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6258JKF Mansfield before Antietam

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  • eighth_conn_inf
    Jun 18, 2010
      I finally found the source of an interesting incident about Joseph King Fenno Mansfield while he was in Norfolk before his mortal wounding at Antietam as a corps commander. Shelby Foote quoted Mansfield's comment after he shelled Rebel vessels tying up to the Congress which had flown the white flag. Unfortunately, Foote supplied no source (vol. 1, p. 257). The day before the famous Monitor/Virginia battle on 9 March 1862, Mansfield was in command of the 1st Brigade in the 1st Division in the Department of Virginia (Eicher 363).

      "She [USS Congress] had repeatedly been set on fire; her decks were covered with the dead and wounded; and the loss of life (including that of her commander) had been very great. She was run ashore, head on, and not long after hoisted the white flag. Two tugs were sent by the enemy alongside the 'Congress' to take possession and to remove the prisoners, but a sharp fire of artillery and small arms from the shore drove them off. General Mansfield had directed the Twentieth Indiana to deploy along the beach and behind a sand ridge; and a couple of field-guns under command of Lieutenant Sanger were also wheeled into position to prevent the enemy from hauling away their prize. Captain Reed, of the Twentieth, — who had been as good a lawyer as he was now a good soldier, — raised a question of military law: 'Since the ship has surrendered, has not the enemy the right to take possession of her?' The question was answered by General Mansfield (Judge Mansfield in this instance), in one of the shortest and most conclusive opinions on record. "I know the d — d ship has surrendered," said he, 'but we haven't.' That settled it."

      The source for this is Israel N. Stiles who was an officer in the 20th Indiana Infantry, "The Monitor and the Merrimac," read 5 April 1885, Military Essays and Recollections: Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Illinois, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (Chicago, IL: A.C. McClurg and Company., 1891), 128. I wonder if Stiles was an eyewitness or heard about the affair from a brother officer. Coincidentally, Stiles was a Conn. native, captured at Malvern Hill, and later became a brig. gen. Anyone have other sources for Mansfield's quote?

      Interesting insight into Mansfield's character during this time of what was still a "soft" war.

      Thank you,
      Larry
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