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Sketch of John C. Mitchel, of Ireland, killed whilst in command of Fort Sumter.

By Miss Claudine Rhett.
No one can read that simple sounding name, who knows anything of the modern history of Ireland and South Carolina, without feeling their hearts stir with thoughts and memories of patriotism, devotion and valor. We look back upon the past, and pause to remember the unostentatious, earnest, self-immolation of father and son. But it is chiefly of the son that we would write, the Confederate soldier who died upon the parapet of Fort Sumter, July 20th, 1864.

When he was eighteen years old his father was tried for “highs treason against the Crown” of England, and he asked and obtained permission to stand by his side in the dock, to show what he too felt and thought about Ireland's wrongs and woes.

His father owned a beautiful estate, which was confiscated when he was condemned (along with Smith O'Bryan and General Meagher) for their brave words to their countrymen. His household goods were put up and sold at auction, the gates thrown open to the public, and the vulgar gaze and careless touch of strangers desecrated the most personal possessions of the family. Portraits of those who were gone, love-tokens, souvenirs of childhood, favorite horses, beloved pets, all went under the hammer. Their home treasures were dispersed to the four winds of heaven, and their fireside was given to the alien.

After his conviction, John Mitchel was placed aboard of a transport and sent across seas to Australia, and his son again asked, and was granted, leave to accompany his father, that he might feel that a faithful heart was ready to share good or evil fortune with him.

There they remained for some time, and the young man's only pastime was kangaroo hunting. These poor animals afford very good [269] sport, but are occasionally dangerous. They can spring wonderfully far, and their fore-paws are armed with long curved claws, that tear terribly. On one of these hunting expeditions, when an unfortunate turned to bay against his pursuers, and stood upon his long hind-legs, with his absurd looking little fore paws hanging down in apparent help-lessness, whilst the great tears rolled from bis piteous brown eyes in his despairing wrath, Mitchel ventured too near, was sprung upon, and would soon have been killed had not one of the English officers dispatched the maddened creature promptly with a bullet.

His father left Australia under peculiar circumstances. He was allowed to go at large on “parole,” and thinking his conviction a most tyrannical and iniquitous proceeding on the part of the English Government, he determined to meet force by “ruse.” One day, when he had obtained a swift horse, he walked into the magistrate's office and said to him, “Mr. * * * * I have come to tell you that I will no longer be a prisoner on parole, I take back my word,” and before the surprised magistrate had time to arrest him he went out, mounted his horse and dashed off. He rode to the sea coast, took shipping in an American vessel and came over to the United States with his son. Of course everything had been prearranged by his friends, but he ventured the risk of being captured before he could get away and having a still harder sentence passed upon him. Would any of us be surprised if Mr. Parnell (who is at present an English prisoner, as Mr. Mitchel was then) did the same, under similar circumstances? Smith O'Bryan, a man of unquestioned honor, refused to receive the Queen's pardon some years later because John Mitchel's name was omitted from the list of “Irish agitators” who were graciously allowed by the English Government to return to Ireland.

Mr. Mitchel's family rejoined him in America, and they resided chiefly in Tennessee. He edited several newspapers with distinguished ability, and when the war between the States occurred he warmly advocated the cause of the South. Not long after the war in America ended he returned to Ireland, and, though ineligible, was elected to Parliament by an overwhelming majority of votes. And the people in their enthusiasm took the horses from his carriage and dragged it themselves through the streets. But the time for his last journey had drawn near, and a few days later, in the midst of his triumph, in the first flush of joy at his return after many long years of exile, comforted by the sympathy of those for whom he had suffered so much, he died, in the land of his nativity, that he had loved with such devoted fervor.

The subject of our sketch became a civil engineer, and after he came [270] to the United States was employed in several parts of the country laying out some of the railroads that bind our widely extended States together with their iron bands. As soon as war was declared, and the Confederate government took its seat at Montgomery, he and his two younger brothers offered their services, and all joined the Southern army. The youngest was subsequently killed at Gettysburg. James Mitchel served gallantly as the Adjutant of General Gordon's brigade of Georgia troops, and lost his right arm in one of the battles around Richmond. John Mitchel (our hero) received an appointment as Lieutenant from the Secretary of War at Montgomery, and was ordered to join the battalion of South Carolina Regular Artillery, stationed at Fort Moultrie. He took part in the famous attack on Fort Sumter, 12th and 13th April, 1861, and was assigned to the service of the hotshot-guns of the Sumter battery at Fort Moultrie, which set fire to Fort Sumter, occasioning the burning of the officers' quarters, and this was the immediate cause of Major Anderson's surrender. After the evacuation he was sent with his company, under Captain Hollinquist's, command, and the “Palmetto guard,” commanded by Captain George Cuthbert, to take possession of that important fortress (the key of the harbor of Charleston) and become its garrison.

