Generals Killed at Antietam
A total of six generals perished at the Battle of Antietam (or within weeks of the conflict) – three from each side. A mortuary cannon now marks the spot where each incident occurred, and to children on a battlefield tour I often give the fun challenge of discovering them before I talk about them!
But only one of the generals also has a monument erected in his honor, and that is Major General Joseph Mansfield of Connecticut.
General Mansfield’s Military History
Mansfield was 58 years old on September 17th of 1862. He was a career military officer and engineer, having graduated 2nd from West Point in 1822 in a class of 40. He fought in the Mexican War and served prior to the Civil War as the Inspector General of the Army.
At the outbreak of the War in 1861, he commanded the Department of Washington, and was later stationed on the Carolina coast. Apart from firing some shore batteries, he had no war experiences in the past 15 years prior to arriving at Sharpsburg.
Mansfield’s First and Last Day on the Job
Mansfield arrived at Antietam to take over command of the 12th Corps on September 15th. On the morning of the 17th, Mansfield led portions of his men into the conflict through the East Woods – following upon the earlier attacks by Hooker’s 1st Corps. The 12th Corps men were subjected to a brutal fire from Confederate forces who had pushed in advance of their prior position. Mansfield had ordered his men to stay in column formation rather than in battle front lines – thinking that his many green troops could be better handled in that manner by the officers. Rather, this facilitated a tighter target and surely added to the losses.
In the confusion and fog of battle, Mansfield mistakenly thought his troops were firing upon their Union comrades. And while riding forward to assess this situation, he was wounded by a single shot to the chest, which would prove fatal the next day.
He was taken to a house about one mile to the north of the location of his wounding, attended there by a physician, and passed away the next morning.
Some time ago while combing through filed materials in the basement of the Antietam Visitor’s Center, I came across a very old typescript letter. Though difficult to read, I saw that it was a copy of a letter that had been written by the attending physician upon the occasion of General Mansfield’s death. It was composed over seven months after the battle, having been penned upon the request of the General’s son – asking that the details also be sent to his mother, Mansfield’s widow.
Many of the details of the letter are facts known to history, so I do not presume the letter to be rare or some sort of discovery. Yet I have not seen anywhere that it has ever been made available online.
Here then is the letter itself – transcribed exactly as found with abbreviations and multiple spelling errors. I will finish after the letter with some material on the writer, Dr. Flood.
Camp 107th Regt. N.Y. Vols. Hope Landing, Va. April 28-1863
Mrs. Genl. Mansfield,
I received a letter some few days since from Col. S.M. Mansfield asking me the particulars of the death of his father Genl. Mansfield, who fell at the battle of Antietam on the 17th day of Sept. last, and wishing me to communicate the same to you. I cheerfully comply with your son’s request, for if you have for so long a period remained without that detail, it is time that the same was put in your possession. What I know of that melancholy catastrophe, fell under my own observation, as a Surgeon on that sanguinary day on which our Country lost a brave and gallant soldier, and yourself a husband.
The first time I met with Genl. Mansfield, was on the 16th. A member of our Regt. had become overpowered by the heat, and on being summoned by his side I found the Genl. giving him some stimulus, and he requested me to bathe his head with water. I did not meet with him again, until I was summoned to his assistance on the battle field; word having been sent “that Genl. Mansfield was wounded.”
To give you the detail in full of that sad event, I must necessarily digress and speak of connecting circumstances. Our Regt. the 107th N.Y., was engaged soon after daylight, and was near the “center” a little to the right, and about 1000 rods on the right and front opposite the “Duncard Church”. We had driven the rebels back, out of a piece of wood, and a field that was very stony, and slightly sprinkled with locust trees, to a road that ran parallel with a long piece of wood, where they made a stand. As our Regt. advanced to the edge of the locust field, they succeeded in getting a “cross fire” on us, which was terrible and very destructive.
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We were obliged to halt for many of our men were falling, and to proceed were madness. I was in the rear of the Regt. attending to our own wounded, as they were carried back, and was so engaged, when Col. Diven at about Eight & a half o’clock A M, called to me and said that “our Genl. was shot.” I left my position quickly, and went forward, taking with me a man named McGovern, who volunteered to do so and found the Genl. by seeing his horse running & following the course from whence he came.- He was about 100 yards in front of our Regt. and the woods, a most perilous position.- where the bullets and missiles were flying like hail, and where no one upon horse could survive the position. It seemed as if the very depths of Pandemonia, had sent her furies, and such a tornado of deadly missiles screaming through the air, baffles all description – Add to this, the press of Rebel Sharpshooters, and you may conceive somewhat the deadly work that was in progress. I am satisfied that the Genl. was shot by one of these, as the wound was inflicted by a “Minnie ball”.- When I came up, some men were trying to carry him in a blanket, but the jolting motion, made him bleed so fast, they were afraid to move. I found the clothing around his chest saturated with blood, and upon opening them, found he was wounded in the right breast, the ball penetrating about two inches from the nipple, and passing out of the back, near the edge of the shoulder blade.- He inquired if I was Surgeon, & on replying in the affirmative – “then”, said he “for God’s sake, do all you can for me, and stop the bleeding, and get me to some house.” – I placed a compress on each orifice, and bandaged his body, which stopped the hemorage, and conveyed him as fast as possible towards a white house the Regt. had passed when going into battle.- It was about ¾ of a mile distant.- He was carried in a blanket about 1/3 of the way, and the balance in an ambulance – When we arrived at the house, I found it well filled already with wounded, but fortunately I found one room, with a good bed vacant, in which I had him placed.
