James Billingslea Mitchell

Silhouette of soldier

A sixteen-year-old college student when the Civil War began, James Billingslea Mitchell (1844–1891) was the son of a well-to-do Alabama landowner who owned more than 300 slaves. Eloquent, observant, and absolutely determined to do his fair share in the war, he convinced his father to let him transfer from the University of North Carolina (before that state had seceded) in order to enter the University of Alabama, where he received both normal schooling and military training. He was so adept at the latter that he became a drillmaster for Confederate recruits and participated in a military campaign before he was officially allowed to join the army. At age seventeen, he was elected lieutenant in the 34th Alabama Regiment and went on to serve in the Perryville Campaign, the Battle of Murfreesboro or Stones River (where he was wounded in the side and removed the bullet himself), the Battle of Chickamauga (wounded in the neck), and in the 1863 fighting around Chattanooga. Captured at Missionary Ridge, he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at Johnson's Island, Ohio - an incarceration that he bore with grace, though he found it "exceedingly irksome." After his release in June 1865, Mitchell received his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina, graduated from a Tennessee law school, married, and eventually settled in Seale, Alabama. In addition to practicing law, he was active in state politics and served in the Alabama State Senate and House of Representatives. Just a few days before his death at age forty-six, he was appointed a judge of the Alabama Supreme Court.

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