By Mark Clark
Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
While rummaging through an old bound volume of The Phenix-Citizen, I came across a story published on August 16, 1979 concerning the placement of an historic marker in Seale which honored one of three generals from the small community in Central Russell County – General William Augustus Mitchell. The marker was to be placed on Saturday August 18 of that year and it was only the second historic marker placed in the county to honor an individual. The first individual honored, of course, was the great bridge builder Horace King, the former slave of John Godwin. That marker was placed on April 22, 1979 at the corner of Broad Street and Dillingham Street in Phenix City – across from the current Russell County Courthouse.
I was fortunate enough to have written about both of those historic markers being placed in 1979. It is sad to read the old article I wrote and learn that General Mitchell’s plaque was only the fifth historic marker ever placed in Russell County. The other markers were for Bartram’s Trail, the Old Federal Road, Fort Mitchell and King’s marker earlier in 1979. Only one of the historic markers was funded by the State of Alabama. The rest were placed by the Russell County Historical Commission, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission, and other organizations. Four more markers were in the planning stages, but the final selections had not been made for those markers which were eventually placed by the two previous named commissions without assistance from the state.
You have to wonder why Russell County, which no doubt is the second most important county in Alabama with its historical contributions, had – and still has – been ignored.
The words of the quote I received from Russell County Historian Charles Tigner, who once wrote an article about the county’s history each week for The Phenix-Citizen and whose daughter Jill Tigner and her husband Mike Venable years later owned the newspaper, hit as hard on my heart today as they did in 1979.
“Up until recently, we have been neglected by the state when it comes to historic markers. There are numerous sites in the county, including the burial site of Alabama’s first congressman, that deserve recognition,” Tigner said to me.
If you look up lat34north.com and go to Russell County, you will see, even 64 years after the first historic marker funded by the State of Alabama, that of the 64 markers listed in the county only two more have been funded by the state. That is a terrible oversight. Thank goodness for the Russell County Historical Commission, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and a few other organizations and individuals the other 61 markers honoring Russell County’s contributions to the state’s history have been appropriately honored.
For those who wish to know, I wrote an article about General Holland McTyeire Smith a few weeks back. He is one of the three generals from Seale. The other, besides General Mitchell, is General John Bacon McDonald.
On Saturday August 18, 1979 at the placement ceremony for General Mitchell’s historic marker, retired Colonel Joseph B. Mitchell of Alexandria, Virginia, was on hand to honor his father. Like his father, Joseph B. Mitchell was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His father died on March 6, 1941.
The historic marker was placed on Jackson Street (Alabama Highway 26) near his childhood home. The following are the words are inscribed on the historic marker honoring General Mitchell:
On this lot and in the house thereon, was born William Augustus Mitchell, November 30, 1877. Mitchell entered the United States Military Academy on June 20, 1898, after finishing the schools at Seale and Alabama Polytechnic Institute. He graduated number one in his class in 1902. During World War I he was promoted to Brigadier General. After the War General Mitchell become a member of the faculty at West Point.
General Mitchell received the following decorations: Distinguished Service Medal, Officer of the Legion of Honour, Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, Croix de Guerre with Palm. He was the son of James Bellingslea and Rebecca Stone Mitchell. His father entered as a Lieutenant in the 24th Alabama Regiment at age 18 in the War Between the States, and later served as State Senator from this district for seven years and was a member of the Alabama Supreme court. General Mitchell died March 6, 1941, and is buried at West Point, New York.
Erected by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and the Russell County Historical Commission, 1979.