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Boys of Battery A

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[Figure 29: Confederate dead at Fort Robinette, Corinth, Mississippi – Oct 4, 1862]

The effort required to take Corinth during the first siege of that place was minimal due to “Yankee tricks” the Union forces had played with telegraph lines. Spies had tapped into Confederate lines, and intercepted abundant information about troop sizes and conditions. Past listening, they went further and invented a clever disinformation campaign. With linemen who knew Confederate codes, Union tricksters impersonated southern generals and fed misinformation into rebel decision-making channels. Faking themselves as Generals calling for urgent backup support elsewhere, they triggered a great movement of troops and supplies out of the Bowling Green area — weakening it — as they moved in.

[Figure 30: Field Telegraph Station]

With Corinth abandoned, Spafford and other wounded soldiers were brought forward to a temporary care facility — perhaps at Corona College whose buildings was used as a temporary hospital by both sides at various times. Spafford remained there while the Battalion was in the area, and was transported along with them when they moved. Boxcar loads of other wounded soldiers were sent on to Okoluna, Columbus, and Oxford.

[Figure 31: Union army commandeered Corona Female College of Corinth following the Battle of Shiloh for use as a military hospital in 1862. The area was evacuated in 1864 with the building burned.]

Accounts vary on the length of Spafford and the troops’ stay at Corinth, for they were on their way to Alabama, and by some accounts had left Corinth by June 10 and reached Florence of Alabama by the 15th. Walking to Florence they found peach and apple trees this early in the year more heavily loaded than they’d seen in their lives. They had many injured with them. At Florence, sick and unable to walk, Spafford was left in a Union hospital boat on the Tennessee River on 19 June of 1862.

[Figure 32: Union hospital boat on the Tennessee River]

The Tennessee River flows northward from Florence and empties into the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky. Spafford was later admitted to the St. Marks U.S. Army General Hospital at Paducah.

On 11 July 1962, he was admitted to the Main Street U.S. Army General Hospital at Covington, Kentucky.

[Figure 33: Covington from Cincinnati. Spafford’s hospital 2 blocks back from river on mid right of image.]

On 1 August, Spafford was sufficiently recovered to perform the duties of a nurse at the Covington Hospital. However, later he was found incapable of performing his duties as a soldier because of “Hypertrophy of the heart from disease of the valves,” and was given a disability discharge. This occurred across the river from Covington at Cincinnati, Ohio on 12 January 1863.

We know little about Spafford’s condition or treatment in Alabama, though we know that in July, and still unprepared for release, he was transferred to the Main Street U.S. Army General Hospital at Covington, Kentucky. This was a 402 bed hospital operated with the support of volunteers under the charge of a Surgeon A. M. Speer. On August of that year, three months or so after his injury, Spafford was sufficiently recovered to take on duties of a nurse at the Covington Hospital, though a decision was made five months later in January of 1863 to ask him to retire with a disability discharge. Paperwork related to his discharge suggested a diagnosis of “hypertrophy of the heart from disease of the valves” though this may be in error as there seems no other evidence in his life and experience to suggest heart disease.

Aftermath of Corinth

Following the successful siege of Corinth, the grand Union army of the western theater was dispersed. Cotter’s Battery trekked north over the next month or so, with Cotter being put under arrest again for allowing his men to appropriate a few fence rails for their fires; Cotter was released in several days and soon promoted away from his men.

Battery A struggled on for several more years of a long drawn out war as part of the Army of the Cumberland. By the end of the war it had served in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. It had been marched or transported over six thousand miles, took part in thirty-six skirmishes and fought nine of the hardest battles of the war. It was not until the end of the war and the president was buried that on a steamy and languid July day the battery finally began it’s homeward trek.

Following release, it’s thought that William Henry returned to Charleston Township of Portage County. In Henry Martin Davison’s “History of Battery A”, the author from Freedom Township of Portage Ohio noted in his Appendix that following service, Spafford was to be addressed ℅ the Post Office of Freedom Township of Portage, though this seems to be an error. Spafford, with his family including a grandfather had migrated from New York to Freedom Township, but by 1854, his father Levi and the family had moved to the next township, Charlestown.

It was from Charlestown that Spafford applied for pension support based on his war injuries. Freedom and Charlestown Townships were adjacent to one another and were just east of Ravenna. Both of these were quite small farm-oriented communities with little more than a village or two, and from which a half dozen or so volunteers had joined county volunteers to the war. Though Davidson notes some other privates by name in his description, he provides no explicit notes relating to Spafford. Nonetheless it seems probable that his notation of a post-war address for Spafford might stem from a recognition that they had come from the same small place.

Spafford was home and twenty years old in 1863, several years before his fellow veterans made it back two years later in 1865. We don’t know his physical condition at the time, or what he intended to do in the way of a career. He seems to have wanted to try something besides farming. A dead letter was sent to him to the Denver Post Office in 1865, so he seems to have headed to the area. Family lore suggests that he was involved in putting up telegraph lines to Pikes Peak. Archival research points to no specific construction projects that he might have been a part of, though labor might have been needed on a telegraph line that was being constructed from Cheyenne to Denver at the time. There were also projects laying down rail to Golden and Denver from Kansas City. It was in 1864, the year following Spafford’s return from war that his parents and family moved to Eaton County of Michigan.

[Figure 34: Stringing telegraph lines in the West]

Post war choices

Returning from war left choices for most of veterans of Battalion A since livelihoods had to be made. Of the 69 members of the main Grand Old Army post in Portage, 44 became or remained farmers after returning, five were blacksmiths, five carpenters. Of the remaining members, 3 were laborers, 2 harness makers, 2 merchants, 2 mechanics, 1 sadler, 1 tailor, 1 painter, 1 stone mason, 1 surgeon/dentist, and the career of one other was unknown.

Cotter mustered out of service and returned to the family business at Ravenna, and involved himself in politics, becoming a mover and shaker in the local Democratic party though he was considered in some quarters too much of a “loose cannon” to promote to elective office. Always appreciated for his candor, he did have a capacity to “stick his foot in it”. In 1875, as foreman for the fire department he got into a dispute with the ladies of the local temperance league over their invitation to an ice cream social at which alcohol would not be allowed. Cotter jested that his firemen might not like being dealt with like teetotalers though his ‘joke’ didn’t go over and was exacerbated from the trivial to “talk of the town” through letters to the editor of the local newspaper. Cotter also promoted and became board member of a local baseball club, batting with the best and scoring well.

The bonds of brotherhood remained strong throughout the life of most who had served Battery A. Grand Old Army meetings were held monthly in Portage, and annual reunions took place for many years, drawing forty to seventy veterans. The Grand Old Army was developed in 1866 as a fraternal society of the sort popular in those days, especially appealing to upwardly mobile men who were attracted by private ritual, secret handshakes, devout oaths, rigid hierarchy, and other signals of being a “good person” who does good deeds. At these, the G.A. R. was as formal, solemn and mystical as any. It’s also true, especially by the 1870s, that some veterans were averse to all the mystical ritual.

[Figure 35: Grand Army Reunion]

[Figure 36: Grand Army of the Republic Medal]

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