Soldiers were disappointed to find that Captain Cotter was put under arrest with a court martial threatened if he wouldn’t resign. Not privy to what was going on among their leaders — and knowing that there were difficulties, the men cheered when they heard Cotter had packed himself off to Washington and was trying to get an audience with Lincoln and his Secretary of War.
The soldiers wanted their Captain back — most of them vowed to never fight under any other captain. Still hoping for an early end of war, the men were distressed with rumors that England was about to declare war on the United States. There were also rumors that there was action up the Tennessee River at Bowling Green where they might be sent.
Thinking that they might be called to head north, the men were more than surprised one night by a rumor that Grant had already won his battle. The news, which proved false, triggered a nighttime pan banging and cheer that was said to have lasted more than an hour — the whole camp going crazy with joy. The men might have known better than take the news for granted. They knew that governors had mandated that newspapers carry no account of the war and that there was little reliable information to be had from any source.
To Bowling Green
By February 10, the bridges which the battery were guarding were considered safe enough to start crossing. A division or two with over seventeen thousand men started advancing across the Green River — a steady stream from noon to 8 o’clock in the evening – a one hundred and twenty-five foot span with no side rails protecting horses from falling off.
But, relieved of guard duty on the bridges, Battery A was about to head in a different direction. On the 13th of February the Battery was assigned to a different brigade and a new task. While other troops were still arriving to swell the camp and some companies were moving south, Battery A soldiers were told to cook four days of food rations and be prepared to march — they then knew not where. Baggage was loaded and the men were directed to head back north — toward blasted train tunnels and the Bowling Green arena. In order to get there they had to head toward Louisville — some by train, and some by foot. They moved in the dark through a pelting rain, then sleet and, scarcely able to move at all, clothing frozen stiff with mud.
Having made six miles, a halt was ordered and large fires built of rails and other fuel that could be found. Artillery carriages, not brought by train as usual, but carted, froze up and caused problems for drivers like Spafford, who were their stewards. The baggage train, owing to deep mud, had not kept up with the column and so each man had to brave the storm as best he could. In the morning, frozen mud which clung with the tenacity of glue to spokes, had to be hand chopped away.
By noon the next day, and still on the march toward Upton Station, all was mud. Immediately upon arrival, the news of Grant’s successful attack upon Fort Donnelson spread like wildfire. This was the second time there were huge cheers for victory at Bowling Green. Surprisingly, no shots had been fired at Union troops in Grant’s conquest. Seeing what they were up against, the governors of Tennessee and South Carolina had ordered their men to lay down arms, though rebels were successful at destroying the railroad and a large turnpike bridge making it impossible to get provisions to the area.
Battalion A had been slated to join Grant’s troops, though that would no longer be necessary since the campaign was completed. Battalion A was no longer scheduled for battle, though clean up tasks were assigned before they would once more be turned south. They spent time pillaging camps abandoned by rebels — sifting through old letters thrown away and retrieving orders to Confederate brigades. The men watched over fifty prisoners who they put to tasks of clearing tunnels and relaying railroad tracks toward Louisville.
Their work finished in the Bowling Green area, the troop headed back toward the Green River and crossing into Tennessee — partly marching, and partly cruising down the river. It was expected that the rebels might make a ‘final stand’ at Nashville or twenty miles south of it, though this was not to happen. This wasn’t a part of the country that impressed the Ohio men. Most Kentucky farms seemed to be small plots of corn and tobacco, log shacks with leather hinged doors and chimneys of sticks and mud. The only relief they saw from this dreary scape was in patches of hilly ground of blue limestone with thin and short timbers — country more suitable, it seemed to them, to the habits of goats. Caves and sink-holes were spotted in these areas.
[Figure 19: Camp Life]
In moving out of Kentucky and into Tennessee, they would pass out of an area of abandoned log cabins and shacks without windows — toward a romantic land of mansions — many of them of brick — and beautiful fields. Crossing into Tennessee there were first as few miles of inferior land — looking to the men too white and sandy, though the soil soon turned dark and roads were soon fine. They had entered an area of grand houses and of land owned by rich men. Slaves in groups of ten to thirty were seen working fields as the troops passed; though other plantations seemed abandoned. Frogs made the air ring with their music.
The boys of Battalion A entered Nashville on flatboats and parked next to Union steamers already in the harbor. The city had been abandoned — the first Confederate capital to fold, with a new governor already appointed by Lincoln. Camping at the north end of town they surveyed the destruction of rail bridges and even the main bridge into the downtown. The suspension bridge, a key feature of the town, had been owned by a fallen rebel General, whose house, like many, had also been burned. The men were among the first to sort through the destruction and retrieved plenty of beef, pork, crackers, flour, and ammunition left behind by rebels in their hurry. The men got paid for the first time in two months, but they were not particularly happy. They’d been without their Captain for two months and wanted the war to dry up.
[Figure 20: Batlefield]
At night the men could hear far off cannons in the night and weren’t sure of the cause or the distance. Then the news that Manassus and Columbus had been evacuated as well told the tale. The rebels, it seemed, were so demoralized that they were unable to make a stand here or anywhere. These were welcome signs to men tired of camp life and looking forward to going home.
Things were slow in camp at Nashville in early March as the men waited for the war to end. They didn’t expect to have to put up with much more. Perhaps one more chase to a final stand would do it. It wasn’t clear where the enemy had retreated to, though evidence of some of them being around was plentiful. They were definitely still behind the line in enemy territory. The racket at night was usually from thunder and rain, but there were more than a few skirmishes with stray rebel groups. Many prisoners had been taken and deserters were showing up at camp every day.