George O. Branstad

Courtesy of Ronald Pearson.

George O. Branstad

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

The Scandinavian Regiment

Name at Enlist George O. Branstad
Birth Name Jørgen Jacobsen Brønstad
Other Names George Brunsted, Jørgen Jacobsen Brønstad
Patronymic Name Jacobsen
Lived 24 Aug 1841 - 6 Aug 1864
Birth Place Brevig farm, Bamble parish, Telemark fylke
Birth Country Norway
Residence at Muster-In London, Ontario Province, Canada
Company at Enlistment A
Rank at Enlistment Private
Muster Date 15 Nov 1861
Cause of Death Diarrhea
Death Location Andersonville Prison, Macon County, GA
Burial Location Grave 4870, Andersonville National Cemetery, Macon County, GA
Mother Sigrid Jørgensdtr Ettestad
Mother Lived 1794 - 1850
Father Jacob Halvorsen Hansen Brønsted
Father Lived 1791- 1860
Immigration 1853

Jørgen Jacobsen was born August 24, 1841, in Telemark fylke, Bamble to Jacob Hansen Brønstad and Sigri Jørgensdatter, Brevig vestre. He left Bamble parish on May 3, 1853, with his widowed father and 3 sisters. Another sister left the parish a few days later.

George O. Branstad was enlisted in Company A of the 15th Wisconsin by Captain Andrew Torkildson in Chicago, Cook County, IL, on October 21, 1861, for a 3-year term of service. At the time he was visiting Chicago from his home in London, Ontario Province, Canada.

The men of the company called themselves the "St. Olaf's Rifles." They were also known as the "Sailor Company" because of the large number of seamen in its ranks, and the "Chicago Company" because so many of its members were residents of that city. George was mustered into Federal service at the rank of Private (Menig) on November 15, 1861, at Camp Randall, near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time the Army listed him as being a 20-year old unmarried resident of Chicago, IL.

It is believed that Private Branstad was appointed to the rank of Sergeant (Sersjant) in early 1862. On January 14, 1862, the men of the 15th were issued Belgian rifled muskets. After nearly 3 months at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Sergeant Branstad left there on March 2, 1862, with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until September 1863 he was listed as "present" with the 15th. As such he would have participated in the successful siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in Tennessee, and the surprise raid on Union City, TN, in March and April 1862.

After the April 7, 1862, surrender of Confederate forces on Island No. 10, Companies A, F, H, I, and K were sent to occupy the island. There was much hard, physical work to be done on the island, and quickly. The fortifications contained many cannons, which the Confederates had installed to defend against a Union attack coming down the Mississippi River from the North. These had to be moved and the fortifications changed so they could be used to defend the island against a possible Confederate assault coming up the river from the south. This task was made even more difficult due to the unhealthy nature of the island, and with problems getting an adequate supply of rations. These conditions caused many complaints, sickness, and even death among the soldiers there.

Perhaps as a reward for their hard work, a celebration was organized in honor of Syttende Mai [May 17th], the Norwegian Constitution Day. Below is a description of what happened that day, as written by Private Lars O. Dokken of Company H, in a June 4, 1862, letter home to his parents.

"I must tell you that our officers voted to give us the 17th of May as a holiday, so our regiment could have a little fun. Our company got some beer which we sent to Cairo [Illinois] for. But some of the men in Co. A got quite drunk and rowdy and started a fight. They were put in the guardhouse. But several of their friends set out for the guardhouse, shoved the guard out of the way, and freed the prisoners. But then our captain [George Wilson] who was officer of the day, arrived and he tried to get these fellows under control. But there was one chap who struck at our captain, and the whole company went wild. Then came an order that our 4 companies [F, H, I, and K] should bring them to order. The command "Fall in, fall in" was called out, and so we assembled as quickly as possible. We were told to load our guns quickly and were marched to the guardhouse in formation. Company A was lined up and we ringed them in. The major [Charles M. Reese] came to question them. All of them had to turn in their guns to the major and 6 of the men were put under arrest. Their [1st] Lieutenant [Emanuel Engelstad] was also arrested."

The others arrested were Privates Edward Holberg, Andrew O. Janson, Niels Knudsen, and Olaf Olson, Niels Brown, and Sergeant Branstad.

On June 11, 1862, Company A departed Island No. 10 with seven other companies of the 15th. Sergeant Branstad remained behind under arrest at Island No. 10. It is believed that he rejoined Company A at Florence, AL, in August. If so, then later that month and into September he would have participated in the grueling 400 mile forced march from Iuka, AL, up to Louisville, KY. The last 2 weeks of this retreat, which was led by U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell, was conducted on half rations and without adequate drinking water.

Sergeant Branstad is known to have been present with his unit at the October 8, 1862, fighting at Perryville, Boyle County, KY, which is also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills. While this was the 15th's first big battle, it emerged without any fatalities. Sergeant Branstad had this to say about it in a November 3, 1862, letter written to his sister in Canada:

"...when we first went into the field the rebles was redy for us in line of battle. we fearlesly started towards them but at the first site of us they started on the retreat we followd them and chased them more than a mile and took from them a lot of wagons and some prisoners...the next morning the rebles had left leaving the field to us but the sight that met my gase next morning when going through the field was tremendious. the shatterd legs and arms and thickly strued bodys of the falen soldiers made the sight terrible."

In late December, Sergeant Branstad would have participated in the 15th's desperate charge upon a Confederate artillery battery at Knob Gap, TN, just south of Nashville. There, the 15th captured a brass cannon. At the end of December 1862 and into early January 1863, Sergeant Branstad took part in the long, cold, wet, and bloody fighting at Stones River, TN, which was also called the Battle of Murfreesboro, at the end of December 1862. It is there that the 15th first suffered serious battle casualties and was cited for bravery. One of those cited was Sergeant Branstad.

The following is from Buslett's 1895 history of the 15th WI.

"After the battle General Rosecrans issued an order to the various regiments' commanders to submit to headquarters a list of one sergeant, two corporals and four or five privates in each company (altogether no more than six from each company), who had shown the greatest courage and ability during the battle. These would be entered on the Roll of Honor."

The 15th's commander, Colonel Hans C. Heg, submitted Sergeant Branstad's name in response to this order and he was subsequently entered on the Roll of Honor for the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 20th Army Corps for his actions in the battle.

The 15th camped in the Murfreesboro area for the next 6 months, except for 2 weeks in February when it was sent to Franklin, TN. Starting June 23, 1863, the regiment took part in the Tullahoma campaign led by U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans. On July 3, 1863, the 15th went into camp at Winchester, Franklin County, TN, for 6 weeks. It was there on July 7th that Sergeant Branstad wrote the following to his sister:

"...our little 15th is verry small hardly two hundred men but we have as good reputasion as any regment of Wisconsin for we are the boys that fear no noise, Although we'r far from home"

This letter was followed by another one to her from Winchester dated July 31, 1863.

"You asked of me in your letter to tell you about my camp but I do not hardly know what to say. O it would fill you with astonishment and surprise to see how the soldier lives. it would be strange for you to see my present home in a small tent not over 6 feet by 8 lives three men and I can assure you we have it fixed up pritty comfortable. (excuse my plain way of explainning myself) we have a bed fixed up though it is rough it is comfortable and takes up more than half our room. we have also a table and on the top of the table and on one end is our cobord wich is made of a crackerbox in wich we keep our dishes wich for my part consists of a cup and a knife and spoon thus we live for the present. thies little tents are called dog tents and thay are the only shelter we have in camp or on march. the dog tents of the company are set in two roes forming a street between them and over our tents we have a cover made of green leaves to keep of the sun. behiend our tents about twelve yards is the officers tents and also behiend them is the Colonels tents. thus fixed it makes a nise show especially when the tents are new but anough of tents. I will now tell you what we gennerely have to do in the morning at five o'clock we are called out to role call and we next sweep out our tents and we also have role call at twelve and 5 and 8 in the afternoon we have also to go on guard every two or three days but I must wiend up with this nonsens for I have not time for anny more of it now."

On August 17, 1863, the 15th left Winchester to participate in what later became known as General Rosecrans' Chickamauga campaign. Sergeant Branstad is believed to have been present at the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led. He was present at the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA, -- the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. There he survived the vicious fighting around Viniard's Farm on the first afternoon, but was wounded and taken prisoner around midday on the 20th near Brotheron Field during what later became known as Longstreet's Breakthrough. Some 63% of the 15th's soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner there.

The 15th's prisoners were marched to Tunnel Hill, GA, placed on a railroad train, and taken south to Atlanta, GA. From there they went by rail to Richmond, VA, the Confederate capital. Sergeant Brunstad is listed as having been confined at Richmond starting September 29, 1863. On December 12, 1863, he is listed as being sent to a prison at Danville, VA.

At some point in the first half of 1864, he was sent from Danville to the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in western Georgia. It is recorded that on July 16, 1864, he was admitted to the Andersonville Prison Hospital, where he died 3 weeks later of chronic "diarrhoea".

 

Sources:  Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers], Ole A. Buslett, 1895, Decorah, IA; Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, WI, 1885); Andersonville Prisoner Database by the U.S. National Park Service; arkivverket.no, Telemark fylke, Bamble, Ministerialbok nr. I 4 (1834-1853), Fødte og døpte [Births and baptisms] 1841, page 76-77, Migration records 1853, p. 682-683; Genealogical data from George Brandstad's great great grandniece, Ann Sharp; "Letters From A Canadian Recruit in the Union Army" ed. Doris Fleming, Tennessee Historical Quarterly (Vol. XVI, No. 2, June, 1957).


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