Monday, December 16, 2019

Booknotes: Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield

New Arrival:
Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End by Laurence H. Freiheit (Camp Pope Publishing, 2019).

His second book associated with the 1862 Maryland Campaign (the first being his cavalry study Boots and Saddles, now in its second edition), Larry Freiheit's Major General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield: A Soldier From Beginning to End is "the first biography of this life-long U.S. Regular Army officer, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam while leading his XII Corps from the front."

More from the description: "(T)his detailed biography covers General Mansfield’s life, most of which was spent in the service of the U.S. Army as an engineer. After spending many years in the construction of Fort Pulaski, Savannah, Georgia, he served in the Mexican-America War, where he was severely wounded. He was one of a few officers to receive three brevet promotions from captain to colonel for meritorious conduct. His tour as an inspector general highlighted his intrepid desire to ensure military preparedness on the new American frontier after the Mexican-American War."

"Wow" was my first reaction upon cracking opening this book. Many top-tier generals don't get this kind of treatment. Let's face it, while Mansfield's life spent in service of our country is worthy of our greatest respect, he's no one's favorite Civil War general (or is he?). Though the author's also clearly a very serious student of the Maryland Campaign, something more than the Connecticut connection must have inspired fellow Nutmegger Freiheit to undertake what clearly looks like a passion project. A 9.5" x 11" format hardcover filled with 806 pages of smallish text (extensively footnoted), this is a positively gargantuan tome (and a seeming bargain at $45 considering the going rate these days for books of this size and type). Additionally, the great majority of pages contain some kind of well-rendered illustration (often several), including a profusion of diagrams, maps and photographs both modern and archival. The overall presentation is impressive.

Mansfield is probably most familiar to Civil War students for his service in the following three capacities: army Inspector General during the years preceding the Civil War (for coverage of his final major antebellum inspection tour, I once again highly recommend Texas and New Mexico on the Eve of the Civil War: The Mansfield & Johnston Inspections, 1859-1861), commander of the Dept. of Washington during the opening months of the war (when he expected to lead the Union army that McDowell led to defeat at First Bull Run), and his leadership of Twelfth Corps at Antietam (where he was mortally wounded during the opening moments of his attack). All of these aspects of Mansfield's army career and more (including the more than two decades he spent as a fortifications engineer, his Mexican-American War experience, and his pre-Antietam Civil War field command work in SE Virginia and the North Carolina coast) are discussed at length in the book.

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