John Rosenthal (1833-1915).
The idea of the Civil War coming as far as Cape Cod seems so laughable now that the Long Point gun batteries commanded by Ordnance Sgt. John Rosenthal are best known as “Forts Useless and Ridiculous.” On 7 December 1863, however, the commercial steamship Chesapeake was about 20 miles north-northeast of the Cape, on her way from New York to Portland with passengers, crew, and cargo. Not long after midnight, Confederate sympathizers who had booked passage in New York seized control of the vessel after killing the second engineer and dumping his body overboard, wounding the chief engineer and mate, and clamping the captain in irons.
So, yes, the Confederacy was taken seriously in these parts. And Sergeant Rosenthal was ready, at the West Battery and the East Battery. He had emigrated to America from his native Alsace in 1853 and enlisted in the Army the following year. He fought Comanches in Texas, Seminoles in Florida, Navajos in New Mexico, and Mormons in Utah. Rosenthal was transferred in 1864 from his duties as sergeant major of the Fifth Infantry Regiment to superintend the Long Point emplacements, which he commanded until the 1870s, when he returned to the West. He organized the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic in the Dakota Territory. The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans. Eventually, Rosenthal settled in Provincetown and served as secretary of the Nickerson Whale and Menhaden Oil Works at Herring Cove and as the outer guard (or “tyler”) of King Hiram’s Lodge. He married Mary E. Freeman (1847-1929).
Their son, Irving Leopold Rosenthal (1869-1933), was among the best-known and most prolific of the early photographers here. “His turn-of-the-century portraits and street scenes of Provincetown are contained in nearly every book published on the history of Provincetown and Cape Cod,” according to the history of King Hiram’s Lodge, of which he was master from 1899 to 1900. Irving is buried with his parents and his wife, Mary O. Rosenthal (1873-1957).
¶ Last updated on 14 October 2017.