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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Maj. Gen. Ormsby Macknight Mitchel

We commence our sketches of the illustrious dead, with a name distinguished for scientific culture, earnest patriotism, tender humanity and devoted piety. Rarely do so many intellectual gifts and Christian virtues meet in the same person, as adorn the character of Gen. Mitchel. His mind moved among the stars, and caught their brilliancy. His thoughts partook of the harmony and grandeur of the worlds and systems that he explored. His character was pure, his sentiments generous and lofty, and his love of country was second only to his love of God. Before the war, his discoveries and contributions to astronomical science had rendered him eminent as an American scholar. His popular lectures made him a favorite with all, and inspired his hearers with a love for the beauties and sublimities of astronomy, and with adoration for the Creator and his marvelous works.

The parents of our hero resided, before his birth, in Virginia. His father was a man of no ordinary intelligence and enterprise, and had a decided taste for mathematical pursuits. His mother was a woman of pleasing address, superior mental attainments, and earnest piety. Mr. Mitchel having lost his property, moved west, and located in Union county, Kentucky. There he erected a rude habitation, and on the 28th of August, 1810, his son, Ormsby Macknight Mitchel, was born. When the child was three years of age, his father was called away by death, and the orphan boy was left to struggle with the obstacles and difficulties that early beset his path. The family, in their deep affliction, moved immediately to Ohio, with the hope of adding to their means of support, and settled in the town of Miama. Ormsby was sent to school, and so rapidly did he advance in his studies, that in some branches he soon surpassed his country teachers. At the age of twelve years he had mastered the Latin and Greek languages, acquired the elements of mathematics, and gained considerable knowledge in other departments. For the want of means to continue his studies, he entered a store as clerk. But the dull routine of the duties in a country store did not satisfy his ardent and aspiring nature. On removing to Lebanon, Warren county, he formed the purpose to gain admission, if possible, to the military academy at West Point. Through the influence of friends he was successful in gaining the appointment. To one who said to him: We have had many of our boys go to West Point, but few of them get through;" Mr. Ormsby, with calm self-reliance, replied: " I shall go through sir.''

The journey, at that time, from Ohio to West Point, was attended with many difficulties, and especially for a lad without money or friends to aid him. But our young hero pushed his way through the wilderness, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, and at last upon the canal boat, that brought him to Albany on Saturday night. Having previously determined to live a Christian life, and to obey all God's commands, he rested on the Sabbath, and was entertained by his relatives. On Monday he went to West Point, and arrived there with his knapsack on his back and twenty-five cents in his pocket. Instead of property and worldly advantages, he commenced his career, equipped with personal energy, an honorable ambition, and firm Christian principles. Possessing these elements of character, he had the very best armor, for a youth, with which to fight the battles of life, and win the most valuable prizes. On the 23rd of June, 1825, he was, after a satisfactory examination, admitted to the military academy, being then not fifteen years of age. The law required that candidates should be a year older, but, as a special favor, it was in his case suspended. At once he devoted himself to study with great diligence, perseverance and success. Among his associates in the academy were several of the generals who have distinguished themselves in the late war, both in our own and in the rebel service. Among the latter were Jefferson Davis, Robt. E. Lee and Joseph Johnson. In 1829, cadet Mitchel graduated with honor, and so high was the estimate placed upon his talents and character, that he was very soon appointed assistant professor of mathematics in the academy. This position he held two years, and was then stationed with the army at St. Augustine, in Florida. There life was too monotonous for his active and ambitious spirit, and having no prospect of usefulness or distinction before him, he resigned on 30th of September, 1832.

While connected with the army he married Mrs. Trask, formerly Miss Louisa Clark, of Cornwall, on the Hudson river; a lady of superior intelligence, rare attainments and devoted piety. He moved with his wife to Cincinnati, where he opened an office as counselor at law, and practiced until the year 1834. Here he connected himself wuth the church, under the care of the Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher, and was identified with the religious interests of the city.

The Cincinnati college having become established in 1834, Mr. Mitchel was elected professor of mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. Here he had a field suited to his taste and genius. His ardor, in the noble study of the science of the heavenly bodies, was greatly quickened. He infused his enthusiasm into the minds of his pupils, by whom he was greatly loved and admired. In addition to the duties of his professorship, he filled the office of chief engineer of the Little Miami railroad, from 1836 to 1837. Thus in time of peace he was learning lessons that, years afterwards, would enable him, amid the stern realities of war, to render the most valuable services to his country.

