Today we’re re-posting a story about a Mansfielder who was well-known in his day, but about whom you have have heard little.
Throughout its past, Mansfield has been home to individuals who have played important roles in American history. The list of statesman, artists, authors, and others who are from here, or who have lived here, is a long and interesting one.
While some Mansfielders have enjoyed storied military careers, a handful of achieved very high rank. Roeliff Brinkerhoff, for instance, achieved the rank of general after the Civil War (Brinkerhoff became a Brevet Brigadier General in 1866).
Another native son, however, may be less well known. Nevertheless, he is the city’s sole Civil War Major General, and his story is worth telling.
Robert Byington Mitchell was born here on April 4, 1823. Mitchell spent his childhood here, and after “reading the law” with John K. Miller he became an attorney in antebellum Mansfield (from 1846 to 1848). His pre-Civil War career included both military service in the Mexican-American War and a brief stint with politics (as Mayor of Mount Gilead, as a legislator of the Kansas Territory, as Adjutant General and Treasurer of Kansas, and as a delegate to the National Democratic Party Convention in 1860).
It was at the Battle of Wilson Creek in Missouri that Mitchell gained notoriety, and by April 1862 he had been given the rank of Brigadier General. By the time of the Battle of Chickamauga, he was in command of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Cumberland – some 10,000 officers and men under Generals Grant and Sherman. In 1864, he was given the rank of Brevet Major General.
In 1863, a Philadelphia-based war correspondent described Mitchell this way, “Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell… is one of the most able patriots in the service. He has made himself… particularly odious among the rebels. He, out of all the generals in command of different cities, had the nerve to retaliate upon guerillas.” The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, Junction City Kansas, April 18, 1863. His troops referred to him as “Fighting Bob.”
It was at this time that a streak of questionable actions began that plagued Mitchell for the rest of his life. During his Civil War service, for instance, he controversially threatened to shoot over 300 of his men for mutiny. His post-War service as Governor of the New Mexico Territory was marked with long absences and a tumultuous relationship with the territorial legislature.
After leaving New Mexico, Mitchell lived out his days in Washington D.C., passing away there in 1882. Mitchell was buried in Washington D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, and now lies in Arlington National Cemetery.