In our earlier column we mentioned how Charles "Charley" King was the youngest Union casualty of not only the horrific Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) but perhaps also of the entire Civil War. This column will examine some instances of the oldest casualties of that engagement. This writer attempted to locate any youngest/oldest casualties on the Confederate side of the battle, but yet has to succeed in that particular quest. On the Union side, however, there are a few candidates for being the oldest casualty of the battle.
Let us begin with Maj. Gen. Joseph King Fenno Mansfield, commander of the Union Twelfth Army Corps. Gen. Mansfield had a long and distinguished career in the "Old Army" but never saw any combat. He lobbied successfully for a field command, receiving orders from the War Department to assume command of the Twelfth Corps only a few days before the battle. Antietam was his first time leading men under fire and into combat. There were problems with his first (and only) command. Many of the regiments in the Twelfth Corps were utterly green, ninety-day units raised after the Union disaster at Second Manassas and the subsequent move of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland. The Twelfth Corps came onto the field of battle about two hours after the Union First Corps opened the Union advance on the left flank of Lee's line. As the Twelfth Corps clumsily jockeyed itself into position, it was largely supervised in its placement by Mansfield himself, who seems to have ignored using his own staff. Doing so would prove Mansfield's undoing for, as the Corps started moving from the area of the East Woods toward D. R. Miller's Cornfield ("The Cornfield"), he was hit by Confederate fire. A gust of wind blew open his uniform coat, revealing a nasty wound in the abdominal area, much to the surprise of some of the officers in the regiments under Mansfield's command. There is much controversy as to the actual spot where Mansfield received his mortal wound. The mortuary cannon for him gives a general compass direction of the place of his mortal wounding totally at odds with the Mansfield monument a scarce few yards away. Mansfield died within hours; he is certainly the oldest of the six general officers to perish on the field.
The next possible candidates for the oldest casualties on the Union side of the fray might be the brothers George and Gottfried Gliessen or Gliesen. Both brothers took part in the advance of the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers, which belong to Abram Duryee's brigade of the Union First Corps. The brothers, shoemakers by trade, had recently emigrated from Germany to New York City. On enlisting, one brother claimed he was 44 and the other brother claimed to be 42. Actually, the brother who claimed to be 42 was 63 years of age. The brother who claimed his age as 44 actually was 61 years of age. George Gliessen (Gliesen) was shot and killed in the East Woods/Cornfield area; when the brother saw his sibling shot and killed, he called to his company commander, "Captain, there is the Confederate who killed my brother" and then fell, instantly killed.
According to Bill Frassanito Iwhose book was mentioned in the prior column article about Charley King), the honor of the oldest Union casualty at Antietam might be given to Pvt. John Marshall, Co. L, Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania, Tyndale's Brigade. Marshall received his death wound in the area of the eastern slope of the hill opposite the Dunkard Church. Marshall was fifty years of age at the time of his death and was initially buried during the truce period on September 18th under a dead tree. His remains were later disinterred and buried in the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, where they can be found at grave 19, lot A, section 26.
The Battle of Antietam was truly a "meat grinder" (to use a more modern term) in the production of those killed, wounded and missing in action. It is interesting that, while the great Battle of Gettysburg produced slight over 51,000 total casualties over its three days, Antietam produced over 23,000 in just fewer than sixteen hours. It remains, to this date, the single bloodiest date in American history---military or otherwise.