In October 1883, almost twenty years to-the-day from that other very memorable day in his life, Henry T. Mitchell, welcomed the birth of his latest child, a daughter. Henry and his wife, Martha, decided to name the child Virginia. That name was heavy with meaning. Of course, the name represented the parents' generations-long Virginia ancestry, an ancestry that stretched back to the early seventeenth century. Their daughter's name surely indicated a deep pride in those unbroken lines of Virginia descent. Still, something more may have been part of their decision in naming their daughter for the commonwealth; perhaps Henry was making clear that (whatever some of his neighbors might have thought) he regarded himself as a true and loyal son of the Old Dominion1. Certainly, some of his neighbors - and kinsmen - could understandably have doubted that loyalty; after all, he had worn Union blue. Henry T. Mitchell and his brother, Samuel C. Mitchell, both fought for the "old flag" as part of a North Carolina Union regiment.
Indeed, in late October of 1863, twenty years before little Virginia Mitchell's birth, her father Henry, and her uncle, Samuel C. Mitchell, found themselves engaged in a small, brutal fight in a remote corner of North Carolina. It was only a skirmish, almost invisible in the larger war, but for the men fighting over and around that wooden bridge in Warm Springs, the fight during those several days was filled with all the desperate intensity of Chancellorsville or Shiloh. The Mitchell brothers, members of the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US), would both be casualties of that fight. Out of the 700 or so combatants at Warms Springs, they were among the handful of Virginians engaged2. And it seems clear that the Mitchells - these sons of old Virginia - were in the forefront of the action at Warm Springs.
As their ancestors had fought against the British and their loyalist allies in the Revolutionary War, now, the Mitchells were again making war in the Carolinas3. Possibly, some part of their decision to join the Union army derived from the Mitchell brothers' belief that in fighting for the Union they were fighting for the ideals their grandfathers had defended. For many Unionist southerners, the Confederacy was a betrayal of the Revolution. Other Unionists regarded the Confederate government as tyrannical, even more oppressive than the more distant Lincoln administration. Stated another way, the Lincoln government may have been a potential threat to their rights and well-being, the Confederate government was, by 1862 or 1863, an imminent threat. The Confederate Conscription law of 1862, the confiscation, by Richmond, of civilian resources, the apparent disregard for States rights - and individual rights - all these contributed to a sense, on the part of some southerners, that the Confederate government was, indeed, a tyrannical regime. There is some consensus among scholars that mountain southerners were especially given to resenting these real or perceived transgressions carried out by the government in Richmond4. Paul Randolph Dotson's, "Sisson's Kingdom: Loyalty Divisions in Floyd County, Virginia, 1861-1865," offers one of the most comprehensive assessments of anti-Confederate sentiment in the home county of the Mitchells5. Dotson particularly emphasizes the reality that many in Floyd County, even some of its best citizens, were dismayed by what they regarded as the Confederate government's ruinous taxation and conscription policies. By the middle of the war, this disaffection in Floyd County would result in widespread - often open - resistance to Richmond's authority; this resistance sometimes took the form of membership in Unionist organizations like the Heroes of America or the Heroes of 17766. Still, unlike the Mitchell brothers, most of the Unionist citizens of Floyd County did not go so far as to enlist in United States armed forces.
The Mitchells were a respectable family. The original Floyd County Mitchell was a veteran of the Revolution who made his way to the highlands, from Amelia County, in an attempt to find relief for the consumptive illness he had contracted in the war for independence. His wife, Obedience Vaughn Mitchell, also from a substantial slave-holding family in Amelia County, was the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran. In the mountains, John and Obedience Mitchell operated a prosperous farm. Their son, John A. Mitchell (the father of Henry and Samuel) had married Lydia Chloe Chapman; she, too, was the daughter of a proud veteran of the Continental Army7. Samuel and Henry Mitchell clearly were young men from good families with deep roots in Virginia's long colonial and revolutionary history.
