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General William "Billy" Mitchell Letters

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This collection includes handwritten letters written to and from General Mitchell from 1887 to 1901, including his time spent serving during the Spanish American War. Most of the letters were written from Mitchell to his father, John Mitchell, and his mother, Harriett Mitchell.


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William “Billy” Mitchell, born in 1879 in Nice, France, grew up in Milwaukee. When he was 18 years old, he joined the United States Army and served in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In World War I, he served in the United States Air Service, a division of the Army that predates the Air Force. Throughout his life, he was an outspoken, persistent, and at times, controversial advocate for a stronger national defense and a separate air service military branch.

In 1925, the USS Shenandoah, a United States Navy airship, crashed in Ohio, killing 14 crew members. In 1926, Mitchell was court-martialed for insubordination after criticizing the senior military leadership of the airship. He was found guilty and suspended, but he resigned from the military in early 1926 before his suspension took effect. As a private citizen, he continued to speak out about national defense. 

In 1946 and 1948, Mitchell was posthumously given the rank U.S. Army General and received the Medal of Honor, respectively. He also was the subject of the 1955 movie, “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell,” with actor Gary Cooper playing Mitchell. Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s General Mitchell International Airport is named for him.

This collection includes handwritten letters written to and from Mitchell from 1887 to 1901, including his time spent serving during the Spanish American War. Most of the letters were written from Mitchell to his father, John Mitchell, and his mother, Harriett Mitchell. The collection also includes letters written to Mitchell from Henry David Robinson, then warden of Racine College in Racine, Wisconsin, and one letter written from Caroline Stoddard, Mitchell’s future wife, to Harriet Mitchell.