The battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, began early on the morning of September 17, 1862, in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Joseph Mansfield, a 58-year-old general in the Union army, waited anxiously for the signal to lead his ten thousand troops into the fight. When "Fighting Joe" Hooker called for support, Mansfield urged his men forward into the thick of the battle.
As he raced about the battlefield on horseback, positioning and encouraging his troops, Mansfield realized that some of his soldiers were firing into a wooded area which Union troops had occupied just minutes before. Immediately he charged forward, waving his hat and shouting for the line to cease firing. A soldier later wrote that the General "was in a most perilous position...The bullets and missiles were flying like hail and no one upon horse could survive...It seemed as if the very depths of pandemonium had sent their furies, and such a tornado of missile screaming through the air baffles all description."
While Mansfield rode through the heavy fire, trying to keep his men from firing on what he believed were Union troops, his own soldiers called to him that he was misinformed. The General brought his field telescope to his eyes, and made out the gray coats of the Confederate Army. "Yes, you're right," he conceded. At that moment
his horse was shot and began to thrash about. As Mansfield dismounted to lead him, his soldiers noticed blood streaming down the General's chest. A confederate bullet had pierced his lung — a fatal wound.
Several soldiers carried Mansfield to the rear, slung on a blanket. He murmured, "I shall not live! Oh! My poor family!" Twenty-four hours later, General Mansfield expired.
Five days later, the General's funeral service began in this stately brick house, which had been his home for many years. Mansfield's wife, Louisa Mather, had grown up in the house, which her father had built about 1810. Joseph Mansfield had grown up next door, in his grandfather's home (now the site of Spear Park), until he entered West Point at age fourteen. A career Army man, Mansfield joined the elite Corps of Engineers. In the Mexican War he distinguished himself for bravery, and in 1853 rose to become Inspector General.
The General's hometown gave the fallen hero a sad and solemn welcome. Church bells tolled, and black crepe draped the buildings of Main street as a long funeral procession accompanied Mansfield's body to the grave.
Baseball flourished in America after the Civil War. Middletown boys and men embraced the new sport wholeheartedly, forming several amateur teams. In 1868, local baseball enthusiast Benjamin Douglas, Jr. organized a team called the Middletown Mansfields honoring the city's Civil War hero General Joseph Mansfield. In 1872 the Mansfields briefly turned professional, playing in the National Association (the forerunner to the National League). Money woes forced the team to disband before the end of the summer, with a losing record. However, several Mansfields players went on to play for other pro teams, and catcher Jim O'Rourke was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baseball scorecard from June 15, 1872, recording the Middletown Mansfields 24 to 3 loss to the Boston Base Ball Club.
Mansions On Main
Although Main Street had been a fashionable place to live when Samuel Mather built his house here about 1810, businesses soon began to replace neighborhood homes.
The grand Mansion House, just across Main Street opened in 1828 with hotel and meeting rooms on its second and third floors and shops below. Over the years the building housed several hotels, and in the 20th century was home to popular stores like Herrmann's Deli and Joseph Shapino & Son department store. In 1978 the city demolished the deteriorating Mansion Block as part of its downtown redevelopment plan.
General Mansfield's home stayed in the family for many years. In 1959, when it faced being demolished for a parking lot, the Middlesex County Historical Society purchased it as a headquarters. Today the Society's museum, open to the public, contains an excellent collection of Civil War artifacts from local soldiers (including General Joseph Mansfield) as well as rotating exhibits on the community's past.