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Charles Burton Mitchel (1815–1864)

Charles Burton Mitchel briefly served as a U.S. senator from the state of Arkansas before resigning his office due to the secession of Arkansas and the beginning of the Civil War. He then served in the same capacity in the Confederate government until his death in 1864.

Charles Mitchel—whose name is frequently misspelled as Mitchell—was born in Gallatin, Tennessee, on September 19, 1815, to John Mitchel and his wife. Records do not show the first name of his mother or identify any siblings, although he was one of four children in the household in 1820. After attending common schools, Mitchel graduated from the University of Nashville in 1833. He then earned a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1836. That same year, Mitchel moved to Washington (Hempstead County) and opened a medical practice.

Mitchel served in the Seventh Arkansas General Assembly as a representative elected from Hempstead County in 1848. He also was appointed receiver of public monies, serving from 1853 to 1856. He ran for the state Senate in 1850 but lost to Henry Poindexter. Mitchel was active in the Masonic lodge and also farmed in Ozan and Bois d’Arc townships of Hempstead County. In 1860, he owned twenty-two slaves.

Mitchel was married three times, first to Mariah Gray on December 25, 1837. What happened to her is unknown. Next, he married Sarah A. Johnson on February 8, 1842. His second wife died on May 31, 1855, of cholera. In 1860, he was married to a woman named Margaret, and they were raising three children.

In 1860, Mitchel ran for Congress from Arkansas’s Second Congressional District but was defeated by Edward W. Gantt. More than 30,000 votes were cast in the district, and the margin of victory for Gantt was roughly 2,500 votes. Shortly thereafter, the state legislature met to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Robert Ward Johnson. With the question of secession weighing on the minds of most government officials, Governor Henry Rector suggested that the position of U.S. senator not be filled. The legislature chose not to follow his suggestion and invited five candidates, including Mitchel, to address the assembly. All five spoke of acting cautiously in regards to the idea of secession; Mitchel in his speech said that the election of Abraham Lincoln was a reason for alarm but not a reason for division. He was elected senator on the assembly’s ninth ballot on December 20, 1860.

Mitchel’s term of office officially began on March 4, 1861, and he was in Washington DC at that time, but he had returned to his home in Arkansas by the end of the month. His resignation from the Senate did not become official until July 11 of that year, when all the senators and representatives in Congress from states that had seceded were formally removed from Congress. That same summer, Mitchel was elected to the Senate of the Confederate government meeting in Richmond, Virginia. He served three years in that body and was active on the committees of accounts, the post office, and the medical department.

On September 20, 1864, Mitchel died at his home in Washington in Hempstead County. He was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Washington. Augustus Garland was chosen to replace Mitchel in the Confederate Senate.

For additional information:
“Charles Burton Mitchel.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000801 (accessed September 28, 2009).

Dougan, Michael B. Confederate Arkansas: The People and Policies of a Frontier State in Wartime. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1976.

Steven Teske
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 3/11/2015

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