mitchel’s nephew, Sir William Hill Irvine became Premier of Victoria; only to be balloted out of a draw for the Prime Ministership. It was his portrait that won the 1933 Archibald Prize.

Though John Mitchel, or his sons John, William and James are not buried in Australia, they

were Australians and had an enormous impact during the American Civil War, on America; and on Australia after the war. It is therefore fitting they should all be remembered as Australian veterans of that great conflict; especially John, Jr., who fired the first effective shot against the illegal Union invasion during America’s greatest conflict. 


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SC 1st Light Artillery

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      to History,

The Gazette, newspaper, November 26, 2003

Pickett's Charge- The Last Attack at Gettysburg, Earl J. Hess

Private Willie Mitchel:An Irish Confederate Boy, The Wild Geese

The Poltics of Irish Literature, Malcolm Brown

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