Joseph K.F. Mansfield was born in New Haven, Connecticut, December 22, 1803. His mother, Mary, was a Middletown native and thus he visited his grandparents in Middletown frequently as a child. Entering West Point at the age of fourteen, he graduated second in his class in 1822. He served in the Corps of Engineers throughout the Mexican War (1846-1848), receiving numerous promotions for gallantry and efficiency. In 1853 he was appointed Inspector General of the Army and with the start of the Civil War was promoted to Brigadier General in 1861.
On September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam while leading two divisions into the fray, Mansfield mistook an advance group of the 20th Georgia Regiment for Union forces and ordered a cease fire. John M. Gould of the 10th Maine wrote the following to Mansfield’s widow in December 1862.
“The General now took out his glass, but immediately his horse was shot in the right hind leg, and became unruly. I am told by an officer who stood near him, that the General was shot a few seconds afterwards, but it was not observed by the men, who thought only the horse was wounded. 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. The horse would not jump it, and the General dismounting led him over. He passed to the rear of the of the Regimental line, when a gust of wind blew aside his coat, and I discovered that his whole front was covered with blood. I had watched the General for more than five minutes expecting every moment to see him shot, but this was the first knowledge I had of the accident."
The General had been shot by a sniper’s minie ball, which passed through the right lung and back out again. Mansfield lingered for a day before dying of his wounds and was one of over 3,600 causalities from the battle.
General Mansfield’s body was returned to Middletown where he was buried in the Indian Hill Cemetery with full civil and military honors.
Mansfield was much beloved by the men with whom he had served. Numerous letters were written to his widow, detailing his final moments or sharing some tale of common exploits. George Meech, a private in Company C 21st Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, collected this stone, supposedly from the spot where General Mansfield fell.