Frederick Wünsch: American Civil War veteran, a mind unseated by tragedy

Friedrich Wünsch was born in 1826 near Stuttgart in the Kingdom of Württemberg.1 At age 19, he boarded the ship Silas Holmes in Bremen to come to America, arriving in New York on 1 Oct 1845 with no family or friends.2 He spent his first years in America in Cincinnati, Ohio working as a stonemason or stonecutter. Friedrich went by Fred and his children dropped the umlaut from their surname, switching to the more American-looking Wuensch.

Fred enlisted in the 1st Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1846, eight months after his arrival in America, to fight in the Mexican War.3 In February of 1855, he married 17 year-old Maria Rottler, who had come to America from Ravensburg, Württemburg the previous year.4 Fred and Maria had twelve children, and eight lived long enough to leave surviving records. Their oldest child was my third great-grandmother Elizabeth Wünsch Mumaugh. She married Lopez Mumaugh, also of German descent. Lopez repeatedly abused her and her children, tried to kill her and ended up killing her sister Mary Wünsch. He shot himself in the head once he realized what he’d done. For more on this story see: Lopez Mumaugh: the story of a drunken cigar maker and murderer.

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-8-14-47-pm

Fred quietly worked his stonecutter’s business for the next six years. This physically demanding labor required heavy lifting, not a problem for him. The sandy-haired, blue-eyed German stood at five feet seven inches tall with a stout torso, broad shoulders and strong arms. When America’s Civil War broke out in April 1861, Fred did not hesitate to sign up for a three-year term of service. He enlisted in the 20th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, which mobilized on 22 July 1861 at Lafayette.5

“Slap Jacks” was the name given to Fred by his fellow soldiers, who recalled him as a big German who kept to himself.5 The 20th Indiana formed a part of John C. Robinson’s 1st Brigade of Kearney’s (3rd) Division of the Army of the Potomac. The regiment participated in almost all of the war’s major battles in the Eastern Theater including the Seven Days Battles, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the New York City draft riots, Wilderness and Spotsylvania.6 They were at the famous Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 to see the fighting between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack). This showdown marked an end to the era of wooden-hulled ships and changed Naval warfare forever.7 I was amazed to find an ancestor who was involved in such an important historical events, especially ones that happened so close to where I live.

I have a copy of Fred’s Civil War pension application and case file that I ordered from the National Archives. It is over 150 pages long and documents his role in the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862 and the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. In addition to his written account, there are statements from other solders and officers who give their version of events.8

On the night of the second day’s fighting my regiment was stationed in an open field to cover the retreat of the Union Army. Between 7 and 8 o’clock, when it was very dark, the enemy pressed us, and we were ordered to retire in haste…I marched three or four miles that night, and all day the next day until we got to Centerville…

The 20th Indiana, as part of Robinson’s Brigade, is visible on the battle maps below. They appear in position along the unfinished railroad line opposite confederate forces.9, 10 After advancing two miles across the railroad line, General Kearney ordered the regiment to pivot left. This was to avoid a flank attack, as the other regiments were not able to advance at the same pace. Fred claims he received this injury during the retreat of the Union Army toward Centerville the next day on August 30, when he tripped over a dead man.

Photos from the Library of Congress Civil War Photographs collection show views of the battlefield near Sudley’s Church and the unfinished railroad where the 20th Indiana Regiment took their position.11, 12 The unfinished railroad at Manassas Gap near Bull Run still exists today as part of a preserved US Civil War battlefield.

Fred then describes his participation in the battle of Fredericksburg, where he incurred rheumatism, the second disability claimed in his pension application. In his deposition, Fred refers to this engagement as the “Second Battle of Fredericksburg,” but he was mistaken. It is the First Battle of Fredericksburg in December that he is describing and the only one in which the 20th Indiana played a part. By the time of the second battle in March 1863, Fred had received a transfer to H Company and fought in the Battle of Chancellorsville. This error on Fred’s part confused his investigator, who suspected him of lying.

