Better Know Your Notes: General Joseph King Mansfield on $500 Legal Tender Notes

High denomination large size type notes are always popular with collectors and most are among the great all-time notes in our hobby. This week’s edition of "Better Know Your Notes" looks at the $500 Legal Tender Notes of 1874 to 1880 and Union General Joseph King Mansfield whose portrait appears on those notes.

Mansfield was born December 22, 1803, in New Haven, Connecticut. As a teenager he was enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated in 1822, second in a class of 40. He joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and slowly climbed the ranks, making captain in 1838. The Mexican-American war provided the opportunity to hasten his advancement, as he saw action in the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista. He was made a colonel after the war.

At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Mansfield was promoted to brigadier general. He saw sparse action through the first year of the war. That changed in 1862 when Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded the North beginning the Maryland Campaign in September. On September 15th Mansfield was given command of the XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac, just two days prior to the Battle of Antietam. 

Following in support of an attack on the Confederate left flank by General Joseph Hooker, Mansfield’s men moved into an open field where they came under heavy Confederate fire. Defying orders, Mansfield kept his men in column form and guided them mounted on his horse across the field. Upon turning back to lead more of the Corps he found his men firing into the woods. Mansfield initially believed his men were firing upon their own soldiers but quickly he was assured they were taking Confederate fire. Soon after, his horse was struck and Mansfield himself took a shot through the right side of his chest. He pushed his horse on down the north road for a bit until he encountered members from the 125th Pennsylvania who were able to bring him down off the horse and call for a field surgeon. Mansfield died from his wound in a field hospital the next morning. He was posthumously promoted to major general.

There are 14 different Friedberg numbers for the type: Fr. 185A to 185N. Several different signors are featured along with different seal types, including small red with rays, large brown, large red, and small red scalloped seals. Approximately 35 examples are known from all types combined, many of which are housed in permanent collections. The example pictured above was sold in our 2012 ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction.

The $500 Mansfield is ranked #42 in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes by Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman.


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