In her book War Stories, Frances Clarke outlines the importance of being seen as a man in Victorian society. For a soldier and his family it was important to know that if he should meet a tragic end, his death would be seen as a triumphant one. These concepts can be found in the story of Frederick H. Kronenberger, a young clerk who enlisted in the Second New Jersey Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.
Frederick was only eighteen years old when he enlisted in December 1863. He was dead less than a year later due to a wound he received in a small skirmish while on picket duty. An analysis of the journal and letters he left behind reveals his desire to be seen as a man of courage. In his journal, Frederick wrote only short entries, some as simple as “Sewed buttons on my coat.” Frederick seemed to avoid any emotional statements in his journal as to whether he was happy, despondent, or scared. He may have done so to avoid looking weak if he were to die and his journal was found and read. He liked baseball games and he talked about watching them on several occasion. Like many other young men, he was interested in women, and he devoted an entry to say that six women had passed by when he was on picket. What these entries lack is an indication of how these events made him feel. Regardless of this, the fact that he chose to include this information is important in constructing the image of Frederick Kronenberger.
There are a few times when Frederick’s journal comes close to emotion, such as when he wrote about his tiredness or soreness from campaign. Frederick did not complain in these entries, but instead it seems that he was trying to show that he worked hard. For example, after walking six miles, Frederick wrote the next morning: “My legs were so stiff that I could not get up and attend roll call.” While Frederick may be revealing some sort of weakness in this entry, he was also showing that he pushed himself to the point of physical collapse and that he took his great physical discomfort in stride by not complaining. A more significant event was when he lost a tooth, undoubtedly causing significant pain. He wrote: “Was very windy all day broke chimney/had my tooth extracted.” His tooth seems like an afterthought to the collapse of the chimney despite the fact that a tooth extraction is very painful.More importantly, Frederick had little to say even when he sustained the wound that would later kill him in May 1864. He wrote: “Was on picket yet and was firing at the rebs I was wounded in the knees was sent to the division [hospital].” This lack of complaining can be attributed to his desire to be seen as a man, a notion that is supported by a letter he wrote to his parents in February 1864. “Tell Mother that when I go in to battle I will do my duty/ do not be alarmed about me if every soldier feels like me they will not feel down hearted in the presence of Rebels.” Frederick’s emphasis was on honor, that he would stand brave in the face of the enemy. He proved his courage not only in battle but also in a letter he wrote to his parents. In this letter, Frederick chose to comfort his family rather than burden them with his fears of his impending death: “I am in good spirits and the doctors say my wound isn’t dangerous so I hope you won’t worry about me.” Five days later he was dead.
Despite his insistence that he was fine the nurse that treated Frederick, Bell Robinson, had a much different view on his death. She wrote to his family: “Freddy’s sufferings were great/ I don’t think he ceased groaning a moment/ his mind wandered very much when he was sleeping.” With these two descriptions of Frederick’s death we see the need for a young man to die with courage, to die by the standards of a man held by Victorian society. Frederick recorded courage through his journal which lacks any notion of fear or complaining and in the letters he sent home which comforted his family, ones where he ignored his own troubles. The nurse Bell Robinson would crack the image which Frederick tried to construct, but it does not take away from the courage and fortitude he portrayed as he came face to face with death.
Clarke, Frances M. War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Kronenberger, Frederick H. “MS-015: Frederik H. Kronenberger, Company G, Second Regiment New Jersey Volunteers.” Gettysburg College Special Collections.