Private George W. Bortell (aka “George Bortle”)

Mifflin, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, circa 1840. (Source: Day’s Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, 1843.)

Born in Juniata County, Pennsylvania on 22 November 1840, George W. Bortell was a son of Pennsylvania natives, Emanuel Bortell (1810-1874), a laborer, and Katherine (Kinsie) Bortell. Alternate spellings of his family’s surname included: Bortal, Bortel, Bortell, and Bortle.

In 1840, George Bortell resided in Juniata County with his parents and siblings: Samuel D. (1835-1915), Harriet (1838-1921) and Henry (1839-1880). Three more brothers followed: William (1842-1933), who was born in Mifflin, Juniata County on 8 May 1842; John Ernest (born in Juniata County sometime around 1843); and an unnamed boy born on 12 February 1845.

Tragically, the Bortell siblings’ lives were forever altered with the birth of that infant. Their mother died that day from childbirth-related complications; their baby brother died the following day (13 February 1845).

Their father then remarried sometime before the decade was out; he is shown on the 1860 federal census as living in Patterson, Milford Township, Juniata County with his wife, Elizabeth, and three of his children from his first marriage: Henry, William and John. Brothers William and Henry were employed as laborers like their father while younger brother John worked on a farm.

Meanwhile, that same year, George W. Bortell resided with the family of Jacob Snyder in the Borough of Mifflintown, Juniata County, where he was employed by Snyder as a “Junior Blacksmith.”

Civil War Military Service

George W. Bortell and his brother, William, became two of the earliest Pennsylvanians to join the fight to preserve America’s Union. William enlisted for military service in July 1861, and served with the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry until honorably mustering out in 1864. He went on to see action at Fredericksburg, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Kelly’s Ford, Gaines’ Mill, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Shenandoah, and Pope’s retreat.

George Bortell, who enlisted just weeks after his brother, enrolled at Sunbury in Northumberland County on 19 August 1861, he then officially mustered in for duty at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County on 2 September 1861 as a Private with Company C of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

* Note: Company C was more commonly known as the “Sunbury Guards” because it was largely composed of men who were members of the Northumberland County militia unit which had been founded in 1818 and went by that same name. Many of its members had re-enlisted following completion of their Three Months’ Service as part of Company F, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers, under Captain Charles J. Bruner and 1st Lieutenant John Peter Shindel Gobin, who later became President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate and Lieutenant Governor of the Keystone State.

After honorably completing his initial service that Summer of 1861, Gobin joined many of his fellow Sunbury Guardsmen in signing up for an additional three-year term, electing to serve with an entirely new regiment that had recently been formed by Colonel Tilghman H. Good – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Promoted to the rank of Captain when he mustered in again at Camp Curtin on 2 September, he was placed in charge of his Sunbury Guardsmen. His unit became the heart of the regiment. Designated as Company C – the Color-Bearers, they were awarded the honor of protecting the national and regimental colors for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Among its ranks were the regiment’s youngest and oldest members, John Boulton Young (aged 13) and Benjamin F. Walls (aged 65).

Military records at the time of his enlistment described Private George W. Bortell as a 20-year-old blacksmith and resident of Mifflintown in Juniata County who was 5’7″ tall with sandy hair, blue eyes and a light complexion.

In a letter sent to family around this same time of muster in, Captain Gobin provided additional details regarding the 47th Pennsylvania’s status :

We expect to leave tonight for Washington or Baltimore. Our company has been made the color company of the regiment, the letter being accorded to rotation used, C. It is the same as E in the 11th. Wm. M. Hendricks has been appointed Sergeant Major, so that Sunbury is pretty well represented in the regiment, having the Quartermaster, Sergeant Major and Color Company…. Boulton is lying by me as I write, just about going to sleep.

Camp Curtin (Harpers Weekly, 1861; public domain).

Camp Curtin (Harper’s Weekly, 1861, public domain).

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics during which time they were housed at the reportedly pleasant Camp Curtin No. 2 (located on the field next to the main camp), the men of Company C were then sent by train with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to Washington, D.C. where, beginning 21 September, they were stationed roughly two miles from the White House at “Camp Kalorama” on Kalorama Heights near Georgetown.

“It is a very fine location for a camp,” wrote Captain Gobin. “Good water is handy, while Rock Creek, which skirts one side of us, affords an excellent place for washing and bathing.”

Henry Wharton, a musician from C Company penned the following update for the Sunbury American on 22 September:

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent men and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

I am happy to inform you that our young townsman, Mr. William Hendricks, has received the appointment of Sergeant Major to our Regiment. He made his first appearance at guard mounting this morning; he looked well, done up his duties admirably, and, in time, will make an excellent officer. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.

Private Bortell and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were formally mustered into the U.S. Army on 24 September in a ceremony filled with pomp and celebration. That same day, James VanDyke, Northumberland County’s ex-sheriff, was promoted from the ranks of Company C to serve with the regiment’s central command as Regimental Quartermaster.

On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, they  was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey and armed with Mississippi rifles, they marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.

Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville, a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Sometime during this phase of duty, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow 3rd Brigade members were moved to “Camp Big Chestnut.” So christened for the large chestnut tree located within the site’s boundaries, the area would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

On October 11, Private George Bortell and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. In a letter home in mid-October, Captain Gobin reported that the right wing of the 47th Pennsylvania (companies A, C, D, F and I) was ordered to picket duty after the left wing’s companies (B, G, K, E, and H) were forced to return to camp by Confederate  troops:

I was ordered to take my company to Stewart’s house, drive the Rebels from it, and hold it at all hazards. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so waiting until it was just getting day, I marched 80 men up; but the Rebels had left after driving Capt. Kacy’s company [H] into the woods. I took possession of it, and stationed my men, and there we were for 24 hours with our hands on our rifles, and without closing an eye. I took ten men, and went out scouting within half a mile of the Rebels, but could not get a prisoner, and we did not dare fire on them first. Do not think I was rash, I merely obeyed orders, and had ten men with me who could whip a hundred; Brosius, Piers [sic], Harp and McEwen were among the number. Every man in the company wanted to go. The Rebels did not attack us, and if they had they would have met with a warm reception, as I had my men posted in such a manner that I could have whipped a regiment. My men were all ready and anxious for a “fight.”

In his own letter of this period (on 13 October to the Sunbury American), Henry Wharton described the typical duties of the 47th Pennsylvanians, as well as their new home:

The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.

Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning – all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly – not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time….

Wharton also reported that all of the men were well; unfortunately, he was proven wrong.

A Sad, Unwanted Distinction

On 17 October 1861, death claimed the first member of the entire regiment – the 47th Pennsylvania’s little drummer boy, John Boulton Young. The pain of his loss was deeply and widely felt; “Boltie” had become a favorite not just among the men of his own C Company, but of the entire 47th. After contracting Variola (smallpox), Boltie had initially been treated in camp, but was shipped back to the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown when it became evident that he needed more intensive care.

According to historian Lewis Schmidt, Captain Gobin wrote to Boltie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Young of Sunbury, “It is with the most profound feelings of sorrow I ever experienced that I am compelled to announce to you the death of our Pet, and your son, Boulton.” In a separate letter to friends, Gobin added:

The doctor… told me it was the worst case he ever saw. It was the regular black, confluent small pox… I had him vaccinated at Harrisburg, but it would not take, and he must have got the disease from some of the old Rebel camps we visited, as their army is full of it. There is only one more case in our regiment, and he is off in the same hospital.

In letters home later that month, Gobin asked Sunbury residents to donate blankets for the Sunbury Guards:

The government has supplied them with one blanket apiece, which, as the cold weather approaches, is not sufficient…. Some of my men have none, two of them, Theodore Kiehl and Robert McNeal, having given theirs to our lamented drummer boy when he was taken sick… Each can give at least one blanket, (no matter what color, although we would prefer dark,) and never miss it, while it would add to the comfort of the soldiers tenfold. Very frequently while on picket duty their overcoats and blankets are both saturated by the rain. They must then wait until they can dry them by the fire before they can take their rest.

On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th participated in a Divisional Review, described by Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”

In early November, Gobin observed that “the health of the Company and Regiment are in the best condition. No cases of small pox have appeared since the death of Boultie”; however, a  few patients remained in the hospital with fever.

Half of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Company C, were next ordered to join parts of the 33rd Maine and 46th New York in extending the reach of their division’s picket lines, which they did successfully to “a half mile beyond Lewinsville,” according to Gobin.

In another letter home on 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more details about life at Camp Griffin:

This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….

The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….

A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….

Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified….

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Then, on 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to historian Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges…. After the reviews and inspections, Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.”

As a reward for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ outstanding performance during this review and in preparation for the even bigger adventures yet to come, Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan directed his staff to ensure that new Springfield rifles were obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

1862

As the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to Florida and Sunbury families traveled to bid them farewell, Henry Wharton clerked for Brigadier-General Brannan (Sunbury American, 18 January 1862, public domain).

As the 47th Pennsylvania was ordered to Florida and Sunbury families traveled to bid them farewell, Henry Wharton clerked for Brigadier-General Brannan (Sunbury American, 18 January 1862, public domain).

Having been ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were sent by rail to Alexandria, where they boarded and sailed the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal. They were then reequipped, and marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

Per research by Schmidt, as well as letters home from members of the regiment, those preparations ceased on Monday, 27 January, at 10 a.m. when:

The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.

Reloading then resumed. By that afternoon, when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers. The officers boarded last and, per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, the Oriental steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War. (Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress.)

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

In February 1862, Private George W. Bortell and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived at Fort Taylor in Key West. Assigned to garrison duty, they drilled daily. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, they introduced their presence to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. That Sunday, a number of the men mingled with locals while attending local church services.

But while there were pleasant moments, there was also more frustration and heartache – the time here for the 47th made more difficult by outbreaks of typhoid fever and other tropical diseases, as well as the always likely dysentery from soldiers living in close, unsanitary conditions. In addition, many members of the regiment were weakened by the hard labor of felling trees, building new roads and strengthening the federal installation’s fortifications.

Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker and then quartered in the Beaufort District, Department of the South. Frequently on hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.

Illustration of the Union Navy's base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

Illustration of the Union Navy’s base of operations, Mayport Mills, circa 1862 (public domain).

On 30 September 1862, C Company and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent back to Florida where they participated with other Union forces in the assault on and capture of Saint John’s Bluff from 1 to 3 October. Under the command of Brigadier-General Brannan, the 1,500-plus Union force left their gunboat-escorted troop carriers at Mayport Mills and Mount Pleasant Creek. With the 47th Pennsylvania on point and braving alligators, snakes and Rebel troops, the men pushed through 25 dense miles of forests and swampland in order to capture the bluff and pave the way for the Union’s occupation of Jacksonville, Florida.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper’s Weekly in 1865.

From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackey’s Point under the brigade command of 47th Pennsylvania founder, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and regimental command of Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th led the way once again. This time, however, the Union’s luck ran out. Bedeviled by snipers, the brigade faced massive resistance from an entrenched Confederate battery, as well as withering fire upon entering a cotton field. Those headed for the Frampton Plantation’s higher ground were pounded by Rebel artillery and infantry from the surrounding forests.

Undaunted, the Union forces charged into the fire, and forced the Rebels into a four-mile retreat to the Pocotaligo Bridge. At this juncture, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut but, after two hours of exchanging fire while attempting to take the ravine and bridge, the 47th ran low on ammunition, and withdrew to Mackey’s Point. Two officers and 18 enlisted men from the 47th were killed during the expedition. In addition, two officers and another 114 enlisted were wounded.

On 23 October 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, General Ormsby M. Mitchel, who had succumbed to yellow fever 30 October. Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, was later named for him. Men from the 47th Pennsylvania were given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

1863

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida, Harper's Weekly, 1864 (public domain).

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 was spent garrisoning installations in Florida as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps, Department of the South. Captain Gobin and his C Company men joined with Companies A, B, E, G, and I in duties at Key West’s Fort Taylor while the soldiers from Companies D, F, H, and K were sent to Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.

It was a noteworthy year both for the number of men lost to disease – and because most of the soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania chose to re-enlist when their original three-year terms of service expired.

Private George W. Bortell was one of those who re-upped for another three-year tour of duty. According to regimental muster rolls, he officially re-mustered at Fort Taylor as a Private with C Company on 12 October 1863. U.S. Civil War Draft Registration records for this same year confirm that he was a 21-year-old resident of Mifflintown in Milford Township, Juniata County who was away from home serving a three-year term in the military.

1864

On 25 February 1864, the Sunbury Guards and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began a phase of service during which their regiment would make history. Boarding another steamer, the Charles Thomas, C Company and the 47th traveled from New Orleans to Algiers, Louisiana. Arriving on 28 February, they then moved by train to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.

From 14-26 March, the 47th marched for the top of the L in the L-shaped state, passing through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington en route to Alexandria. On 8 April, they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield).

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain).

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down during the volley of fire. The fighting waned only as darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill. C Company’s Private Jeremiah Haas was one of the many killed that day; Private Thomas Lothard was one of the even larger number wounded.

The next day, Sunbury Guardsman and 68-year-old Company C Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was wounded during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, as was Sergeant William Pyers. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were  forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania also recaptured a Massachusetts artillery battery that had been lost during the earlier Confederate assault. While he was mounting the 47th Pennsylvania’s colors on one of the recaptured Massachusetts caissons, Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag. Both men survived their wounds and continued to fight on – Walls until he was Honorably Discharged upon expiration of his term of service on 18 September 1864.

Others from the 47th were also killed or wounded, including Private John C. Sterner (killed at Pleasant Hill), and Privates Cornelius Kramer, George Miller, and Thomas Nipple (wounded). In addition, the regiment nearly lost its second in command, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Alexander, who was severely wounded in both legs. Privates Conrad Holman, Edward Matthews, Samuel Miller, and John W. McNew  were captured by Rebel forces, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army until released during prisoner exchanges in later months. At least two members of the 47th died while in captivity while still others remain missing to this day.

Known as "Bailey's Dam" for the Union officer who ordered its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 was designed to facilitate passage of Union gunboats to and from the Mississippi River. Photo: Public domain.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for the Union officer who ordered its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

On 23 April, the 47th made the Cane River Crossing via Monett’s Ferry and, from 30 April to 10 May, began construction of a timber dam across the Red River to enable Union gunboats to travel more easily.

On 13 May, the regiment moved to Morganza, Louisiana. While encamped at Morganza on 29 May, C Company’s Henry Wharton updated readers back home via a letter which ran in the 18 June 1864 edition of the Sunbury American:

Company C, on last Saturday [21 May 1864] was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done satisfactorily and returned yesterday [28 May 1864] to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman. The boys are well. 

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers then continued on with their march, finally reaching New Orleans on 20 June. Battered but undaunted by their Bayou experience, the men from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I sailed home to Washington, D.C. via the steamer McClellean beginning 7 July 1864.

Following their arrival and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, they then joined Major-General David Hunter’s forces in the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.

After surviving all of this, the hardships of war finally took their toll on Private George W. Bortell. Confined to the Union Army’s Mt. Pleasant General Hospital in Washington, D.C., he succumbed to heart disease-related asphyxia there on 8 August 1864.

Private George W. Bortle, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Ledger Entry, Registers of Deaths of U.S. Volunteer Soldiers, 8 August 1864 (public domain).

Private George W. Bortell, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Ledger Entry, Registers of Deaths of U.S. Volunteer Soldiers, 8 August 1864 (public domain; click twice to enlarge).

 

In 1863, an entry for Private George W. Bortell in a U.S. Civil War Draft Registration ledger documented that he remained unmarried. He continues to rest in peace at Arlington National Cemetery (Grave No. 7188) in Arlington, Virginia.

A Family Moves On

Following his honorable discharge from the military, Private George Bortell’s brother, William, married Susan Noon in Juniata County, Pennsylvania on 5 August 1865. A fellow Juniata native, she was born on 4 August 1844. One newspaper account indicated that they were married in Mifflintown; another stated that the wedding occurred in Port Royal (the town where William’s father and stepmother resided in 1870).

Sometime around 1866, they welcomed daughter, Laura, followed by son, Ervin (1867-1954) on 16 October 1867, and daughter Rebecca (sometime around 1869).

As Spring arrived with the new decade, William, Susan, Laura, Ervin, and Rebecca Bortell made their way west. Settling initially in Greencastle, Marshall County, Iowa, they relocated to Grinnell in Poweshiek County that Fall of 1870. There, William Bortell farmed the land for nine years before becoming a bridge builder for the Iowa Central Railroad.

Back home in Pennsylvania later that same year, the Bortell family patriarch, Emanuel Bortell, passed away in Milford Township on 6 October 1874. His death was reported in the Juniata County Sentinel and Republican on 14 October.

Afterward, according to the 1880 federal census, Emmanuel Bortell’s second wife, Elizabeth, continued living on her own a fact confirmed by Emanuel Bortell’s will, which directed that his sons from his first marriage receive a significant portion of his estate. This will also stated that, his second wife, Elizabeth, should continue residing at their home “in the new or next end of the house as long as she lives with the privilege of keeping one hog and a few chickens and when there is fruit she is to has [sic] as much as she needs for her own use.” He also granted to her the property she brought with her when they married, and added that she would only be allowed to remain in the house with the understanding that she was “not to permit any of her brothers of sister to live with her along [sic] as she lives in the house.”

* Note: On 8 June 1880, Elizabeth Bortell applied for the U.S. Civil War pension of her deceased stepson, George W. Bortell, but was apparently not awarded any funds since no certificate number appears on their entry in the U.S. Civil War Pension Index.

Following their move to Iowa, William and Susan Bortell welcomed the birth of the following children:

  • Katherine Janietta (1871-1941): Also known as “Kate” or “Katie”;
  • Maude A. (1876-1973): She later wed and was widowed by Glenn T. Davis (1876-1943), taught at Traer, Iowa before teaching history and geography for 35 years at Grinnell’s junior high school, and lived to become one of Grinnell’s oldest citizens while residing at the Friendship Manor Nursing Home; and
  • Harriet (1881-1966): Also known as “Hattie,” she later wed Ernest A. Bump (1878-1959), and resided in Coon Rapids before resettling in Monroe.

They also had another child who died at the age of four a son according to various newspaper and genealogical accounts, but whose name and vital statistics (including birth and death dates and locations) were not included in those reports. By 1870, those residing at William Bortell’s household in Greencastle were William and his wife, Susan, and their children:

In 1880, William Bortell received word that his brother, Henry, had been killed in an accident on 3 September while working with others to remove a pole from a wagon. His death was reported later that month in the Juniata Sentinel and Republican.

As the new century approached, dawned and progressed, William’s children, Kate and Laura, “tied the knot.” Kate married Walter J. Neely in Grinnell on 5 February 1896; Laura wed Indiana native, Elmer E. Hayes, in Powieshiek County on 28 December 1910. Initially residing in Malcom with her husband, Laura (Bortell) Hayes later also settled in Grinnell.

Then, sometime during the Winter of 1910, William Bortell’s wife contracted Erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection which can negatively impact the lymphatic system. Her case was serious enough and of sufficient duration for Marshalltown’s Times-Republican to report on 19 April that she was “apparently out of immediate danger tho the treacherous nature of the disease makes that point still uncertain.” During this same year, daughter Maude Bortell was unmarried and teaching in a school in Everett, Washington, according to local newspapers.

William Bortell also faced a health threat the next year (1911) when he was seriously injured as his carriage “filled with his family was thrown by the track from a freight train,” according to the 13 January 1913 edition of the Times-Republican in Marshalltown. Tragically, one of his passengers – his niece Mrs. Catherine Brassington from Altoona, Pennsylvania, was killed in the accident “only a few minutes after she had reached this city early this morning, with the anticipations of a happy visit with her son and other relatives.” The 13 September 1911  edition of the same newspaper reported that she “was struck by an Iowa Central freight train at a public crossing just north of the depot, and sustained injuries that resulted in her death an hour later.” The paper further explained that:

Mrs. Brassington had just got off the Rock Island train from the east, a few minutes before 2’oclock, and was met by her uncle, William Bertell [sic], and wife, at whose home she was to visit, and her son, John Brassington, of this city. It was raining hard at the time, and after driving about half a block the Bortell rig approached the Central tracks. Freight No. 97, north-bound, was just pulling out at 2’oclock, the engine having attained a speed of almost eight miles an hour. Altho the engine was equipped with an electric searchlight the occupants of the rig, with the side curtains up to protect them from the storm, failed to see the light or hear the noise of the train.

The engineer “applied the emergency brakes and got his train stopped as soon as possible, but not until the woman had been dragged between 150 and 200 feet under the pilot.” Although she had not been run over by the trains wheels, William Bortell’s niece still sustained massive injuries, including multiple bone fractures. Moved by the crew into the train station’s baggage area, she died there an hour later.

Although William Bortell’s wife was uninjured, William sustained a broken collar bone, and his niece’s husband, John Brassington, was badly bruised. As a result, the Bortells and Brassingtons sued the Iowa Central Railway.

By 1915, the news was much more joyful as the Times-Republican of Marshalltown, Iowa reported that William Bortell and his wife, Susan, would celebrate their Golden Anniversary in grand style. Noting that the couple were “Born and Reared in Same County in Pennsylvania,” and would be taking a “Pleasure Trip Thru East” the newspaper provided key details regarding the birth, marriage and relocation to Iowa of the Bortells, as well as the names of their surviving children.

The following year (August 1916), the Bortells received a visit from William’s sister, Harriet, the wife of Alexander S. McClintock (1825-1912), and in February 1917, they welcomed to their home Grinnell native Edward Munson who was, according to local newspapers, headed for “Foochow, China, where Mr. Munson is engaged in Y.M.C.A. work.”

Just six months later, Susan Bortell was gone, passing away in Grinnell on 3 July 1917. Following funeral services at the Bortell family home which were heavily attended by family, friends and others in the community, according to her funeral notice in Marshalltown’s Times-Republican, she was laid to rest at the Hazelwood Cemetery in Grinnell.

William Bortell crossed over on 26 April 1933. According to his obituary:

William Bortell, a former resident of Juniata county, passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. E. E. Hayes in Grinnell, Iowa, Wednesday evening, April 26, after being confined to his bed for two weeks. Mr. Bortell was in his 81st year.

He was a son of Emanuel and Katherine Bortell and was born at Mifflin, May 8, 1842. He enlisted with the First Pennsylvania Cavalry Company A, and was in service four years. He had many thrilling experiences, but was miraculously spared.

He married Miss Susan Noon at Port Royal, August 5, 1865. She died July 3, 1917…. He united with the Methodist Church in 1875 and was the oldest member of the local church at his death.

He, too, was laid to rest at Hazelwood Cemetery in Grinnell, Powieshiek County, Iowa.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.

2. Bell, Herbert C. History of Northumberland County. Chicago: Brown, Runk, & Co. Publishers: 1891.

3. Bortel, George W, in Interment Control Forms, U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

4. Bortell, George W. and Elizabeth Bortell (mother; application no. 272576 filed for deceased stepson’s pension on 8 June 1880), in U.S. Civil War Pension Index. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1880.

5. Bortell, Laura M. and Kate Janietta Bortelle, in Iowa Marriage Records, 1880-1922, in Iowa Department of Public Health Textual Records. Des Moines: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1910.

6. Bortell, William, in Wedded Fifty Years: Mr. and Mrs. William Bortell, of Grinnell, Celebrate Golden Anniversary, Hundreds of Friends Extend Congratulations, in Times-Republican. Marshalltown: 5 August 1915.

7. Bortle, George, in Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registrations, 1863-1865 (NM-65, entry 172), in Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War, Record Group 110). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives, 1863.

8. Bortle, George, in Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

9. Bortle, George W., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

10. Bortle, George W. in Registers of Deaths of U.S. Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

11. Day, Sherman. Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania; Containing a Copious Selection of the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, etc. Relating to Its History and Antiquities, Both General and Local, with Topographical Descriptions of Every County and All the Larger Towns in the State. Philadelphia: George W. Gorton, 1843.

12. Death Was Greeting: Mrs. Catherine Brassington, of Altoona, Pa., Killed by Train at Grinnell: Met by Relatives at Depot, Accident Follows Quickly: Carriage in Which Visitor and Relatives Started from Depot for Home Struck by Freight at Crossing – William Bortell and John Brassington Slightly Injured, in Times-Republican. Marshalltown: 13 September 1911.

13. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.

14. U.S. Census (George W. “Bortal” and “Bortle”; family members as “Bortell” and “Bortle”). Washington, D.C., Iowa and Pennsylvania: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

 

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