13 March 2007
This famous print, from a watercolor by Bror Thure de Thulstrup, is behind a great story sent me by email from a great-granddaughter of the late Gustav August Freudenthal, once Private, Company K, 20th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry.
The story is that Freudenthal told his family he is pictured in the painting.
It seemed unlikely on first hearing, but I thought I’d dig about a little to be sure …
Here’s a summary of the email:
… my g-grandfather received a skull fracture at the battle of Antietam, and as long as we could remember, there was a large framed picture in his house that he said was him being shot at the battle of Antietam. I can remember being shown the picture, but being a child was not very interested. The copy I saw was a replacement after his house burned and the original was destroyed, about 1900. A year or so ago I began research, and found it was a print by Thure de Thulstrup…
I would not dare to try to convince any of the family that this is not Grandpa falling at Antietam, as it is such a ?ìfact¬ù in our family history.
Why would he say this was him falling? Where did he acquire a copy of this print living in a very small town (Sylvia) in Tennessee?
To investigate, first I began by looking into Grandpa Freudenthal. The CWSSS shows two listings for Freudenthals:
- Freudenthal, George; Union Infantry; Private, Co. K, 20th Regiment, New York Infantry
- Freudenthal, Gustav; Union Cavalry; Pvt, Corporal, Co. D, 3rd Regiment, New Jersey Cavalry (alternate name spelling in the records: Gustav Frendenthal )
I’m sure this is the same man. Gary Kappesser’s transcribed muster roll data for Company K of the 20th New York shows:
FREUDENTHAL, GEORGE–Age, 18 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. K mustered out June 1, 1863.
FRENDENTHAL, GUSTAV–Recruit; Promoted to Corp. on Nov. 1, ’64(Stryker); also served in Co K, 20th NY Inf. (Pension Index, NARA)
He served for the duration of the 20th Regiment’s term of two years and enlisted later in the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry, which had begun organizing in November (but that’s for another story).
So I’m confident he could have been at Antietam with the 20th NY Infantry, but that raises a problem.
When I first saw the Thulstrup print, years ago, I assumed it represented elements of Hooker’s First (I) Corps at Antietam–Federal troops who advanced south along the Hagerstown Pike toward the Dunkard Church early on 17 September 1862. Or possibly parts of the Twelfth (XII) Corps who attacked in that direction a little later in the morning.
In Thulstrup’s view, these troops are just reaching the Dunkard Church, more progress than the southbound Federals actually made that day. I chalked this ‘inaccuracy’ up to the fact that Thulstrup was not at the battle himself, being only 14 years old and living in his native Sweden in 1862*, and that he must have been working from other sketches and descriptions.
Unfortunately, the 20th New York was not in either the First or Twelfth Corps, but the Sixth under General Franklin. They arrived on the field about noon on that day, and units including the 20th attacked in the direction of the Church from just about due east–at right angles to the lines depicted by Thulstrup.
Well, that would seem to put an end to Grandpa’s tale, except …
… take a look at this engraving:
This is remarkably similar in general layout and in some details to the Thulstrup view. In fact, I think this sketch by Edwin Forbes, who was at the Battle, was the model for it.
I’m struck in particular by the mounted officer behind the colors at the center of the line, the officer with sword raised (behind his men) and the pair of casualties down on the left end, the broken caissons ahead of the attackers, and even the cotton-ball puffs of smoke.
Thulstrup has rotated the church 90 degrees, but everything else is about the same.
And who are these men in Forbes’ version? That’s right. The 20th New York Infantry and others of Irwin’s Brigade of the VI Corps.
You can be the judge, but I think Grandpa could just have been right.
* Bror Thure Thulstrup (1848-1930). Born in Stockholm to a military family, Thulstrup became a lieutenant in the Svea Artillery Regiment, but left Sweden to serve in the French Foreign Regiment (later Legion) in 1868. He served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, then immigrated to Canada in 1872 where he worked as a civil engineer and topographical engraver.
In 1874 he moved to New York to do illustrations for The Graphic and Harper's Weekly, among others. He published Drawings by Thulstrup and Others (1898) and Outdoor Pictures (1899). Later in his career he painted several battlefield murals, the Second Battle of Winchester for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Pittsburgh, and a series for the state capitol building in Atlanta, Georgia. Together with Henry Reuterdahl he published a series of illustrations on the Spanish- American war titled Lest We Forget.
—Mary Towley Swanson from manuscript of Appendix to Tangled Web: Swedish Immigrant Artists' Patronage Systems, 1880-1940 (2004).
Prints of Thultrup’s Antietam painting were first issued as part of a set of battle scenes in an expensive limited edition in 1887 by the Louis Prang Company, a larger run in 1888, and a mass printing of somewhat less expensive versions by various companies in the 1890s. The later versions were common and readily available. The Freundenthal family would not have had any trouble buying a copy. If nothing else, mail order became common for things like this by the late 1800s.
Thulstrup was commissioned to paint the original piece in 1887, and I don’t know if he ever actually saw the field at Antietam for himself. My copy is from the Library of Congress collection.
The Forbes sketch is from from the Century Magazine of June 1886 (Volume XXXII), page 298. That volume is online.
It is likely that GGrandfather was wounded during that midday attack of his Brigade from the vicinity of the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) toward the Church. That would have been out of view to the left from the Thulstrup painting’s viewpoint, but easy to see in the Century sketch.
The Antietam Battlefield tablet #75 for the Brigade (including the 20th NY Infantry) says this of the action that day:
Irwin’s Brigade reached the field about noon of the 17th, formed line across the road at this point, and charged through the Batteries and across the fields in their front to check the advance of the Confederates from the West Woods. The direction of its advance was south of the Dunkard Church and, when its right Regiments, the 33d and 77th New York, were nearly abreast the Church, they received such a destructive fire on their right and rear as compelled them to retire to the cover of the ridge in front of the Church, the remainder of the Brigade forming on their left. Late in the day the 7th Maine charged across the Bloody Lane to Piper’s Barn and was repulsed with great loss.
About noon of the 18th the Brigade was relieved by Cochrane’s Brigade of Couch’s Division, and withdrawn to the rear.