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.
despise the civilization of the nineteenth century,"
"and its two highest expressions and grandest hopes most
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
But John had made good friends elsewhere and was invited to visit
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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;
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
martyr of himself" - "it is quite a bad trade. . . . I had rather be
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
published serially in 1858 and rewritten in 1860 as “The Last
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
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.