<<Page 3 begins>> Here the Medical Director of our Division came to my assistance. I removed his clothing, belt, watch and guard which were about his neck, flank, and I think pistols, which were given to an officer present, at his instance, who said that they would be cared for. The Doctor and myself examined the wound, which at this time was not bleeding, and I saw that a small portion of the lung protruded from an orafice, which convinced one, as before stated, a “Minnie ball” had occasioned it. The lung was much torn, and I saw at a glance the wound must prove fatal.
He was very pallad, almost as white as paper as I approached him – his pulse was small and quick. He seemed excited, and was very talkative, relating the position he was in when he was shot, and that he was going to stop our men firing, as they were firing at each other. In this the Genl. was mistaken for I afterwards learned, that our forces occupied one piece of wood – the rebel the opposite, and the position of the Genl. was between the two.— He had his senses, until about 12 o’clock midnight, when he would mutter, and his lips move as if talking, but could not be understood. On our way to the hospital he repeated many times “Oh my God, am I to die thus?” – “Get me a horse”. “Oh my poor family” – “We are driving them thank God.” McGovern had a canteen full of fresh cool water, and I one, filled with Brandy. His thirst was very great, and he would ask for water every minute.- I mixed the two, but he did not like it, but urged it, as he was growing very weak & required stimulus, & I feared he would expire before a house could be reached.
After I had dressed his wound, I left him in charge of the medical director, but called to see him often, and saw him one hour before he expired. – On entering the room, he heard me, and turning his head towards the door recognized me, and asked the officer (the same his effects were given to) “If I was the Doctor that took him off the field – He answered “yes” – The Genl. then turned his head back and closed his eyes. I saw he must soon expire – He lived about 24 hours after he was shot. Had the very best of care and attention.- One of my nurses Geo. W. Beers took charge of him during the night. He died about 8½ o’clock on the morning of the 18th.
<<Page 4 begins>> From Beers I learn he inquired “if the news had been sent to his family”, and on being told it had probably not been sent, he “asked the reason”- The battle was expected to be renewed the following morning and the difficulty attending it explained. Nothing further of importance transpired worthy of being related.
Thus Madam, I have endeavored to give you a faithful detail of all that transpired in my relations with your lamented husband. I cannot tell you the anguish of heart I experienced in being called to attend one, who only a few hours before I had met with in health, and leading our armies into Victory. The Country has suffered an irreparable loss in his death.- It was the adding of another of those brave noble spirits, to the list of Martyrs who have died for our Country, and a Nation will never forget him, but treasure his memory with the most heroic tenderness.-
I am Very Respectfully
P.H. Flood, Surgeon 107th Regt. N.Y.V.
The letter has stamped upon it “Middlesex County Historical Society,” which incidentally is housed in the Joseph Mansfield home in Middletown, CT.
I have written to them to see if they possess the original, and after a search by them have heard learned that they indeed do. And fellow blogger John Banks – who lives near there – has visited and photographed a copy of it.
Dr. Patrick H. Flood
In 1862, at age 50, Elmira physician Dr. Patrick Flood went off to war as the surgeon of the 107th New York Infantry. The more than 1,000 men of the 107th were about one month into their time of service at the Battle of Antietam.
Dr. Flood served throughout the war, finishing as the surgeon of the First Division of the 20th Corps.
He returned to Elmira and to civilian medical practice. He was also a two-term mayor of the city, and one of his four sons was a U.S. Republican Congressman.
Other Mansfield Information
General Mansfield is buried in his hometown of Middletown, CT – the final grave site (from 1867) pictured in the photo by fellow Antietam blogger John Banks. (His blog is at: http://john-banks.blogspot.com) The funeral service on September 23, 1862 was attended by 400 soldiers and included four bands.
Apparently veterans argued for years after the battle as to the exact location of Mansfield’s wounding, the color of his horse, etc.
Mansfield spent a considerable number of years (essentially 1831-1845) as an army civil engineer working on the construction of Fort Pulaski, Georgia. When he arrived there, for a brief time, he was with a younger engineer serving his first assignment out of West Point – Robert E. Lee.
The Mansfield $500 Bill
General Mansfield was pictured on an apparently legal tender 500-dollar bill – from the years 1874-1880!