In the prosecution of his astronomical studies. Professor Mitchel felt the need of an observatory, and in 1832 he bent his energies towards obtaining the means for the erection of a great astronomical observatory in Cincinnati. He prepared and delivered a series of lectures upon astronomy, that were received with the greatest enthusiasm. As his clear intellect moved with the planets, and searched for the secret laws of nature among the mysteries of the stars; as his pure soul reflected, as a burnished mirror, the beauties and sublimities of God's wonderful works; as he labored to weave out of language, garments with which to clothe his own grand ideas of the distances in space, and of the magnitude and mission of the far-off worlds; as he poured forth, in burning eloquence, his almost inspired thoughts of the attributes and perfections of the Infinite Author of all material systems, and intelligent beings,—thousands listened in breathless attention, and with emotions of the highest delight. Not only did he gain the means for carrying forward his favoriteproject, but he gave an impetus, in the popular mind, to thescience of astronomy, that is felt to this day. In speaking of Professor Mitchel as a man of science, an able writer says that he " was an ardent investigator, and an eminently practical inventor. Fully imbued with the poetry of science, delighting in the lofty picturesques of astronomic thought; abounding in the rarest imagery in his public teachings; his truest sphere was in the mechanism of the means for scientific observation and labor. To prepare himself as the director of the observatory, he had studied and mastered the higher astronomical mathematics, and was thoroughly conversant with the history of the science. To qualify himself as a public teacher, he had resolved the most difficult problems into such forms, and such lucid language, as to make them clear to many who had regarded it impossible to comprehend them. To give himself facility in observing, he had studied under Professor Airey, the astronomer royal of England, at Greenwich; and to understand the scientific relations of astronomy as they appear in the cosmogony of the universe, he had investigated those sister sciences which, while they are distinct elements of the great subject, came forward, in harmonious concourse, to cast their tribute at the feet of Him, who dictated the record of Moses."

Without describing the various steps in the enterprise, which resulted in the erection of the Cincinnati observatory, now justly called the Mitchel Observatory, it is sufficient to state, that the corner stone of the pier that was to sustain the great telescope, was laid by the Hon. John Quincy Adams, on the ninth of November, 1843. The telescope reached safely the city of Cincinnati in February, 1845, and in the following March the building was in readiness for its reception. In the prosecution of this great undertaking, Professor Mitchel had exhausted all his private means. He had overcome obstacles and difficulties that would have utterly discouraged ordinary men. He had labored on, month after month, and year after year, sustained only by the sleepless energy of his own soul, and by the hope of success that inspires every truly great mind. But the desire of his heart was accomplished. He was permitted to gaze upon the triumph of his genius and enthusiasm, as expressed in the beautiful temple crowning the lofty hill-top, and consecrated to science, to the universe, and to God. He had been instrumental in opening upon this continent, a new pathway to the skies, along which thought and aspiration might travel to distant worlds and systems. The hour was one of joy and exultation. But as the professor had learned that the brightest sun might be eclipsed, so he was soon to learn that the bright sun of prosperity might grow dim, and our most cherished plans he thwarted hy an unseen hand. He had agreed to superintend the observatory for ten years, without remuneration, and to depend for his support upon his salary as professor in the college. But in a sad hour the college was destroyed by fire, and he was left penniless! The temple enshrining the clear telescopic eye, stood serene upon the lofty eminence, but the high priest of science could not enter. His intellect, with its keen vision, was left to him. His energies had not been consumed in the conflagration. His knowledge of the stars had not been turned into ashes. His trust in God was not gone. But his means of support were cut off; and what can he do? Hear him, in his own language: " It was impossible," he said, " to abandon the observatory. The college could not be rebuilt, at least for several years, and in this emergency I found it necessary to seek some means of support least inconsistent with my duties in the observatorY. My public lectures at home had been comparatively well received, and after much hesitation, it was resolved to make an experiment elsewhere. For five years I had been pleading the cause of science among those little acquainted with its technical language. I had become habituated to the use of such terms as were easily understood; and probably to this circumstance more than to any other one thing, am I indebted for any success which may have attended my public lectures. To the citizens of Boston, Brooklyn, New York and New Orleans, for the kindness with which they were pleased to receive my imperfect efforts, I am deeply indebted."

After a most brilliant career through these and other cities, Professor Mitchel accepted an appointment from the Ohio and Mississippi railroad company, as conhdential agent to attend to their business in Europe. In 1844 he surveyed this road, and in 1853 he went to Europe, and again in 1854, to transact business for the company. On his return he had charge of the eastern division of the railroad, and managed its affairs with great success.

In the summer of 1860, he was chosen director of the Dudley observatory, that adorns our own city. The land for this noble edilice was generously given by Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, and towards the building Mrs. Blandina Dudley gave $13,000, while other individuals increased the amount to $25,000. But while the professor was maturing his plans, for giving the greatest possible success to this observatory, the trumpet of war stirred his patriotic heart, and a sense of duty prompted him to tender to the Government his military knowledge, and his personal services, for the defence of the country. It was, indeed, hard for him to relinquish his scientitic pursuits, for which nature had so eminently endowed his intellect; it was hard for him to tear himself away from his cherished wife, and the delights of a fond home; it was hard for him to give up the brilliant future that was opening before him in the regions of astronomical investigation and discovery; but in the hour of his country's peril, he was ready to sacrifice all for her interests. And although the military career of Gen. Mitchel was short, yet it was long enough to prove that he was a whole-hearted patriot; a superior disciplinarian; a brave soldier, and a noble and successful commander.