From that time until the 7th of April, 1863, all was quiet in South Carolina, whilst the war raged in Virginia. Mitchel disliked garrison duty, and had too active and restless a spirit to brook with much patience the wearisome routine and confinement of a fort that was sea-girt on all sides. It reminded him too forcibly of a prison, and he made a vigorous effort to assist in raising a company, getting guns and forming a light battery that might be sent to join the army of the Potomac; but those in authority over him objected to the plan, and he was forced to remain on the coast of South Carolina.

He was considered one of the most vigilant, conscientious and active officers of his splendid regiment, which was the pride of the State. No company surpassed his in good discipline and soldierly spirit, or his men in skill as artillerists. He was beloved by his comrades, and made many warm friends in Charleston. Had his life been spared he would now have held a high position in the State of his adoption, for he was entitled to her love by his services in her dark days of trial, and he inherited his father's high abilities and noble character. It is indeed most probable that he would have been sent to Congress, as the Irish element exercises great weight in Charleston, and our late representative, Mr. M. P. O'Connor, was elected by Irish influence.

When the war-cloud at length burst over that devoted city, he took [271] his full share in all the dangers and fatigues of the siege, and after Colonel Stephen Elliott's promotion, he was placed in command of Fort Sumter, which had been reduced to a silent mass of ruins, that only showed the redoubtable spirit of its defenders by the little flag that defied the utmost hatred of its foes, and fluttered day after day in the soft salt breeze before their eyes, despite their fierce attacks by land and by sea. It was sometimes shot down as often as six times during the course of a single day, but was always instantly replaced under fire of the heaviest guns that up to that time had ever been used. And it flew proudly there, until that sad night in January, 1865, when Charleston was evacuated, the Confederate authorities having determined to withdraw the troops from her defences, and send them to reinforce General Joseph E. Johnston's little army.

The last sun-set gun boomed across the water from Fort Moultrie the evening of the evacuation, and Major Huguenin, who succeeded Mitchel in the command of Fort Sumter, with his own hands drew down the faithful flag that was never more to wave from its oft-broken staff, cut the halliards, and with a heavy heart placed it in his valise. As soon as darkness closed in sufficiently to cover his movements, he crossed the harbor with his little band of veterans and rejoined his regiment, that was marching away in the brigade of regular artillery from Sullivan's island, leaving behind them all the guns that they had served so long with such skill on many brilliant and successful occasions.

When the sun rose next morning, illuminating the old city, shining gayly on the white seas and the glittering waves, the siege had ended, for the forts were all empty and silent, and the way was left open to the enemy, who sailed cautiously in and took possession of the batteries and cannon that they had never been able to capture.

The holy quiet of that sweet Sunday morning was harshly broken, and made hideous to the ears of the heart-sick inhabitants who remained, by the jubilant cries of drunken negroes, the armed tread of the foe, and their insolent bands of music, as they rejoiced in the bitter sorrow and humiliation of those who were now, alas, deprived of their beloved defenders.

But to return to Captain Mitchel. On the 20th of July, 1864, the sentinel on the parapet of Fort Sumter sent to ask the commander to be allowed to leave his post because the shelling of the enemy's batteries on Morris Island was too severe for him to remain without the “bomb-proof.” Captain Mitchel refused to give him permission to do so, thinking it a bad precedent to establish, but when he received another [272] urgent request of a like nature from the same soldier a few moments later, he went upon the ramparts to see for himself if it was indeed necessary to withdraw the man from his post. He had only been there a short time, when he saw one of the enormous 300-pound shells coming directly towards himself; but he would not seek shelter in the adjacent “bomb-proof.” Having obliged the sentinel to stand his ground, he deemed it his duty to run the same risk, and to give the men under his command an example of courage and coolness. None, save those who have seen these immense projectiles coming, and have heard the awful sound that they make, can thoroughly appreciate the nerve and resolution that this decision required. The shell fell near him, burst, and shattered his frame, and after three hours of mortal agony, he closed his eyes forever, in that hard-fought and historic fort.

“I die willingly for South Carolina, but oh! that it had been for Ireland!” were the last words of this gallant young officer, the eldest son of the “Irish patriot.”

It is nineteen years since his brave heart grew still, and his comrades laid him in the beautiful magnolia cemetary near Charleston, where the old moss draped oaks guard his resting place. The stranger may stand and look across the broad waters of the harbor to the grim and silent fortress where he breathed his last, and listen to the tall pines as they whisper a requiem over its commander, who lies in his low and blood-stained grave.

Every year, on the 10th of May, which is the anniversary of (Stonewall) Jackson's death, the old and the young of Charleston go with tender and solemn love to lay floral memorials upon the mounds that cover those who died for them; and of all the hallowed spots at Magnolia, none is so well known, or is ever heaped so high with roses, as the Irish officer's grave, which, for fourteen years, was utterly unmarked, save by this touching tribute of honor to his memory.

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