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Boys of Battery A

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Some of Grant’s troops had been sent toward Corinth, although the future president himself was arrested for having been drunk on the day of battle at Shilo. Many other troops moved toward Corinth. One blessed thing that happened in this period was that Cotter rejoined his men, having been restored to his leadership command by the order of President Lincoln himself. There was pride in that, and some sadness, for it was obvious already to some that he was likely to be promoted to bigger things.

Battalion A was hardly alone as it remained at Pittsburg landing until early May, for as some troops moved out, other forces moved in — to a total of perhaps three hundred thousand men. Each brigade was stretched out over a two mile long line in its respective place for a camp about six miles in length.

In the weeks following the siege, the pickets foraying five miles or so from camp were encountering increased activity from the other side — infantrymen and cavalry sent by rebels to gather property left behind in their hasty retreat. Rebels had stripped the bodies of deceased Union soldiers and sometimes rushed pickets wearing Northern uniforms and flying the Union flag.

On the 25th of April, a force of four thousand men were stumbled on only eight miles out of Union camp, and from then on, pickets were posed miles further. A few days later, a good size crew of men went out from Battery A to cause havoc with the rebel cavalry but were disappointed, finding only a few to chase. They captured a few and found some property to take, but returned to a smaller rotating force of pickets, this time in a ring of about seven miles from camp.

Spafford is Downed

May 10, 1862. It’s difficult to know exactly what the state of play was on the evening or night when William Spafford was injured. Battalion A had moved to a spot eight miles from Shiloh and twelve from Corinth in an area of undulating ridges thickly timbered, with dense underbrush, and with quicksand patches.

[Figure 28: Shattered caisson]

Strung through the woods were hand hacked trails and swamp bottoms making passage possible only by chopping trees and laying them across muddy bogs. Every fence rail through this area had been taken for burning, every house abandoned, most of the fields of grain trampled and destroyed. While the bulk of confederate forces had retreated, some remained in the area, perhaps as spies, or just to make small troubles. Rebels, for instance, were continuing to harass the work parties kept busy cutting paths toward Corinth. Sometimes rebel parties tried to cause trouble.

One day while bridging a swamp, several hundred rebels approached a work party of Union soldiers. Unbeknown to the rebels, the Union forces were only waiting to set a trap. They waited until the rebels drew close, and made a show of fleeing, leaving their arms stacked behind. When the rebels moved in to gather their plunder, Union pickets flanked them from both sides and took them prisoner.

Spafford was injured on Saturday, the 10th of May. We don’t know if his injury took place in the daytime or at night, though he was said to be on “picket duty”, and picket duties generally refer to nighttime guard posts — small squads watching or foraging within eight or so miles of camp scouring for enemies, engaging in skirmishes, taking prisoners as the occasion called for.

From statements made by Lieutenant Allen W. Pinney and Assistant Surgeon Benjamin F. Pitman, both of Battery A: “William H. Spafford, on the tenth day of May 1862, in the line of his duty as a soldier, before Corinth, while on picket duty, driving a team attached to one of the guns, the horse he was riding fell with him, he receiving a blow the result of which inguinal hernia, rendering him unfit for duty.”

It’s said that the horse he was riding went over, landing on him and injuring him — much as General Grant was to be pinned by a falling horse. Spafford has been described as a caisson driver at the time — in which case he would have been riding one of the six horses drawing his cart. But would a caisson driver be assigned to picket duty? Generally they weren’t — given the extra time it took to feed and manage six horses — and often picket forces moving in the dark needed to be more nimble and fleet, and so left the big guns in camp. We know that later, on June 3rd, the diarist Loyd Bloomfield from Ravenna, who, like Spafford, was a driver of one of the Battalion’s caissons, was the only soldier to remain in camp.

It’s possible that Spafford — against the common practice of leaving the man to handle his team of six — was sent out at night with only one of his horses. This was a time of great tension; we know that the men had been anticipating heavy attack by rebel forces on the coming Monday. We know too that during these days, pickets were being sent out a couple of more miles than usual — up to eight miles again, and thus putting them close to Corinth itself.

It can’t be known if Spafford’s squad was under siege when thrown from his horse. We can only guess that it was up to a friend from Ravenna to get Spafford back to the main camp. There were other injured soldiers under the care of the doctor at the time, and these men remained and were moved with the troops but off the battlefields until they could be better cared for in hospitals.

Toward Corinth

The Battery experienced other fierce skirmishes on the way to Corinth, and deserters by the scores continued coming into their camp. Rebels, with a good number of Indian privates at Corinth were short of provisions — so short that they were releasing prisoners they could not fed — so short that they were killing their horses and mules to eat.

At one encounter, guns fired 179 rounds toward a thicket that had concealed the enemy at a distance of 200 yards — shearing the trees as though a tornado had swept through. Although we lack a body count, the ground was said to have been strewn thick with the enemy dead — many seemingly frozen in the act of firing, or reclining on logs in sitting postures. This skirmish took place seventeen days after Spafford’s injury, and so he would have been left back in camp where the injured and most baggage remained.

On the 28th of May, after Spafford was injured, the Battery finally moved more decisively toward Corinth and after a volley of about three hundred and fifty rounds found the rebels falling back, blowing up their depot, buildings, and bridges. This was the first of several sieges of Corinth, which would later need to be retaken.

As the forces moved into town they found it deserted through strewn with mess pans, kettles, hundreds of bags of sugar, flour and meal slashed and burned or dumped hurriedly — tents and heavy canvas torn and scattered. Only one old man, two women, and three slaves remained at that place when it was taken over. Each of the men who made it there walked off with relics.

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