For the details of his military life, we are indebted to William P. Prentice, Esq. of New York city, who has furnished such facts as came within his own personal knowledge. These we give mainly in his own language.

On the ninth of August, 1861, Prof. Mitchel was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, and was ordered to report to General Franklin, on the Potomac. He was, however, almost immediately relieved, at the request of western men, and sent to Cincinnati, as commander of the department of the Ohio. Here everything was in confusion, and destruction seemed coming down from Kentucky to sweep away the city and its State. There were no soldiers and no supplies. Quartermasters and commissaries were deeply in debt, having been plundered by miserable contractors, and in every quarter there was need of such a man as now began to lead.

Night and day he was at work, using others' powers as well as his own, organizing and directing whatever was to be done. He seemed almost to create artillery. As by magic, there came up regiments of foot, and marched to the front in Kentucky, seizing the railroads and mountain passes. Cincinnati, at once, had the fortifications which have twice since proved her safety. Mr. Cameron, the Secretary, moved by the change wrought by this "live man," as he called him, and urged by the General and those who clearly saw the course of the rebellion, ordered an expedition to Cumberland Gap, which, it was afterwards proved, must certainly have been a great success, by dividing the Confederacy, saving Eastern Tennessee, and cutting off the rebel supplies from the west.

But the delays, opposing counsel, and final countermand which this and other movements met, led the General to urge the consolidation of the departments in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, in which he offered to take a subordinate place. The new department, called that of the Ohio, was created, and Gen. BueL made its commander. Gen. Mitchel was second in rank.

On the thirteenth of December, 1861, Gen. Mitchel took command of the third division, army of the Ohio, and led it through Elizabethtown to Bacon creek, where he lay for six weeks, drilling and exercising his men, until he had certainly the finest division in the western army.

He planned and urged the attack on Bowling Green, and leaving Bacon creek February 11th, 1862, though held back at Green river, he captured it on the fourteenth, while Buel's main army was on the march to Donelson. This fell, and Nashville surrendered to Gen. Mitchel February 23d.

To him also belongs the credit of the march upon and surprise of Huntsville, one of the most important movements of the war. For very soon Decatur and Bridgeport, with their bridges across the Tennessee; Tuscumbia, through which water communication with our army at Pittsburg Landing was opened, and a flank attack on the rebel line of retreat offered; Rogersville on the Elk river, and Winchester in the mountains, were ours.

Had these been held by the united western forces as they should have been, and as Gen. Mitchel desired, the consequences would have been far different from what they were to our cause in Tennessee.

The defence and government of the General's district of Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama, continued from April 11th to July 6th, when he was ordered to Washington, with a view to his employment in Virginia.

The plan of an inroad upon Georgia, and a campaign in that State and Eastern Tennessee, in 1862, met with the approval of the Government, and was filed in the Secretary of War's office. It will be found to have been of similar and equal promise to that of Gen. Sherman.

But the conflicting counsels at Washington were in the way of all work in the summer of 1862. In August, the Mississippi river expedition was ordered for Gen. Mitchel, and he was about to embark with some thirty thousand troops for a campaign which would have been short, and decisive of great results, if we can trust the evidence now before us; but Gen. Halleck was called to the chief command, and every new project was for the time abandoned.

It was a strange thing to see such a man as Gen. Mitchel idle, and, as a forlorn hope it seemed, he was in September sent to the department of the south. Matters there were in a bad state. Military misrule had produced a general discontent. The soldiers were a prey to the climate; and the listlessness of camplife, while the freedmen corrupted by their idleness, gave little promise of improvement or work.

The General landed at Port Royal September 16th. He began at once the reorganization of the tenth army corps, and very soon began to make for it a history, with new energy and hope.

Four expeditions met with such success that the campaign against Charleston and Savannah was about to open. With reinforcements of twenty thousand men, sustained in its inception with great confidence by the government, and entered upon with enthusiasm by our troops, the first stroke, that against Pocotaligo, succeeded well. Three expeditions, organized jointly by the army and navy, were at once to follow, led by the Commodore and the General, for the purpose of cutting off Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Mobile from mutual support. Charleston and Savannah would then have been attacked from the land side, positions on the coast gradually occupied, and expeditions sent into the interior. But while in the midst of these plans and others that contemplated the protection and elevation of the colored people, our hero was prostrated by sickness. On Sunday, the twenty-sixth of October, 1862, he was attacked by the yellow fever in Beaufort, S. C, and on the thirtieth of the same month he expired.

His death, so sudden and unexpected, produced the greatest consternation and sorrow among all classes, white and black. Just as difficulties that had embarrassed efficient action in the past had been settled, and the brightest prospects were opened before our forces, the beloved leader was snatched away.

Gen. Mitchel's civil policy was not inferior to that of his military government. His schemes and efforts for the benefit of the negroes were eminently practical and successful; and as a leader, he was looked up to by them with great entliusiasm and hope. They gave him their best assistance, and soberly entered upon their great task. They built for him his first model village, and took part in that social system of which he made the family and the church the centres. Soon peaceful industry would have overcome the ruin shown on every side, against which, up to this time, almost nothing had been done. The grandeur and practical "wisdom of his plans will be recognized in his correspondence, invited by the President, the Secretary of the Treasury and some of his New York friends, which will hereafter, it is hopcd, be published.

It is to be observed in reviewing his course, that while be used gloriously every opportunity, be was always found capable of greater things. The rays of his genius were seen struggling through every cloud, and breaking out into the light of noonday. His powers of organization, and energetic, successful government, displayed in the departments of the Ohio and of the south, mark him as of high administrative ability. Tbe plan of the Cumberland Gap expedition; the captures of Bowling Green, Nashville and Huntsville; the plan of the campaign on the line of the Mempbis and Charleston railroad, were all his; and also the plan of the Chattanooga and Georgia campaign, which would bave saved the country untold misery. To him also belongs the credit of initiating such a campaign against Charleston as afterwards proved a success. These alone distinguish him as a great commander.

As a leader be was unsurpassed; be seemed of electrical presence; he always led; he marched like the thundercloud, and struck like the lightning. It was his lot never to have had to retreat, although not neglectful of its possibility. Observing every precaution and watching the details of every movement, few could be so sure as he. If the burning of Decatur and Bridgeport bridges should be called an exception, this unnecessary action, it is to be remembered, was by command of Generals Buel and Halleck, and against Gen. Mitchel's own counsel.

He was just and merciful in the use of power, although he sought strenuously to maintain perfect discipline. The devotion of his soldiers to him is well known; and Union feeling followed him in the southwest, as was seen before and after the outbreak at Athens, in which the eighth brigade, then detached, was implicated. His cotton bridges, his improvised steamboats and gunboats, his plan of defence for railroads, his system of scouts among the negroes, his feats in railroad building, his extraordinary marches, show his invincibility by obstacles. His passages of the rivers at Mumfordsville and Bowling Green were indeed grand, and show his masterly power. Think of twelve hundred feet of heavy bridging being created in ten days; three hundred feet in twenty-four hours; a flatboat made a steam gunboat, for the shoals of the Tennessee river, in three or four days; pontoons put on the Elk river in eight days; a river steamer made a gunboat at Charleston, and almost impregnable by the use of chains, as afterwards the Kearsage, in thirty-six hours ! Such things seem dreams rather than realities.

It is proper to add that the Georgia railway expedition, socalled, owed neither its inception nor organization to Gen. Mitchel, he having been simply furnished with men from the third division by the special orders of Gen. Buel.

Fortunately, all the records of his military history have been carefully preserved. Among them the original dispatches and orders by him received are to be seen; and the copies of his orders and correspondence. For every doubtful act he sought and had the concurrence of the government, and he was cordially sustained by the friends of the Nation and of truth.

Gen. Mitchel was an earnest Christian soldier, and was ever ready to engage in every good work. In the southwest, daily prayers were offered up with each regiment, except when circumstances rendered it impossible. Public services were also established on the Sabbath, and at his meals the divine blessing was invoked.

He had a soul that could hear the cries of humanity, and respond by toil and sacrifices for the helpless and unfortunate. For the education and happiness of the freedmen committed to his charge, he did what he could; and at the last great day many of the recipients of his benevolence will be ready to rise up and pronounce him blessed. At the moment the breath left his body science lost a rare ornament; the army mourned for a skillful and brave soldier; humanity wept for an earnest defender and advocate, and the church lost a true Christian and humble follower of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The writings which he has left we would earnestly recommend to the lovers of science, and to all who would enlarge their views of the grandeurs and splendors of the universe. Among them are his "Planetary and Stellar Worlds; " his "Treatise on Algebra;" his "Popular Astronomy," and "The Astronomy of the Bible," which has been published since his death. In reading the latter beautiful and eloquent work, we cannot but think of the spirit of our departed Christian hero as now moving amid those splendid regions, gathering fresh stores of knowledge from the vast fields that are open, and rejoicing in the love of that God, whom he delighted to serve with his genius and his heart while he was a resident of this earth.

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