Like so many other southerners who eventually wore Union blue, the Mitchells began their military careers as Confederate soldiers. Both Henry and Samuel Mitchell enlisted in September 1861 in Co. A, 54th Virginia Infantry. Their initial term of enlistment was for one year. They enlisted alongside many of their current - and future - kinsmen. Their motivation in enlisting was probably motivated by the same ideals and attitudes which would impel them - two years later - into Union service. Caught up in the excitement of the times - and in the desire to avenge perceived insults by northern political leaders and to resist the (potential) tyrannical encroachments by the Lincoln administration, they offered their services to the CSA. After a year of miserable campaigning in western Virginia and with a growing sense the Confederate government had reneged on its promises to its soldiers - and in light of all those sources of resentment and disaffection noted by Dotson and others - the Mitchells, like many other members of the 54th, renounced Confederate service8. But, as noted above, unlike most of those other disaffected Floyd Countians, the Mitchells took the additional and dramatic step of not merely repudiating their Confederate service, but of taking up arms against the Confederacy9.
On September 15, 1863, two years and five days after their enlistment in the 54th Virginia, the Mitchell brothers took the oath of allegiance to the United States and were enrolled in Company A of the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (2nd NCMI)10. After their enlistment in September, the Mitchells waited three more weeks before joining their new regiment in Greeneville, Tennessee. Weapons, rations, uniforms - with a $25 enlistment bonus - and the Mitchells were duly at war again.
Only weeks after the Mitchell brothers joined the regiment, the 2nd NCMI embarked on a raid in the direction of Ashville with the objective of rallying Union sentiment in the mountains of western North Carolina and aggressively recruiting others to service in the regiment. This raid culminated in the fight at Warm Springs. Like so many fights in remote places, the engagement at Warm Springs left a confused historical record. Piecemeal comments in the official reports, a few lines in diaries and letters, some recollections by veterans; these sources leave an incomplete narrative. What is known is that Confederate authorities, once aware of the movement of the 2nd NCMI (in the direction of Asheville) acted, were forced to act, with their limited resources to repel the Unionist incursion.
The fighting at Warm Springs began around October 16, 1863, when the 2nd NCMI attacked and drove away elements of the 25th North Carolina (CSA) who were in the vicinity of the small mountain town. This successful attack left the Union force in control of the bridge across the French Broad River. This bridge would be the focus for the sporadic fighting over the next ten or eleven days.
The on-and-off-again fight at Warm Springs, or more accurately, the fight in and around Warm Springs, varied in intensity from sniping and scouting and ambushes to (more intense) hand-to-hand clashes; it was possible that Henry Mitchell was wounded in one of those more intimate melees. His injuries were severe; he had a shoulder badly damaged and his femur fractured11. To be sure, Henry may well have sustained these injuries in a more accidental way by simply stumbling and falling in the rough, broken terrain of the battle site. Typically, Henry's official record is somewhat vague as to the precise nature of his wounds12. In any case, his wounds, especially the leg fracture, would confine Henry first, to the Union hospital in Knoxville for several months, and then for a much longer convalescence (nearly a year) in one of several Union hospitals in Nashville. He would, in fact, only be able to return to active duty in March 1865. That he was able to return to duty was remarkable, given the fact that so many of the types of wounds he had suffered, resulted in amputation. Death, too, often followed from the kinds of wounds (especially the fracture) that Henry experienced. As it was, he carried some measure of physical debility, during the rest of his life, from his service in the fight at Warm Springs13. Moreover, he carried the grief of his brother's death. Samuel C. Mitchell was killed at Warm Springs14. He was among the comparatively few members of the 2nd NCMI to die in combat during the course of the war. Family legends of the war years included a vague reference to Samuel's death and to his shroud being the quilt he brought from home. Only in recent years did it become clear where he had died and for which flag he died.
After the war, Henry returned to his home county in Virginia. He lived there on his beautiful, expansive mountain farm until his death in 1917. And while some of his neighbors may have been a bit uncomfortable with his Union service, he seems to have been generally respected in the community. All of his sons and daughters married into good county families; significantly, most married the sons and daughters of Confederate veterans.
[Record of Samuel C. Mitchell's death at Warm Springs, October, 23, 1863]
[Record of Henry Mitchell; he was originally admitted to the hospital on October 25, 1863. Discrepancies in the unit designation and the middle initial are, I believe, typical copyist errors.]
