Monday, January 16, 2012

Antietam: A visit to General Mansfield's house

"He lived about 24 hours after he was shot,"  Dr. Patrick Flood wrote about
General Joseph  Mansfield in this letter to his widow. The letter is in the archives at the

Middlesex County Historical Society in Middletown, Conn.
Middlesex County Historical  Society director
 Deborah Shapiro holds a letter from the physician
who saw Joseph Mansfield die to his widow.
Suffering from a gunshot in the right breast, General Joseph K. Mansfield clearly was in dire condition at a field hospital at a farmhouse about a mile behind Union lines.

"He was very pallad (sic), almost as white as paper as I approached him -- his pulse was small and quick," an attending physician wrote in a five-page letter to Mansfield's widow seven months after her husband was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam.

At first, the general was "very talkative,"  Patrick Flood, a surgeon in the 107th New York wrote, and he was lucid until around midnight. The old soldier from Middletown, Conn., was given a canteen filled with cool water and brandy, but the mixture didn't agree with him.

"On our way to the hospital," Flood wrote to Louisa Mansfield, "he repeated many times 'Oh my God, am I to die thus?' – 'Get me a horse.'  'Oh my poor family.' "

Given command of the XII Corps just two days before Antietam, the 58-year-old general went downhill fast.

Post-war painting of Mansfield at the
Middlesex County Historical Society.
"After I had dressed his wound," Flood continued in the letter to Mrs. Mansfield, "I left him in charge of the medical director, but called to see him often, and saw him one hour before he expired. ... He lived about 24 hours after he was shot. Had the very best of care and attention."

Connecticut suffered terrible losses at Antietam, but perhaps no death was as shocking as Mansfield's. On the day of his funeral in Middletown, about 18 miles south of Hartford, "emblems of sorrow appeared in all directions." (1) Most businesses were shut down, and stores and homes along the route of the funeral procession were draped in black.

Following an elaborate memorial service attended by Governor William Buckingham, U.S. Sen. James Dixon, the wife of General George McClellan and hundreds of others, Mansfield was buried in Middletown on Sept. 23, 1862.  As his coffin was lowered into the ground at Mortimer Cemetery, the Mansfield Guard, a local militia group head by Mansfield's friend Elihu Starr, fired three volleys. (Mansfield was reburied at Indian Hills Cemetery in Middletown in 1867.)

The circumstances of Mansfield's wounding at Antietam on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862 are well known to many Civil War buffs, but Flood's letter describing the general's last hours was news to me. Randy Buchman, an Antietam battlefield guide, discovered an old, typewritten copy of the surgeon's letter to Mansfield's widow in the basement of the Antietam National Park Visitor's Center and posted the complete contents on his terrific Enfilading Lines blog. Curious, he wondered if the original belonged to the Middlesex County Historical Society. I aimed to find out.
Order directing Mansfield to hold
 his command at Antietam. 
(Middlesex County Historical Society)

Fifty-two years ago, the house Mansfield lived in during the Civil War was set to be demolished and turned into a parking lot. Thankfully, the Middlesex County Historical Society bought the red-brick home on Main Street in Middletown from Mansfield's descendants and turned it into a museum.

An exhibit focused on Middletown soldiers who served during the Civil War takes up a good chunk of space in the small, well-kept building. The historical society also displays an extensive collection of Mansfield memorabilia, including a daguerreotype of a much younger Mansfield as a soldier, a pre-Civil War letter from Robert E. Lee and a pair of black-and-white striped pants Mansfield wore as a tot.

And in a manilla folder in the small research room, there's a five-page letter, yellowed with age and difficult to read, to a Middletown widow.

"I have endeavored to give you a faithful detail of all that transpired in my relations with your lamented husband," closed Dr. Patrick Flood's letter to Louisa Mansfield on April 28, 1863. "... The Country has suffered an irreparable loss in his death."

(1) Hartford Courant, Sept. 24, 1862

Joseph Mansfield lived in this house on Main Street in Middletown. It now houses
the Middlesex Historical Society, which operates a small museum here.


  1. John,
    May I have your permission to use items you post about Mansfield? I'm writing a bio of him and you have helpful materials.

    Thank you.

    Larry Freiheit

    1. Larry...just let me know what you're looking to use. Email me at I might be able to point you in the right direction on stuff. Have you seen the letter written by surgeon who treated mansfield to his wife about the general's death? It's posted on my blog. JB

  2. John...I've found that Mansfield was the second CT general killed, Nathaniel Lyon the first, and finally Sedgwick. Is that what you have found, too? Thanks, Larry

    1. I can't speak for John - but this is accurate based on my findings.