When The Casualty List Is Wrong: Researching for Wreaths Across America

Sometimes the casualty lists are wrong. And in some cases, happily wrong.

In preparation for the upcoming battlefield tour and virtual history program to support Wreaths Across America, I’ve been doing “deep dive research” through newspaper casualty lists from the battle of New Market. Battery D of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery (also known as Carlin’s Battery) has been one of the units I’ve been focusing on. Here’s an image of one of the printed casualty lists that appeared in western Virginia communities:

May 20, 1864 in the “The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer”

Private George W. Bottles is listed second in this detailed casualty list from the battle of New Market which was fought on May 15, 1864 in the Virginian Shenandoah Valley. This newspaper claims that Bottles was shot in the chest and fainted while trying to walk to the rear; he was left on the field, believed to be mortally wounded. From this information, I started looking for Bottle’s burial records in case he had a marked grave and had possibly been eventually buried in Winchester National Cemetery.

When I found a pension record, though, something wasn’t adding up. That record had Bottles himself applying for an invalid’s pension in 1865. His wife applied for a widow’s pension in 1903. So…Private Bottles’s survived the battle of New Market on May 15, 1864? It was time to look for more records and try to unravel this story.

The complied service record and a few census records offer some facts and hints.

George W. Bottles had been born around 1836 and seems to have grown up in Pennsylvania. He appears to have had living parents and four siblings according to the 1850 Census, though the last name is spelled “Botte.” On both the 1850 Census and on his enlistment papers, George was listed as employed as an “Iron Boiler.” At this time, it is not quite clear when he married; there is a marriage record of “George W. Battles” in Ohio in January 1856 to a young woman named Maria. O’s and A’s can look very similar in 19th Century script, so maybe he was married before the Civil War began…or maybe not.

The records are slightly clearer that Bottles enlisted in August 1862 (one record says August 16 and another says August 18) for three years of volunteer service in Battery D of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery which mustered in Wheeling. The enlistment description identifies him as 26 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall with a fair complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes. Bottles received $25 as a bounty at the time of his enlistment.

For the next few months, he was present on artillery battery’s muster rolls. The Second Battle of Winchester in June 1863 resulted in a Confederate victory, and Bottles was captured during the Union retreat. His captors sent him to Richmond, Virginia, and then he landed in the Parole Camp at Annapolis, Maryland. At some point in October or November 1863, Bottles escaped or simply left the Parole Camp; perhaps he did not understand the terms of his parole or maybe he slipped home to Pennsylvania for a little while. He did return to the Parole Camp in November and then rejoined his unit in December 1863, with no charges pressed for his autumn absence. During February and March 1864, he served on detached duty in Greenland Gap, West Virginia.

In May 1864, Union troops commanded by General Franz Sigel slowly advanced south in the Shenandoah Valley. Skirmishing clashes happened near the town of New Market on May 13-14 with the main day of battle erupting on May 15. Bottles went with his artillery battery which took position on Bushong Hill, sitting on the far right of the Union line. Virginian regiments advanced on the battery, trying to out flank it. At some point in the battle, Private Bottles was shot in the left breast. When the battery and the rest of the Union army retreated, he was left on the muddy battlefield.

These cannons at New Market Battlefield, Virginia, are actually near the location of Carlin’s Battery.

Captured again, Bottles seems to have received some medical care from Confederates or civilians. Some records mention him in a hospital at New Market. Unwilling to go through another prisoner and parole experience, Bottles somehow escaped and found his unit on August 20, 1864. He seems to have been sent to medical care and by September 1864 was listed at the “Post Hospital in Wheeling, West Virginia.” Battery muster records continued to list Private Bottles absent on sick leave through the end of the war.

Though absent from his unit, a few more hints survive in his service record. Bottles — with the help of surgeons and hospital directors — wrote an appeal on January 30, 1865, to Surgeon General Barnes. Oddly, he identifies New Market as fought on June 15, but other papers in his service file clearly list the date of May 15, 1864; most likely, he simply had the wrong month in his narrative.

“I enlisted on the 18 day of August 1862 and served with my company in the field up to June 15, 1864, at which time I was severely wounded through the left breast by a Minnie ball in an engagement with the enemy at New Market, Virginia. I was left on the field and fell into the hands of the enemy, but afterwards effected my escape and since that time I have been a patient in this hospital. Being unfit for duty and my family residing in Pittsburg, Pa. I would most respectfully ask that I be transferred…”

An Assistant Surgeon added a note, revealing more about Bottle’s injury:

“He is now utterly unfit for any kind of military duty whatever and from the present indications of the severe wound within mentioned he will not be able for duty for a long time, if at all before his term of enlistment expires, and for this reason, as well as because of his gallant conduct in the field and meritorious conduct in the hospital, I respectfully request that this indulgence within may be granted to him.”

Bottles was allowed to transfer hospitals and his railroad ticket was paid for, taken out of his pay and noted in his pay records. On July 31, 1865, he applied for an invalid’s pension.

On the 1880 Census, George W. Bottles is listed as an iron boiler, living in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, with his wife, Mary. No children are listed with the couple on this census record. He seems to have lived into the early 20th Century. On March 21, 1903, his wife filed for a widow’s pension.

George W. Bottles, an iron boiler from Pennsylvania, served in a West Virginia artillery battery. He survived the battle of New Market, despite the initial casualty lists and newspaper reporting. Two experiences as a prisoner and a long, painful convalescence comprised the accounts of his military service. His gallant conduct on the battlefield and meritorious character in the hospital were briefly noted and praised. At the end of a long life, George W. Bottles was laid to rest in Riverview Cemetery in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, with a Union veteran’s headstone marking his grave.

George W. Bottles’s Grave in Riverview Cemetery in Ohio (Find A Grave)

So…happily, though not easily, George Bottles survived New Market. However, several of his comrades had different endings. A few weeks ago I confirmed by research records the death of another member of Carlin’s Battery; more recently Jon Tracey and I confirmed this other artilleryman’s marked burial place in Winchester National Cemetery for the research we’ve been compiling. I’ll be telling this other artilleryman’s story during the New Market Battlefield Tour on October 1 and in the virtual history program which will be sent to fundraiser donors on October 7.

For more details about Emerging Civil War’s fundraiser to support Wreaths Across America through research and programs, please visit https://emergingcivilwar.com/ecw_event/2023-wreaths/ We hope you’ll join us on the battlefield or online to explore and remember these soldiers’ stories.

4 Responses to When The Casualty List Is Wrong: Researching for Wreaths Across America

  1. Interesting. And a happy ending at least to this story. (But any idea what is an “iron boiler”?)

  2. According to Google it’s a person who fabricates boilers from iron or steel. I imagine that was a good occupation then but sounds like it could have been strenuous and possibly dangerous.

    1. Yes, that’s what I thought the occupation meant, too. Sorry – probably should have been a little more detailed about that! Thanks for adding to the knowledge in the comments section. 🙂

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!

%d bloggers like this: