Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Antietam: General Joseph Mansfield death documents

Image of Major General Joseph Mansfield shot in Mathew Brady's studio in Washington.
(Middlesex County Historical Society collection)

After the Civil War, the death of Joseph King Fenno Mansfield at Antietam was hotly debated among veterans who fought in the battle. While who shot JKFM never rose to the level of controversy as, say, who shot JFK, it did provide lively fodder for old soldiers who pondered exactly where and by whom the 58-year-old general from Middletown, Conn., was mortally wounded.

Initially, Mansfield believed he was shot by his own troops. The general was astride his horse near the East Woods, barking out commands to raw troops in the XII Corps about 7 in the morning on Sept. 17, 1862 as "bullets and missiles were flying like hail." Moments after his horse was shot in the right leg, Mansfield himself was struck in the right breast by a bullet.

Replanted East Woods, near where Mansfield was shot, about 7 in the morning  in late September.

"Passing still in front of our line and nearer to the enemy, he attempted to ride over the rail fence which separated a lane from the ploughed land where most of our regiment were posted," wrote Lieutenant John Gould, an adjutant in the 10th Maine, on Dec. 2, 1862. "The horse would not jump it, and the General dismounting led him over. He passed to the rear of the Regimental line, when a gust of wind blew aside his coat, and I discovered that his whole front was covered with blood."

10th  Maine Lieutenant John Gould
(Photo courtesy Nicholas Picerno)

"I ran to him and asked if he was hurt badly," Gould continued. "He said  'Yes' -- 'I shall not live' -- 'I am shot' 'by one of our own men' "

Mansfield was carried about a quarter-mile to the rear by soldiers who used their muskets to form a stretcher and then taken by ambulance another quarter-mile or so to the George Line farm, where he died the next day. (Here's a copy on my blog of the original letter from the doctor who treated Mansfield to the officer's wife, Louisa. And here's Gould's detailed post-war account of the general's wounding near the East Woods, which may be viewed here in interactive panoramas on my blog. Also, here's my download Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths)

We'll leave the debate of the circumstances of the death of Mansfield to the experts. In the meantime, I wanted to share documents that I found Wednesday morning at the Middlesex County Historical Society -- it's in Mansfield's former home on Main Street in Middletown -- regarding the general's death. It was a little eerie perusing the rich amount of material on his demise in the very house where he lived more than 152 years ago.

Samuel Mansfield, the general's son, sent this telegram from Washington at 8:35 the night after the battle to Benjamin Douglas, a family friend in Middletown. "Gen'l Mansfield is dead," it read. "He fell mortally wounded in the charge of yesterday. His body will be sent to Baltimore to be embalmed." A recent West Point graduate, Samuel was a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineers ...

... a day later, Captain Clarence Dyer, Mansfield's aide, sent this telegram from Frederick, Md., to the general's wife. Dyer was en route to Baltimore, where Mansfield's remains were to be embalmed. ...

...  after Mansfield's remains arrived by train in Baltimore about 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, the body was escorted by hearse about a mile or so from the depot to the embalmer. Mansfield's body, however, was too decomposed to be embalmed so his son purchased a metallic coffin for $70 from John Weaver's establishment at No. 22 West Fayette Street. (Here's the address today, changed greatly since 1862.) At least one man from Connecticut who had experience transporting bodies of soldiers back from battlefields was not a fan of metallic coffins, which were much more expensive than wooden ones. ...

Calling card from Mrs. George McClellan, who attended Mansfield's funeral in Middletown, Conn.
(Middlesex County Historical Society collection)

... Mansfield's funeral was held to great fanfare in Middletown six days after Antietam. A choir sang "Unveil Thy Bosom Faithful Tomb" before the pastor at North Church on Main Street delivered a sermon in which he paid "a justly merited tribute to the christian virtues of the departed." The Mansfield Guard, a local militia group, fired three volleys over the general's grave after he was lowered into it at a cemetery nearby.
"Yesterday was a day of sorrow, not only Middletown [where the funeral took place], but for the whole State,''  the Hartford Courant reported on Sept. 24, 1862."One of Connecticut's bravest heroes was consigned to the grave.'' Among the mourners were the governor and Mary Ellen McClellan, the wife of the commander of the Army of the Potomac. ...

... perhaps to satisfy army bureaucracy (now there's a shock), Dyer certified "on honor" in late spring 1863 that the general's horse also was killed at Antietam. The animal, whose name apparently is lost to history, was purchased for Mansfield in Perryville, Pa., in the winter of 1862. "The horse was a strawberry roan," Dyer wrote from a camp near Vicksburg, Miss., "between 15-16 hands high, six years old, dark main and tail." Dyer left the figure blank for the purchase price of the animal, but noted in another letter that it was either $105 or $115.


Hartford Courant, Sept. 24, 1862.


  1. this stuff is wild!

  2. Great post about the death of General Mansfield! Thanks, John, for commemorating Civil War soldiers from Connecticut!