5/31 UPDATE: Read this linked newspaper article from our Indiana host, Harry McCowley, regarding our Memorial Day Service. He also answered student questions at bottom of post which were pasted below.
The following is a summary of today’s events written by Evan, Ryan, Aaron, and Carlos. Photographs supplied by Mr. Jon Parsons. Here is a link of a local newspaper article publicizing our event. It was an excellent start to the trip! — CL
Today we memorialized a man that had not been celebrated in over 20 years on Memorial Day. In Hartsville, IN, we gathered in the cemetery to remember a man by the name of Barton Mitchell. He was born in 1816, eventually enlisted in the army at the age of 45 for the Union in the Civil War. His greatest contribution was finding General Robert E. Lee’s orders wrapped around a few cigars. Those orders were Lee’s plans for all Confederate movements and invasion. The lost orders went up the chain of command all the way up to General McClellan. Using that information, McClellan was able to organize the Union troops to counter the invasion. These series of events may have saved the Union from defeat and resulted in the Battle of Antietam. Mitchell was seriously wounded in the battle and never had his injury properly treated. Barton Mitchell died in 1868 just three years after the end of the war.
As our vans came into Hartsville, the first sight we saw was a park with a plaque describing Barton Mitchell. The plaque happened to be dedicated in 1992, the last year that there was a Memorial Day service for Mitchell. The cemetery was generally run-down with many grave stones in pieces or not even there at all. The one grave that stood out from the rest was the grave of Barton Mitchell. His stone was red and looked somewhat new unlike the other stones which were white and eroded. The plaque in the park and the somewhat recent grave for Barton Mitchell suggests that he is remembered commonly and fondly in Hartsville. Even though the people haven’t had a memorial service for him in a while, the plaque serves as a reminder of Barton Mitchell and his profound impact on the Civil War.
We seemed to serve as a catalyst for the memorial service that was held today. Over 50 people, including 10 Civil War reenactors, from a city of 350 and its surrounding area attended the memorial for Barton Mitchell and all fallen soldiers. During the ceremony, the reenactors approached Mitchell’s grave site dressed in Union uniforms and carrying rifles, drums, and flags. A few men led prayers and gave speeches about all fallen soldiers with a special emphasis on Mitchell. After these speeches, one of the reenactors placed a wreath in front of Barton’s grave. We left another mark on this small town by having a few of our own group follow the soldiers to place flowers, a copy of the orders found by Mitchell, and a drawing of Barton’s regiment flag in front of the grave.
Another copy of the orders wrapped around three cigars was placed on top of the grave. A twelve gun salute (Below) followed in honor of Barton. At the end, our own Brett McCormick (See Brett in far left of Right picture) played an echo of “Taps” for Mitchell and other soldiers with the regimental bugler.
Questions we have after today’s ceremony:
Will this memorial continue in years to come?
Why was he seemingly forgotten after the commemoration of 1992?
Why did Mitchell have the fancy red grave stone in a cemetery where many headstones were broken or faded? When was it placed? (One of our group’s hypothesis is that the headstone was placed there in 1992 when the town square plaque was erected.)
Actually the historical marker in the Town Square is the second that was dedicated to Barton Mitchell.
The original marker was erected in 1963. It was commissioned by the Indiana Civil War Centennial Commission through the Indiana Historical Society. The town put on quite a show for the Oct. 20 event – Civil War re-enactors, musket volleys, etc.
Several of Barton Mitchell’s descendants participated in the ceremony.
It was during the ceremony that someone noticed a mistake on the plaque. The year for Mitchell’s discovery was listed as 1863. It missed the actual date by a full year.
Apparently the ball was dropped in correcting the error. From what I gather, the Centennial Commission thought the Historical Society would make the change and the Historical Society thought the Commission was going to do it.
The Republic brought attention to the fact the error hadn’t been corrected in 1976 but by then the Civil War Centennial Commission was out of business.
The sign, mistake included, remained in place until 1992 when a wonderful character named Homer Hargrave, a former Chicago advertising executive who had moved to Columbus, noticed the error and decided to by-pass government bureaucracy to get it fixed. He did it in fun fashion. He re-created the 27th Indiana Volunteers and sold commissions to those who joined. The rank the donors were awarded was based on the amount they donated. He raised more than $1,000 for the new sign and it was put in place in late April of 1992. As I remember the observance that year was as much for the dedication of the new sign as it was to honor Mitchell.
I don’t know that there have been any observances at the marker since 1992.
As to future observances, I suspect that the John Anderson Camp (the group which put on the ceremony for your group) will include the Hartsville Cemetery in its tour of area cemeteries where Civil War veterans are buried but that will probably be on a rotating basis since there are a number of those cemeteries in the county.
As to Barton Mitchell’s headstone: The stone is obviously not the original marker placed on the grave. According to newspaper clippings, it is believed the current headstone was ordered for the grave by William Ansel Mitchell, Barton’s son. I have no exact date for when that might have been done but it was shortly before the son died around 1950.
By the way, I came across some interesting background on Mitchell’s ancestors which you might wish to share with the students.
In the 1760s, members of the Mitchell family were neighbors of the parents of Daniel Boone in Exeter, Pa. The two families were part of a party that moved into North Carolina. Their stay was short as Daniel Boone had set out on his own and found better surroundings in Kentucky. He persuaded a number in the group to follow him, including the Mitchells. Other members of the party included the Lincoln and Hanks families (fore-runners of Abraham Lincoln). John Mitchell (Barton’s father) was in that group. Later the Mitchell family moved to Warren, Indiana.
Hope all of this is helpful. You and your students are quite impressive.I’m glad to know that the love of history is still held in high esteem.