Frank Duveneck – The Accidental Civil War Sutler


Photo of Frank Duveneck, 1867, and one of his first canvas paintings, 1860s, perhaps biographical depiction of him as a young boy.

At the beginning of the Civil War, our beloved local painter Frank Duveneck was an impressionable 12 year old boy.   He was living with his stepfather, Joseph Duveneck and mother Mary Siemers, and nearly 8 siblings in Covington, Kentucky.    Joseph was a successful and respected business man, owning two microbreweries that made common ale, and operating a beer garden next to their home.  But, during the Civil War, it was a struggle to keep the beer garden and breweries afloat, as many of the local men were off fighting the war.    And, there were many mouths to feed in their family.     Frank’s early life was well documented by his daughter-in-law Josephine, in her book Painter–Teacher.

Even though Kentucky was neutral, the Duvenecks were Union sympathizers.   Young Frank would run out of the house with a bucket and dipper to quench the thirst of Union troops marching by their house on the way to the front.    To make ends meet, Mrs. Duveneck would bake pies and send Frank to deliver them in his express wagon to the officers at the Union Camp on 18th Street in Covington.   This of course, was before 12 years olds needed livery licenses to operate horse drawn wagons!   We do not know what type of pies Mrs. Duveneck made for the officers, but they must have been good if he was allowed in numerous times. He would exchange them with the officers for coffee and meat for the family.   So, young Duveneck became a camp rat, something that he would reminisce about in his letters to family while he was studying in Munich many years later.    He was fascinated by the characters he met and the activities he could observe of camp lifestyle.   Even though civilians were not supposed to hang around the camp, the officers seemed to be ok with Frank.     How great would it be to have an early camp sketchbook of Duveneck’s from those days?

Another time, Frank and his father, became accidental sutlers to the Confederate side, when accosted on a trip from their second brewery.      Joseph Duveneck owned a small second brewery in a small town, now lost to time, called Volturce, Kentucky, which was about a day’s ride from Covington.    He and Frank would drive their huckster wagon to the brewery every couple of weeks to get fresh supplies, stopping along the way to deliver goods and news to farmers.

One trip, when they were about halfway home, they heard the sound of horses behind them, and were soon surrounded by a band of Confederates.    The leader of this band was none other than John Hunt Morgan, who was on his raid through Kentucky, Indiana, and southwest Ohio.   Joseph pleaded with them to only take his beer, as he had a large family and needed the horses and wagon.      The raiders complied and only took the Duveneck’s beer.     Frank retold the story years later, remembering how decent a man Morgan was, and how fine his horse was.    Unfortunately the Duveneck beer quenched and refreshed these vagabond raiders, causing the involvement of about 20,000 Union Troops either trailing them or guarding against their possible arrival.

There was very little opportunity for artistic pursuits for Frank during the Civil War, except in sign painting.   At the time the larger homes in Covington had brass plates engraved with the names of the inhabitants, often in very artistic script.   Frank would use clay to run up and take impressions of these plaques to make stamps to study their writing.  He had painted a large sign for his father’s beer garden.   In florid script it noted Joseph Duveneck Beer Garden, also depicting a beer mug, a sausage, and a loaf of rye bread.    The butcher who supplied the sausages to the beer garden, was a frequent visitor to the gardens, admired the sign and asked Frank to paint one for his business.   Frank painted a magnificent pig’s head, a chain of link sausages and a forboding butcher’s knife.    Other Covington merchants commissioned Frank to paint signs for their businesses, and he was able to contribute to his family during the war as both a camp sutler and sign painter.

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