Steve's Place

Boys of Battery A

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Training at Camp Taylor

When orders came for the Battalion to report to Camp Taylor in Cleveland on April 24, bands were marched, with preparations made for an elaborate departure ceremony before a late afternoon train was boarded amid booming cannons and waving friends. The mood was tearful and solemn. Women’s groups in Ravenna met to roll bandages and make rosettes to present the recruits, and they raised funds for aid to families in special needs with their men going off to war. But time had been short for the women to do all that was wanted, so they raised additional cash to present to Captain Cotter for flags and banners.

Spafford enlisted as a private during the flurry, and was on the train to Camp Taylor. Volunteers had signed up for three months of duty at a time when it was expected that the war would soon be over. Most men would reenlist when the fallacy of expectations became apparent. After the first burst of enthusiasm, draft laws were enacted to keep the Battalion replenished. Some would hang in there for four long years until the Battalion was mustered out in July of 1865.

Captain Charles Cotter and the Boys

Along with Spafford from Charlestown Township were Andrew and Willard Mann, Edward Haymaker, Russell Grover (34), Joseph and Williamson Tomlinson, Burt Dennison, Charles Clark, Lucien Coe, J.D. Holden, and H. K Witherell. At 5 foot 6 1/2 inches, with dark hair and eyes, Spafford was 18 years old — a few years younger than most, who were in their 20s, with a few older men. About one third of the troop was married.

[Figure 5: Major Charles S. Cotter]

From all accounts, Captain Cotter with his dark wavy hair and high widow’s peak was much respected in Ravenna and with his troops. He was loud and capable of clear instructions from a great distance. He was stern but showed no favorites and let the officers under him have little leeway in their treatment of the men. His soldiers knew that their captain respected them. Later in the war Cotter took umbrage at the command style of other military leaders he came under, and at one point was terminated for insubordination in not being willing to treat his troops as others had commanded. Following his departure from the field for several months, he was reinstated by top brass and went on up the ranks.

Cotter was from an old family of Portage County, with a practical mind, perhaps from his mechanical work — silver and brass plating for parts used in carriage assembly. Cotter’s vision squared with that of Ravenna; the war was about confronting rebels who were pursuing withdrawal from the Union — more than it was about slavery. It’s likely for this reason that he and his subordinate leaders provided little slack for his troops when it came to violating the property of confederates or their rights as prisoners.

[Figure 6: Light Artillery]

Being scrupulous in the protection of citizen property has rarely been a strength of American militia. It wasn’t until late in the war that Cotter’s troops were let freer to trample fields as they would, appropriate food, and use the miles of split-rail fence they ultimately took for firewood. Even then, and shortly after Spafford’s injuries near the Battle of Shiloh, General Cotter was put under arrest by a superior officer for allowing his men to appropriate a few traitors’ fence rails for fires — though he was released several days later. Privates from the North, compared to some of their officers, were often less ready to protect with bayonet the property of rebels thought ready to shoot them.

Camping at Cleveland

Camp life outside the city of Cleveland, forty miles from Ravenna, was spirited. Visitors from the city came often to observe parade ground events, and many families came down from Ravenna on weekend visits with the soldiers they were proud of. Captain Cotter kept things light and hosted special party evenings full of bands, music, and serenading of the sort that drew gleeful nearby citizens. Some of the folks wondered who took what roles in the dancing that livened the events, for the boys sometimes danced with one another as partners. We only know from diary accounts that the dances were “the biggest you ever saw”, and we’re assured that“ you would laugh yourself sore in 5 minutes” to see it. This was early in the war and Cotter appreciated the lighter side of things.

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