My regiment was deployed in pursuit of the enemy as skirmishers. Possibly it was only my company. We were compelled to take refuge in a ditch that was nearly knee-deep with freezing water. I must have stood in that water about seven hours, and lay around an hour after we were relieved, in wet feet. Indeed we lay out in the field all that night without any fire or food.

The 20th Indiana formed a part of the Center Grand Division led by Major General Joseph Hooker.13 The strategy for the December battle involved a dual attack on the Confederate line, the first at Mayre’s Heights on the left side. General George Meade led the right side assault at Prospect Hill. General Meade retreated from Prospect Hill on 13 December, weakened by low ammunition and lack of reinforcements. The 20th Indiana Volunteers, as part of Robinson’s Brigade, sprang into action to stop the Confederate pursuit of Meade’s troops.14 From their position in Stafford Heights, the Indiana regiment quickly crossed the pontoon bridges on the Rappahannock.15 They reached Meade’s line in time to drive back some of the advancing Confederate regiments.

 

One month after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Fred was transferred from F to H Company in the 20th Indiana. His Lieutenant from F Company, Harvey H Miller offers the best explanation for this event in his deposition on 22 Jul 1887. “He was transferred because he was eccentric and not congenial to the men of the Co. and they would not mess with him.” Several investigators handled Fred’s claim over the years, and one remarked with frustration that his actions were “that of a crazy man.”

Fred Wünsch did indeed suffer from mental illness, although the cause and date of onset cannot be determined in hindsight. In 1873, his wife Maria filed for separation because of his perpetual drunkenness.17 He had been unable to complete a full day’s work for any sustained period of time since at least 1867. Over the next two decades, Fred lived in Veteran’s Homes in Dayton, Ohio; Elizabeth City, North Carolina and Washington, DC.

On 19 Jul 1893, his son-in-law Lopez Mumaugh shot Fred’s daughter Mary Wünsch, and subsequently committed suicide. Mary died from complications of the gunshot wound three weeks later on 8 August. Fred discharged himself from the Dayton, Ohio Veteran’s Home to attend Mary’s funeral.18 According to local papers, his mind became “unseated” by the tragedy. He was convinced he was in charge of the Grand Army of the Republic encampment.19 For this supposed responsibility, Fred purchased large quantities of groceries his family did not need and thought it was his duty to clean the streets.20 Fred’s family had to have him committed to the local asylum, where doctors declared he was of “unsound mind.”21

Fred remained in the insane asylum for two and a half more months before death ended his mental anguish.22 He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.23 As far as I know, his grave does not have a marker. After I confirm this fact, I plan on ordering one for him through the Veteran’s Administration if the cemetery allows it.