1 Another - famous - Floyd County Unionist, Admiral Robley Dunglison ("Fighting Bob") Evans also named his daughter Virginia. Perhaps he too wanted to make the same point, i.e., that he regarded himself as a loyal Virginian irrespective of his refusal to "go South" after Sumter. His decision to fight for the Union would estrange Evans from his mother, and others in the Old Dominion, for many years. See: Robley Dunglinson Evans, A Sailor's Log, Recollection of Forty Years of Naval Life (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1901). The "reconciliation" of Evans and his family - and his home state - was not easily accomplished. And some evidence exists (e.g., the somewhat perfunctory obituaries in some Virginia newspapers at the time of his death) suggesting that certain Virginians were not entirely eager or willing to forgive and forget. See also, Amos D. Wood, Floyd County, A History of Its People and Places [reprint] (Radford, VA: Commonwealth Press, 1981) has much helpful information on the admiral.
2 In the fight at Warm Springs, the Unionists had a decided numerical advantage of around 600 against 90 or so Confederates.
3 Henry and Samuel Mitchell were descended from several revolutionary ancestors. Their grandfather, Nathaniel Chapman, had been captured at the fall of Charleston in 1781. He had endured almost a year of imprisonment aboard a British prison hulk. He was proud of his long service in the Continental Army. Significantly, Nathaniel Chapman had only died a little more than a decade before the birth of his Union grandsons. His memory was certainly still a fresh influence on his descendants at the time of the Civil War.
4 Anyone interested in the history of the 2nd NCMI owes a great debt to the diligent and skillful research and writing of David P. Smith. This brief summary of the Mitchells' service in the regiment, and of the engagement at Warm Springs, would have impossible without his generous assistance. The basic facts of that fight, and the basic information about the regiment, are taken from Smith's invaluable 2nd NCMI website. I am also grateful for Smith's careful and helpful suggestions regarding this paper.
5 Paul Randolph Dotson, "Sission's Kingdom: Loyalty Divisions in Floyd County, Virginia, 1861-1865," (Blacksburg, VA: Master's Thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1997). This is an outstanding treatment of the subject and merits consideration by anyone interested in the reasons for disaffection with, and resistance to, the Confederacy on the part of mountain southerners. Also very valuable for those researching their Floyd County ancestors, or for those studying the rich history of that region, is Wood's, Floyd County.
6 See Dotson, "Sisson's Kingdom" especially Chapter Three.
7 The Chapmans were a prominent Bedford County family; in the wake of Virginia's secession, the Chapmans were loyal, determined Confederates
8 Jeffrey C. Weaver, The 54th Virginia Infantry [second edition] (n.p. H. E. Howard, 1993) is the most comprehensive account of this regiment. See also "Sisson's Kingdom" for invaluable insight into the history of this regiment and Confederate and anti-Confederate sentiments in Floyd County.
9 It is worth noting that another Floyd County Mitchell, Henry and Samuel's first cousin, Josephus A. Mitchell, also took up arms against the Confederacy as a member of Co. F, 54th Kentucky (US).
10 The official service records of the Mitchell brothers were provided through the generous assistance of David P. Smith. All details regarding the service of Henry and Samuel Mitchell (in the 2nd NCMI) is derived from these records. Information on the Mitchells' service in the 54th Virginia is taken from Weaver, 54th Virginia.
11 Reference to the "hand-to-hand" character of the Warm Springs combat may be found in Karen L. Clinard and Richard Russell, eds., Fear in North Carolina, The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family (Ashville, NC: Reminiscing Books, 2008), 170. Cornelia Henry's account was certainly based on eye-witness testimony in the immediate aftermath of the fight.
12 Admitted initially to a Union hospital in Knoxville on October 25, as "sick;" his record, subsequently, indicates that he was wounded and notes a "fracture to his left femer (sic)." His record in 1890 (see footnote 12 below) indicates a disabled shoulder.
13 In 1890, Henry Mitchell cited his shoulder wound as a lingering disability from the war years. He made this claim as part of the Census of Union Veterans of Floyd County, Virginia, 1890.
14 There was nothing vague in the record concerning Samuel's death in the action at Warm Springs. The record, in this case, was clear and redundant.