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Civil War Blog

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John Botdorf of Herndon – Killed at Po River, Virginia

Posted By on May 7, 2013

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The Widow Mary Botdorf, living in Jackson Township (Herndon Post Office), Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, reported to the 1890 Census that her husband John Botdorf had served in the 136th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company C, as a Private, from 7 August 1862 through his discharge on 29 May 1863 (nine months and 22 days), that he was a re-enlisted veteran who also served in the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company K, as a Private, and was killed in battle.  She did not have the dates of his latter service and claimed that the papers were lost.

According to the records of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, John Botdorf was killed at the Battle of Po River on 10 May 1864. Combining the available information from the Pension Bureau, the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Index Cards (Pennsylvania Archives), and other sources, the following is known about John Botdorf and his family.

John Botdorf first served in the 136th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company C, as a Private, although that information was not reported to the Pension Bureau and therefore does not appear in the Widow’s Pension Application.

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Pension Index Card from Fold3.

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Pennsylvania Archives Card – 136th Pennsylvania Infantry

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Pennsylvania Archives Card – 148th Pennsylvania Infantry

John Botdorf, was 42 years old when he first enlisted, and was therefore born about 1820.  While no other physical information appears on the above-shown records, the Pension File has a more complete description:

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The letter from Provost Marshal Patterson noted that John Batdorf had hazel eyes, brown hair, light complexion, and stood 5 foot, eight inches tall.  Prior indication (on the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Index Card, above) noted that he was serving as a “Sub,” without mentioning for whom.  The Provost Marshal’s letter stated that John Botdorf was a substitute for Henry Knarr of Jackson Township.

The history of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry (from the Union Army, Volume I) states the following:

On Oct. 29 [the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry] received 125 drafted men and towards the middle of November 158 more were added to the ranks. Many of these were good recruits, though a few were worthless and depraved. The command went into winter quarters near Stevensburg, Va., where 120 more recruits were received. It lost only 1 man killed at the Wilderness, as it acted mainly as support to the other troops. It was heavily engaged at the Po River and Spottsylvania, where it lost 31 killed, 235 wounded and 33 missing, a total of 301, the greatest loss inflicted on any infantry regiment at Spottsylvania.

The fighting in which the regiment was engaged, began at the Wilderness on 4 May 1864, and for John Botdorf, ended at the Po River, on 10 May 1864.  The pertinent battle chronology for the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry follows:

Fought on 4 May 1864 at Wilderness, VA.
Fought on 7 May 1864 at Wilderness, VA.
Fought on 9 May 1864 at Po River, VA.
Fought on 10 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA.
Fought on 10 May 1864 at Po River, VA.
Fought on 12 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA.
Fought on 13 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA.
Fought on 14 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA.

Apparently, the body of John Botdorf was not identified.  In order to receive a widow’s pension, Mary Botdorf had to prove that her husband died in the war.  There was no indication in the official records as to how he died, so a witness or witnesses had to be obtained.  For this purpose, testimony of two members of Company K was provided in the Pension Application:

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Peter Klock, a Private in Company K of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, who had to make “his mark” with witnesses present because he could not read or write, swore that he knew John Botdorf and witnessed “the death of John Botdorf by a gun shot wound through the breast on the the tenth day of May  A. D. 1864 while in battle and in the line of his duty which caused his death instantly.”

If the testimony of Peter Klock was insufficient to satisfy the Pension Bureau that John Botdorf died in the line of duty, Mary Botdorf presented the testimony of the 2nd Lieutenant of Company K, John Ward:

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In testimony in the form of a letter (signed by him), Ward indicated that he witnessed the death of John Botdorf “on the 10th day of May 1864 on the bank of the Po River, by a gun shot wound, received in the breast.”

Having proven that John Botdorf was a member of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry and was killed in the line of duty (per witnesses), all that remained for Mary Botdorf was to prove that she was married to John and the four children, for whom she was also claiming benefits, were hers and John’s.  She had lost all records of her marriage and for marriage proof, she offered testimony that she lived with John as his wife.  Somehow, the date of their marriage was established as 11 June 1845 – and this fact was accepted by the Pension Bureau.

For the four minor children, Henry Alfred Botdorf, born 5 July 1851; Edward Franklin Botdorf, 25 June 1853; Samuel Botdorf, born 7 June 1858; and William Francis Botdorf, born 23 December 1860; she had to submit testimony of friends, family and Dr. R. H. Muth, who had delivered William, the last child.   Two persons whose names appeared in the Pension Application and who claimed they were present at the birth of her children were Elizabeth Deibert and Lovina Hartman.  For her efforts and those who testified on her behalf, Mary Botdorf was awarded, under the Pension Act of 14 July 1862, a sum of $8 per month plus $2 per month for each child under the age of 16.  Accordingly, her amount was increased several times over her lifetime, but as each child reached the age of 16, the benefits for that child ceased.  Thus, by 1876, Mary stopped receiving child support.  The Pension Bureau records note that Mary died in 1907 and that the last payment to her was made 4 May 1907.

At the beginning of this research, all that was known about John Botdorf was that he was killed in action at the Po River on 10 May 1864, while serving as a Private in the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company K.  While there is still a great deal to be learned about him – including his family connections and his sons and their descendants – the examination of the Pension Application File has proven again to be a very valuable resource that will undoubtedly lead to getting a more complete picture of his service and his life.

Readers are invited to fill in any missing details.

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The Story of Our Regiment:  The 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, is available as a free download from GoogleBooks.  The Widow’s Pension Application file of Mary Botdorf is available from Fold3 (30 pages).

 


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