The Boys of Battery A
Rumbling Toward War
It was February of 1861 and Abraham Lincoln, the president-elect stopped at Ravenna, Ohio on his way to Washington D. C. for his inauguration. HIs whistle-stop tour took eleven days and was an arduous one, including dodging an assassination planned for him in Baltimore. There were large crowds for him all along the way. At Ravenna, thousands came out to cheer Lincoln and his first lady from all the surrounding townships of Portage County, including Charlestown — William Henry Spafford’s home, five miles from Ravenna.
The president, in a tired and raspy voice delivered a whistle stop speech to the throng before heading on to Cleveland for the night. Everything didn’t go smoothly though as the Ravenna company of light artillery commanded by Captain Charles Cotter fired a salute from a double-gunned cannon of such violence that two windows of the train, one in a car which Mr. And Mrs. Lincoln had been riding, were shattered.
[Figure 2: Locomotive of presidential train Albany to Troy 1861]
The incident was taken as an honest mistake in positioning the cannon too close to the tracks, and besides, Cotter’s apology may have given him the occasion to meet a president who would later save his skin in the face of a threatened court martial. Captain Cotter was a home town boy much appreciated for fielding spectacular 4th of July celebrations. He was the businessman about town who would head a Battalion of Artillerymen from Ravenna into the Civil War. Once his expertise was recognized, he would be promoted to Major, then Colonel, and go on to leadership responsibilities for many artillery units in the war. At one point, he would have 22 batteries under his command — each a mirror of Battery A, The First Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery — containing six cannons and at least 100 officers and men, and with as many horses.
Political tensions arose with Mr. Lincoln’s election. Newspapers were soon full of disaster. Civil War was declared April 15, 1861, with Lincoln calling for 75,000 volunteers. There were mixed feelings about slavery among the farmers around Ravenna, and some considered anti-slavery types troublemakers, but in a time when national sentiment was strong, there was a great deal of commitment to preventing the rebels from trashing the Union.
[Figure 3: Lincoln in 1861 before leaving Springfield]
The first mass meeting at Ravenna was called for April 22 the following week. Citizens from throughout Portage gathered at the county seat for speeches and flag waving. It was time for all “true men” to act together and not allow “the glorious flag to be trampled in the dust”. Imaginations fired, Captain Cotter set out to recompose his small drill unit and recruit a full Battalion of over one hundred men. Volunteers were called for from each of the townships.
[Figure 4: Ladies Rolling Bandages]