'If It Had Only Been For Ireland': John C. Mitchel Dies in Carolina

John C. Mitchel arrived in the USA in 1853 with his father, also, John. The elder Mitchel went on to become a, fiercely, pro Southern newspaper editor while John C. enlisted in the Confederate States army on the outbreak of America's Civil War, after initially working as an engineer on the railroads.

His first military assignment was as a lieutenant in a South Carolina battalion of regular artillery stationed at Fort Moultrie, before moving to Fort Sumter on the surrender of the Federal troops there. Here he was to remain, despite regular requests for reassignments. To Mitchel‟s credit, he continued the training and discipline of the men under his command, resulting in the widespread acknowledgement that they were among the most skilled artillerists in South Carolina. Mitchel was rewarded with promotion to captain.

Throughout his time at Fort Sumter, Mitchel and his men were under constant barrage from the Federal garrison on Morris Island, which reduced Sumter to ruin.

July 20, 1864, saw a particularly heavy barrage, leading to a parapet guard seeking permission to leave his post. Mitchel denied the request. Shortly after, the guard, again, sought shelter, and this time Capt. Mitchel went onto the ramparts. The incoming fire was extremely heavy and Mitchel, having denied his subordinate permission to leave his post, felt it would be unworthy of an officer to do likewise and so he stayed in the danger area.

Soon, a 300-pound shell struck nearby, shattering the Irishman‟s body, but he lingered on in terrible agony for a further three hours before uttering his final words: “I do willingly die for South Carolina, but oh!, if it had only been for Ireland.”

Captain John C Mitchel died on July 20, 1864, at Fort Sumter, S.C., and now rests in that city‟s Magnolia Cemetery.

The month of July was not a good one for the Mitchel family. Just over a year before Captain Mitchel‟s death, his youngest brother, Willie, was killed while carrying the colours of his regiment, near the Codri Farm during the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The sole remaining Mitchel brother, James, was adjutant to Gen. Gordon‟s Georgia Brigade and lost an arm in the battles around Richmond. He survived the war and died in Paris, France around 1876.

Sources: Southern Historical Society Papers: Vol. X, No.6; “Irish Confederates-The Civil War’s Forgotten Soldiers” by Phillip T. Tucker.
“Green, Blue and Gray-The Irish in The American Civil War” by Cal McCarthy. www.findagrave.com/magnoliacemetery

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Tags: American Civil War, Confederacy, War

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