Reference Notes


  1. “United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938,”Frederick Wünsch, 1876, Hampton, Virginia; digital images, FHL microfilm 1547615, FamilySearchhttps://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZ39-X91 : 4 Dec 2014; citing NARA Microfilm publication M1749, roll 33, p. 6453, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
  2. “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” digital images, Fried Wünsch age 19, Farmer, passenger no. 243, arrival of ship Silas Holmes, 2 Oct 1845, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVRQ-4XPH : 15 Apr 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M237, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
  3. “United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938,”Frederick Wünsch, 1887, Hampton, Virginia; digital images, FHL microfilm 1578122, FamilySearch,  (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VH46-Z7L : 4 Dec 2014); citing NARA Microfilm publication M1749, roll 231, p. 5503, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
  4. “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” Frederick Wünsch and Maria Rottler, married 16 Feb 1855; digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XDLK-BLV : 8 Dec 2014); citing FHL microfilm 344468, vol. B8, 1855, Marriage records of Hamilton County, Ohio.
  5. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War With Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934 (Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration), National Archives Building, Washington, D. C., 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW; Washington, DC 20408, Maria Wünsch, widow’s pension application no. 586,818, certificate number 399,581, service of Frederick Wünsch (Pvt., Co. H, 20th Indiana Infantry, Civil War).
  6. Frederick H. Dyer, A compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 1 (Des Moines, Iowa: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908), 1127; digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=OBkNAQAAMAAJ : Accessed 3 Sep 2016).
  7. Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath, Dignity of Duty: The Journals of Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath, 1861-1898 (Chicago: Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 2015), 54-55; digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=KoP3CQAAQBAJ : Accessed 4 Sep 2016).
  8. John J. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 256; digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=p2DsMQCix6gC : Accessed 4 Sep 2016).
  9. Hal Jespersen, “Second Battle of Bull Run, Actions 3pm, August 29, 1862: Grover’s attack,” graphic, 2007, www.CWmaps.com [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Second_Bull_Run_Aug29_1500.png : accessed 4 Sep 2016.
  10. Hal Jespersen, “Second Battle of Bull Run, Actions 5-7pm, August 29, 1862: Kearny’s attack, Hood vs. Hatch,” graphic, 2007, www.CWmaps.com [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Second_Bull_Run_Aug29_1700.png : accessed 4 Sep 2016.
  11. “Bull Run, Va. Federal cavalry at Sudley Ford,” LC-B8171-313, LOT 4167-E, photograph by George N Barnard, March 1862; digital file from original negative (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003000007/PP : accessed 4 Sep 2016); Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, compiled by Hirst D. Milhollen and Donald H. Mugridge, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC.
  12. “Bull Run, Va. Catharpin Run, Sudley Church, and the remains of the Sudley Sulphur Spring house,” LC-B811- 314, LOT 4167-E, photograph by George N Barnard, March 1862; digital file from original negative (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003000008/PP : accessed 4 Sep 2016); Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, compiled by Hirst D. Milhollen and Donald H. Mugridge, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC.
  13. Francis Augustin O’Reilly, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006) 233-5; digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=T3CeAgAAQBAJ : Accessed 4 Sep 2016).
  14. Gilbreath, Dignity of Duty, 72-73.
  15. “Pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock,” LC-B8184-10331A, negative by T.H. O’Sullivan, positive by A. Gardner, May 1863; digital file from original negative (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006685381 : accessed 4 Sep 2016); Illus. in: Gardner’s photographic sketch book of the war, Alexander Gardner. Washington, D.C. : Philp & Solomons, [c1866], v. 1, no. 32, Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, Civil War, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC.
  16. “View of Marye’s Heights and part of battlefield of Fredericksburg, Va. on December 13, 1862,” LOT 4167-D, no. 2; digital file from original negative (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2012647803 : accessed 4 Sep 2016); Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC.
  17. “Mary Wuensch and Frederick Wuensch, separation notice,” The Indianapolis News, 8 Oct 1873, p4; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  18. “A Family’s Misfortunes. Frederick Wuensch’s Mind Unseated by a Tragedy,” The Sun, Indianapolis, Indiana, 29 Aug 1893; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  19. “City Life, Frederick Wuensch locked up,” The Sun, Indianapolis, Indiana, 25 Aug 1893, p. 4; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  20. “Frederick Wuensch found Insane,” The Indianapolis Journal, 30 Aug 1893, p. 6, col. 3; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  21. “Trials of the Wuensch Family,” The Indianapolis Journal, 25 Aug 1893, p. 8, col. 1; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  22. Frederick Wuensch, death notice,” The Sun, Indianapolis, Indiana, 17 Nov 1893, p. 1; online archives, Hoosier State Chronicles, https://newspapers.library.in.gov : 2016.
  23. “Indiana Death Index, 1882-1920,” Frederick Wrench [Wünsch], died 15 Nov 1893; database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZ7G-9FB : 3 December 2014); citing: book H-5 on page 69 within the series produced by the Indiana Works Progress Administration from the original records of the Marion County Board of Health, Indianapolis, Indiana.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply