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, and was documented 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 in 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 First 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 12) 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.
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 discovering 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 man 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.
* Note: According to one source, First Lieutenant James Van Dyke, Northumberland County’s former sheriff, was promoted from the ranks of Company C to serve with the regiment’s central command as Regimental Quartermaster. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, however, that promotion had taken place back in August of 1861.
On 27 September, the 47th Pennsylvanians were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, 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 close to the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith, and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). 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 [sic], 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 11 October, 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; “Boulty” (also sometimes spelled as “Boltie”) had become a favorite not just among the men of his own C Company, but of the entire 47th. After contracting Variola (smallpox), Boulty 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 Boulty’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….
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.
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.
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 area 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 before relocating to the Beaufort District, Department of the South, roughly 35 miles away. Frequently assigned to hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, which put them at increased risk from enemy sniper fire, the members 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.
Detachments from the regiment were also assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).
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.
In his report on the expedition, filed from Mount Pleasant Landing, Florida on 2 October 1862, Colonel Tilghman H. Good, commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, described the Union Army’s assault on Saint John’s Bluff:
In accordance with orders received I landed my regiment on the bank of Buckhorn Creek at 7 o’clock yesterday morning. After landing I moved forward in the direction of Parkers plantation, about 1 mile, being then within about 14 miles of said plantation. Here I halted to await the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Regiment. I advanced two companies of skirmishers toward the house, with instructions to halt in case of meeting any of the enemy and report the fact to me. After they had advanced about three-quarters of a mile they halted and reported some of the enemy ahead. I immediately went forward to the line and saw some 5 or 6 mounted men about 700 or 800 yards ahead. I then ascended a tree, so that I might have a distinct view of the house and from this elevated position I distinctly saw one company of infantry of infantry close by the house, which I supposed to number about 30 or 40 men, and also some 60 or 70 mounted men. After waiting for the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers until 10 o’clock, and it not appearing, I dispatched a squad of men back to the landing for a 6-pounder field howitzer which had been kindly offered to my service by Lieutenant Boutelle, of the Paul Jones. This howitzer had been stationed on a flat-boat to protect our landing. The party, however, did not arrive with the piece until 12 o’clock, in consequence of the difficulty of dragging it through the swamp. Being anxious to have as little delay as possible, I did not await the arrival of the howitzer, but at 11 a.m. moved forward, and as I advanced the enemy fled.
After reaching the house I awaited the arrival of the Seventh Connecticut and the howitzer. After they arrived I moved forward to the head of Mount Pleasant Creek to a bridge, at which place I arrived at 2 p.m. Here I found the bridge destroyed, but which I had repaired in a short time. I then crossed it and moved down on the south bank toward Mount Pleasant Landing. After moving about 1 mile down the bank of the creek my skirmishing companies came upon a camp, which evidently had been very hastily evacuated, from the fact that the occupants had left a table standing with a sumptuous meal already prepared for eating. On the center of the table was placed a fine, large meat pie still warm, from which one of the party had already served his plate. The skirmishers also saw 3 mounted men leave the place in hot haste. I also found a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, with 23 tents, which, for want of transportation, I was obliged to destroy. After moving about a mile farther on I came across another camp, which also indicated the same sudden evacuation. In it I found the following articles … breech-loading carbines, 12 double-barreled shot-guns, 8 breech-loading Maynard rifles, 11 Enfield rifles, and 96 knapsacks. These articles I brought along by having the men carry them. There were, besides, a small quantity of commissary and quartermasters stores, including 16 tents, which, for the same reason as stated, I ordered to be destroyed. I then pushed forward to the landing, where I arrived at 7 p.m.
We drove the enemys [sic] skirmishers in small parties along the entire march. The march was a difficult one, in consequence of meeting so many swamps almost knee-deep.
On 3 October, Good filed an update from Saint John’s Bluff, Florida, now in Union hands:
At 9 o’clock last night Lieutenant Cannon reported to me that his command, consisting of one section of the First Connecticut Battery, was then coming up the creek on flat-boats with a view of landing. At 4 o’clock this morning a safe landing was effected [sic] and the command was ready to move. The order to move to Saint John’s Bluff reached me at 4 p.m. yesterday. In accordance with it I put the column in motion immediately and moved cautiously up the bank of the Saint John’s River, the skirmishing companies occasionally seeing small parties of the enemy’s cavalry retiring in our front as we advanced. When about 2 miles from the bluff the left wing of the skirmishing line came upon another camp of the enemy, which, however, in consequence of the lateness of the hour, I did not take time to examine, it being then already dark.
After my arrival at the bluff, it then being 7:30 o’clock, I dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander with two companies back to the last-named camp (which I found, from a number of papers left behind, to have been called Camp Hopkins and occupied by the Milton Artillery, of Florida) to reconnoiter and ascertain its condition. Upon his return he reported that from every appearance the skedaddling of the enemy was as sudden as in the other instances already mentioned, leaving their trunks and all the camp equipage behind; also a small store of commissary supplies, sugar, rice, half barrel of flour, one bag of salt, &c., including 60 tents which I have brought in this morning. The commissary stores were used by the troops of my command.
Integration of the Regiment
On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls a Black teen and several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina:
- Just 16 years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
- Also signing up as an Under Cook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was 33-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris” and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
- Also attached initially to Company F upon his 15 October 1862 enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania, 22-year-old Edward Jassum was assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Under Cook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.
More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.
Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina
From 21-23 October, Company C and the 47th engaged Confederate forces in the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. Landing at Mackay’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 Mackay’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, Major-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.
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.
In early January 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas that the fort be used to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were assigned to special duty, charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence. Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops.
Meanwhile, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had already begun preparing for the regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana. Boarding yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—on 25 February 1864, the men from Companies B, C, D, I, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Algiers, Louisiana (across the river from New Orleans), followed on 1 March by other members of the regiment from Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reconstituted regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry 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 Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks.
Red River Campaign
From 14-26 March, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana (near the top of the “L” of this L-shaped state). As they progressed, they made their way through New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. Often short on food and water during their long, hard trek through enemy territory, they finally arrived at their destination in early April.
From 4-5 April 1864, the regiment added to its roster of young Black soldiers when Aaron, James, and John Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Natchitoches. According to their respective entries in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives and on regimental muster rolls, the men would later be officially mustered in for duty when the regiment reached a safer Union base of operations. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”
Moving on within a few days, they made camp briefly at Pleasant Hill during the evening of 7 April. The next day (8 April 1864), they engaged in the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads, also known as the Battle of Mansfield.
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. In the confusion, others were reported as killed in action, but survived.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on a march once again. Soon ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spread up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate Major-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.
On that day, now known as the Battle of Pleasant Hill, the 47th nearly lost its second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander, who had been severely wounded in both legs. In addition, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls of Company C was shot while trying to mount the regimental colors on an artillery caisson that had been recaptured from Confederate troops, as was Sergeant William Pyers of the same company, who was shot after picking up the American flag when Walls fell, preventing it from falling into enemy hands.
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). 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.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore. The 47th Pennsylvanians remained at Grand Ecore for a total of eleven days (through 22 April 1864), where they engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications in a brutal climate. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish where they arrived in Cloutierville, after marching 45 miles, at 10 p.m. that night. En route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time in the rear, but they were able to end the encounter fairly quickly and continue on.
On 23 April, episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight as the 47th Pennsylvanians and other members of their brigade took on the Confederate troops of Brigadier-General Hamilton Bee in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry”). Part of an advance party led by Union Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvania supported Emory’s artillery as it countered a barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns. Meanwhile, other troops under Emory worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat.
In a letter penned from Morganza, Louisiana on 29 May, Henry Wharton described what had happened to the 47th Pennsylvanians during and immediately after making camp at Grand Ecore:
Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.
While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.
The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.
After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.
Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, they learned they would remain at their latest new camp for at least two weeks. Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they were assigned yet again to the hard labor of fortification work, helping to erect “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to more easily make their way back down the Red River. According to Wharton:
We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, an unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.
On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee.
Having entered Avoyelles Parish, they “rested on their arms” for the night, half-dozing without pitching their tents, but with their rifles right beside them. They were now positioned just outside of Marksville, Louisiana on the eve of the 16 May 1864 Battle of Mansura, which unfolded as follows, according to Wharton:
Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport [sic] on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands.
It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.*
After the surviving members of the 47th made their way through Simmesport and into the Atchafalaya Basin, they moved on to Morganza, where they made camp again. According to Wharton, the members of Company C were sent on a special mission which took them on an intense 120-mile journey:
Company C, on last Saturday 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 [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday 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.
Wharton also provided the following update regarding Company C, which had rejoined the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania on 28 May 1864:
The boys are well. James Kennedy who was wounded at Pleasant Hill, died at New Orleans hospital a few days ago. His friends in the company were pleased to learn that Dr. Dodge of Sunbury, now of the U.S. Steamer Octorora, was with him in his last moments, and ministered to his wants. The Doctor was one of the Surgeons from the Navy who volunteered when our wounded was sent to New Orleans.
While encamped at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864. The regiment then moved on once again, and arrived in New Orleans in late June.
As they did during their tour through the Carolinas and Florida, the men of the 47th had battled the elements and disease, as well as the Confederate Army, in order to survive and continue to defend their nation.
Sadly, Private George W. Bortell would not be one of those survivors. 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.
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, Emanuel 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), who was also known as “Kate” or “Katie”;
- Maude A. (1876-1973), who later wed, and was widowed by, Glenn T. Davis (1876-1943), and who 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), who was also known as “Hattie,” and who 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 and progressed, William’s children, Kate and Laura, “tied the knot.” Kate married Walter J. Neely in Grinnell on 5 February 1896 while 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.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
2. Bell, Herbert C. History of Northumberland County. Chicago, Illinois: 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, Maryland: 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.
5. Bortell, Laura M. and Kate Janietta Bortelle, in Iowa Marriage Records, 1880-1922, in Iowa Department of Public Health Textual Records. Des Moines, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa.
6. Bortell, William, in “Wedded Fifty Years: Mr. and Mrs. William Bortell, of Grinnell, Celebrate Golden Anniversary, Hundreds of Friends Extend Congratulations.” Marshalltown, Iowa: Times-Republican, 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; date: 1863). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
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: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
9. Bortle, George W., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 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, Pennsylvania: 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.” Marshalltown, Iowa: Times-Republican, 13 September 1911.
13. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 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). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
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