The Death of General Mansfield

 

Mansfield

Maj. Gen. Joseph Mansfield was killed at Antietam on September 17, 1862 (National Archives).

The fighting started early on September 17, 1862, outside the little town of Sharpsburg, near the Potomac River and Antietam Creek. Joe Hooker’s I Corps had skirmished with the enemy the evening before, and “Fighting Joe” resumed the action when he started his troops south through a cornfield in the direction of a little white building known as the Dunker Church. Soldiers from Stonewall Jackson’s command, newly arrived from Harpers Ferry, were waiting. The bloody fight between Hooker’s and Jackson’s men ebbed and flowed over the cornfield throughout the morning.

Samuel Crawford’s brigade, including the 10th Maine, now belonged to the XII Corps, which had become part of the Army of the Potomac after Second Bull Run. The commander of the XII Corps was Joseph Mansfield, a Connecticut native, West Point graduate, and Mexican War veteran. Mansfield, a dignified 58-year-old with white hair and beard that gave him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet, had headed the Department of Washington but chafed to receive a field command. He finally got the assignment to the XII Corps on September 12, just in time to join his new command in Frederick.

Beal, George L

Col. George L. Beal of the 10th Maine (Maine State Archives).

Colonel George L. Beal was leading the 10th Maine, although Crawford had placed him under arrest on September 2 after a dispute over some hay. Beal’s men, exhausted after a hard march through mud and rain, had taken the hay from a Rebel farm so they could make beds on the wet ground. When Crawford heard about it, he sent for Beal and told the colonel to order his men to return the hay under guard and then post sentries to prevent any more pilfering. Beal protested. His men were wet and tired, he said. He would tell them to return the hay, but would not insult them by forcing them to do it under guard, and he would not have any of his tired soldiers act as sentries that night. Crawford placed him under arrest, but restored him to command a few days later. Actions like that did not endear Crawford to the men of the 10th Maine. “If this were not a military mob we would turn out and give him a ducking in the river,” fumed John Mead Gould.

Such resentments were pushed aside now that the regiment faced combat. As Hooker’s corps attacked through the cornfield, Mansfield held his corps in reserve behind a forested area called the East Woods. It was a tense wait. Enemy shells soared over the soldiers’ heads and buried themselves in the earth behind. The roar of battle on the other side of the trees increased in volume, and more and more Union soldiers began pouring through the woods in retreat. “All of us did not notice these changes, and many did not even get up to look to the front, but we all saw Gen. Mansfield riding about the field in his new, untarnished uniform, with his long, silvery hair flowing out behind, and we loved him,” remembered Gould. “It never fell to our lot to have such a commander as he. Very few of us had ever seen him till three days before this, but he found a way to our hearts at once.”

Finally, it became time to advance. Beal ordered the regiment forward. Along the way, General Hooker rode up. “You must hold those woods!” he exclaimed. Bullets went snapping and whizzing past. Mansfield wanted his men to advance in two columns, feeling it was easier to handle them that way; Beal wanted to deploy his regiment in line of battle, and as soon as Mansfield had moved out of sight he did so, the general’s wishes notwithstanding. “And now came the moment of battle that tried us severely,” Gould wrote, “not that there was a sign of hesitancy, or show of poor behavior, but it is terrible to march slowly into danger, and see and feel that each second your chance for death is surer than it was the second before. The desire to break loose, to run, to fire, to do something, no matter what, rather than to walk, is almost irresistible. Men who pray, pray then; men who never pray nerve themselves as best they can, but it is said that those who have been praying men and are not, suffer an agony that neither of the other class can know.”

They reached a rail fence and fired at the Rebels. The Rebels fired back. One of them shot Beal’s horse in the head. As the colonel dismounted from the wounded animal, he was shot in the legs. His crazed mount then charged across the field and lashed out at Lt. Col. James Fillebrown, knocking him out of the battle with a fierce kick of its hind legs. Mansfield, in the confusion, became convinced that the 10th Maine was firing at Union troops. He rode over to stop them. A captain and a sergeant argued that they were shooting at the enemy. “Yes, Yes, you are right,” Mansfield conceded, and then Rebel bullets struck him. Gould was standing nearby. At first he thought the bullets had hit only Mansfield’s horse, but as the general dismounted, the wind blew his coat open and Gould saw blood streaming down his side. Gould and two other soldiers from the regiment helped the mortally wounded general to the rear, where he soon died.

After the war Gould became somewhat obsessed with marking exactly where Mansfield had been wounded, and in 1895 he published Joseph K.F. Mansfield, Brigadier General of the U.S. Army: A Narrative of Events Connected with his Mortal Wounding at Antietam, Sharpsburg, Maryland, September 17, 1862.  “It was bad enough and sad enough that Gen. Mansfield should be mortally wounded once, but to be wounded six, seven or eight times in as many localities is too much of a story to let stand unchallenged,” Gould wrote.

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

Advertisements

You Can Go Home Again

 

Chamberlain house

Speaking about Maine Roads to Gettysburg at the Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick (Beth Ann Huntington photo).

This summer I headed up to Maine for what I called my “book tour” for Maine Roads to Gettysburg. I spoke at the Maine Historical Society in Portland, was one of the authors at the Books in Boothbay Festival, and did two really fun talks at the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick for the Pejepscot Historical Society. A few weeks later I went back to do a talk at the MaineGeneral hospital in Augusta and to tape a segment for News Center Maine’s 207 show (see the segment below).

