Civil War Wiki
Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel
Personal Information
Born: August 28, 1810(1810-08-28)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: October 30, 1862 (aged 52)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Nickname: Old Stars
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Union Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Major General
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Commands: Department of the Ohio, X Corps, Department of the South
Battles: American Civil War
- Great Locomotive Chase
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Ormbsy MacKnight (or McKnight) Mitchel (August 28, 1810[1][2], or possibly 1809[3], – October 30, 1862) was an American astronomer and major general in the American Civil War.

A multi-talented man, he was also an attorney, surveyor, and publisher. He is notable for publishing the first magazine in the United States devoted to astronomy. Known in the Union Army as "Old Stars", he is best known for ordering the raid that became famous as the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War.

The U.S. communities of Mitchell, Indiana, Mitchelville, South Carolina, and Fort Mitchell, Kentucky were named for him, as was an impact crater on the planet of Mars.

Early life and career[]

Mitchel was born in Union County, Kentucky, but grew up in Lebanon, Ohio. He was a clerk, but left that job when he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1825, where he was a classmate to Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. He graduated in 1829, placing 15th out of 46 graduates. Mitchel stayed at West Point as assistant professor of mathematics for three years. He helped establish observatories for the United States Navy and at Harvard University.

He passed the bar and became an attorney, but in 1836 became assistant professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Cincinnati College. He was instrumental in establishing the college's law school, and on his first vacation, surveyed and recommended the route of the planned Little Miami Railroad between Cincinnati and Springfield, Ohio.

In 1845, he was appointed director of an observatory established at Cincinnati College through his initiative. At the time, it featured the second-largest refracting telescope in the world. He published the first monthly magazine in the United States devoted specifically to astronomy. In 1859, Mitchel became superintendent of the Dudley Observatory at Albany, New York, where he continued his pioneering work on the development of telegraphic determination of longitude.

Civil War[]

During the Civil War, he entered the Union Army with a commission as brigadier general of volunteers. He first organized the northern Kentucky defenses around Cincinnati. He commanded the Department of the Ohio from September to November 1861. During this time, he conspired with espionage agent James J. Andrews on plans to steal a train in Georgia and disrupt a railroad vital to the Confederate States Army coincident with Mitchel's planned attack on Chattanooga, Tennessee. The raid failed, as did Mitchel's military operation. Andrews and a number of his men were captured. Andrews himself was among eight men who were tried in Chattanooga. They were hanged in Atlanta by Confederate forces, but were later buried in the National Cemetery at Chattanooga in 1887.

Although a military failure, the story of Andrew's Raid became known to American history as the Great Locomotive Chase, and has been retold in publications and film. The pursuit of Andrews' Raiders formed the basis of the Buster Keaton silent film The General and a dramatic 1956 Walt Disney film, The Great Locomotive Chase. Template:Seedetails

General Mitchel led a division in the Army of the Ohio from December 1861 to July 1862, and was placed in charge of the defense of Nashville, Tennessee, with headquarters in the vicinity of Shelbyville, Tennessee. He became famous when he seized the city of Huntsville, Alabama in April 1862 without a shot being fired, after he led his troops there from Shelbyville in a surprise maneuver. He was promoted to major general for his efforts.

In September 1862, he assumed command of the X Corps and the Department of the South at Hilton Head, South Carolina, but died in Beaufort of yellow fever shortly after assuming his post. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


  • A persistently bright region near the Mars south pole that was first observed by Mitchel in 1846 is named in his honor - 'The Mountains of Mitchel'. It is located near 70°S, 40°E.
  • An impact crater on Mars was named in his honor.
  • The new town (and later city) of Mitchell, Indiana was name for him after he surveyed it for the owners while working on the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in the 1850s. (The second "L" was added later).
  • The first post-Civil War freedmen's town created in the United States (on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina), Mitchelville, was name for him.
  • Fort Mitchell, Kentucky — an aberrant spelling — was also named for him.
  • A descendant and namesake, Lt. Ormsby M. Mitchel, Jr., was awarded the Navy Cross in 1943 for extraordinary heroism in trying to save the crew of his doomed USS Plymouth after it had been struck by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat off the Virginia coast.

See also[]

32x28px United States Army portal
32x28px American Civil War portal


  1. "Ohio History Central". Ormsby M. Mitchel. Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  2. "Ormsby M. Mitchell". Retrieved November 22, 2009. 
  3. Heidler, David Stephen; Heidler, Jeanne T.; Coles, David J. (2000). "Mitchel, Ormsby MacKnight". Mitchel, Ormsby MacKnight. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 1341. ISBN 978-1-57607-066-6. 

External links[]

sl:Ormbsy McKnight Mitchel