I was born and bred in the great state of Maine. I grew up in Augusta, graduated from Cony High School, and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick for two years. Then I realized that perhaps I should get out and see a bit more of the world. So I transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In March 1983, after I had graduated and returned to Maine, I packed up my car (well, my parents’ car, to be perfectly honest) and moved down to the Boston suburb of Brighton. I was 22. That officially marks the point when I ceased to be a Maine resident. After living in Brighton for a couple of years, I moved to Washington, D.C., and lived in that area for a decade or so before relocating to Pennsylvania. I have resided in the Keystone State for 22 years now. I live not far from Gettysburg, which is good, but it’s not Maine. I have been a Pennsylvania resident for about as long as I lived in my home state. That strikes me as strange. I am not a Pennsylvanian and I never will be. I am from Maine.

Being from Maine is something that stays with you. The connection even grows stronger the further away you go. I still remember my excitement at a concert in Santa Monica when I spotted someone in the crowd wearing a WBLM tee-shirt. I kept Maine plates on the car when I was in L.A., and one morning when I was driving down the Harbor Freeway a car pulled in behind me and the driver began flashing the lights and honking the horn. “What the hell?” I thought. Then the car pulled alongside me and the driver began pointing to the back of her car. When she moved ahead of me I could see she had Maine plates, too. Suddenly, I understood.

There’s something special about being from Maine. For one thing, we are the only state in the Union with a name that has only one syllable. (Go ahead. Look it up.) Second, we’re tucked way up in a corner of the nation. If you come to Maine it’s because you planned to, not because you’re heading someplace else (unless you’re going to Canada, but we won’t talk about that). Third, there just aren’t that many of us, so Maine feels like a small community. Whenever I pass a car with Maine plates I always glance at the driver, thinking there’s a good chance it will be someone I know. It never is, and even if it were, there’s little change I would recognize him or her. Or vice versa.

One of the joys of working on Maine Roads to Gettysburg is it gave me the chance to write about people from my native state. I included accounts of soldiers from Bangor, Dexter, Rockland, Wiscasset, Thomaston, Waterville, and Hallowell, all places I knew well. John Chase of the 5th Maine Battery, who was horribly wounded at Gettysburg, was from Augusta. I learned that Selden Connor, who had commanded the 7th Maine at Gettysburg, was buried in Augusta, just down the hill from James G. Blaine, who also appears in the book. I used to play Frisbee in the park around Blaine’s grave. I had the opportunity to explore archives all over the state, in Portland, Saco, Brunswick, Augusta, and Orono. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I learned that my great-grandfather served with the 31st Maine. I found his enlistment papers, with his signature, in the state archives in Augusta and visited his grave in Litchfield.

IMG_2892I certainly enjoyed talking at the visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park for the official “book launch” in April, but talking about it in Maine was even better. At the Maine Historical Society talk,  a friend of my parents’ surprised me by showing up for the talk. I used to go duck hunting with him. Someplace there’s a picture of him, my brother, and me in a hunting boat on the Sheepscot River near Wiscasset on a frigid morning during duck season. My dad probably took the picture around 8:00 in the morning, but we are all holding cans of Budweiser.

Another surprise at that talk was the appearance of my friend Peter. I hadn’t seen him in decades. He used to live on our street in Augusta, back when life seemed like an unending series of whiffle ball, capture the flag, ping pong, and sledding. One year Peter, my brother, and I rode out bikes all the way to Greenville, a distance of more than 100 miles each way. We had an epic time. Peter’s family moved to Cape Elizabeth and contact was limited after that. It was great to see him.

Bisbee, George

George Bisbee of the 16th Maine (Maine State Archives).

The Boothbay festival was a blast, too. I saw Sue, whose academic path first crossed with mine in kindergarten. Bill, a friend from college, also turned up. I was talking to a woman who bought a book and discovered that she was the daughter of another friend of my parents, who was also the realtor who had sold them their house. I met a woman who had an ancestor in the 7th Maine at Gettysburg, and an older man who told me he had an ancestor in the 16th Maine. “What was name?” I asked, feeling about as hopeful of recognizing it as I did when I peered at drivers with Maine plates. “George Bisbee,” he said. “His picture’s in the book,” I told him.

It is a small world, especially when you’re from Maine. It was like that during the Civil War, too. After the battle of Middleburg in June 1863, Walter B. Morrill of the 20th Maine was surprised to see that one of the Confederate prisoners was a man he had worked with while lumbering along the Penobscot River. During their march to Gettysburg, soldiers of the 17th Maine almost exchanged friendly fire with troops that had been sent out from the defenses of Washington. Those soldiers were from the 25th and 27th Maine regiments, and for some soldiers the encounter turned into reunions with old friends from home. When Thomas Hyde reached the battlefield at Antietam, one of the first things he did was ask around about people he knew in the 10th Maine, who had already been in the fight.

chamberlain house

The Joshua Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick (Tom Huntington photo).

My favorite experience on the “book tour” was speaking at the Chamberlain Museum. When I went to Bowdoin, the building was right across Potter Street from the fraternity I had joined. Chamberlain’s old home was then being used an apartment building for students. I recall it had been painted yellow and was adorned with fire escapes necessary to meet safety regulations. If there was any kind of plaque, I can’t recall it. I doubt I had any idea it had once been Chamberlain’s home—or if I even knew who Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was.

I should have, for he and I were fraternity brothers. We both belonged to Alpha Delta Phi. The window in Chamberlain’s office looks right out at the big brick fraternity house on the other side of Potter Street. (The building postdates Chamberlain, so it wouldn’t have been a view he enjoyed.) I had lived in the frat house for one semester and two summers, so it was a little surreal to be speaking about Chamberlain just across the street. Several of my fraternity brothers (and a sister) showed up to hear me talk, too, as well as several other friends from various phases of my life.

So I don’t care what famous novelist Thomas Wolfe said. You can go home again.

MRGCover

Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.