Life at Camp Cotter
The men of Battery A were the first regiment to cross into Louisville. From rumors about an enemy battery awaiting them at little town below the mouth of the Kentucky River they’d expected to be stopped — but they arrived at Louisville safely in the dark. They headed to an old horse race course and fair grounds leased from an owner about a mile and a half south of town.
These fields became known as Camp Cotter and were located about forty miles north of land held by Southern rebels. The area consisted of 50 acres with a huge cornfield to its west and forest on the north side. The boys, used to things at home, were surprised to see no wheat growing the fields near town, though there was plenty of corn. There were pigs around, and there were many mules. The men took turns at mess duty and ate mostly pork, rice, potatoes, coffee and hard crackers. Sugar came in barrels, but cream was available only when somebody bothered to milk some of the 50 cows lent to the troops by the owner of the grounds. They had vinegar and salt, and sometimes cabbage and sweet potatoes.
[Figure 9: Camp cooking]
Days passed quickly and were full of exercises, camp rituals kept by coded bugle calls. Drill was difficult and dangerous. They were burning through powder now, and so things were feeling real. Prisoners were being brought in, and deserters were often ready to sign up and join the Union side. Nighttime saw campfires with groups of ten or twelve sitting around talking and laughing. There was no drinking in camp, but there was a lot of singing. The men elected sergeants from among themselves. The camp often had visitors, so they provided spectacle for visitors from the city as they had at their northern waypoints.
Camp was a hub of activity. From time to time the battalion there would be shipments of food supplies and treats from home. A group of Union men of the town came one night with dinner for the entire battalion. At Lexington there were occasions for the ladies of town to bestow their thanks with flag awards. Almost daily there would be women coming into camp loaded down with baskets of pies and cakes — even tobacco and cigars. Women volunteers at one ceremony presented the men, on behalf of the “Women of Louisville”, a “stand of colors” — “in respect of their gentlemanly deportment”. As Henry Martin Davidson, a fellow soldier from Freedom Township where Spafford had lived noted, “this is more a matter of ‘soldiering’ than ‘fighting’.”
[Figure 10: Light Artillery]
Five big guns (cannons) arrived for the battalion at Lexington, and so drill took on even more realistic proportions. Caissons were to be drawn behind each cannon with ammunition chests. Each caisson had three boxes of ammunition for their cannon — about twenty inches square with a spare wheel fitting either the cannon cart or caisson carried diagonally across the back of the cart. Each caisson box carried ten hundred pounds of shell. When fully staffed, Battalion A would have six such cannons. Harnesses used for caisson teams were much larger than regular buggy harnesses, and more comparable to what were in those days called “Dutch harnesses”. Cannons and caissons each required a team of six horses, and it’s one of these that Spafford was responsible for.
Traveling along with cannons and caissons were battery wagons and an assortment of mule-drawn baggage carts. The battery wagons, drawn by six more horses, were loaded with boxes holding fifty or sixty bushels of tools, harnesses, axle trees, hubs, spokes, scythes and shares, also sickles, in addition to shovels, axes, spaces, picks, anvils and vide and a full set of black-smith’s tools in addition to a forge and bellows.
Tents in camp were lined up in a row with four or five feet between them — barely enough to allow horses to be bridled without kicking each other too much. Caisson drivers, like Spafford, kept care of watering and feeding their own horses and tied them outside their tents. Watering a horse in camp involved a ride or long walk to a watering area that was often extremely busy with so many horses in camp.
New recruits kept swelling the ranks and joined the training exercises. The battalion reached its full component of 160 men. All together, there were at this point in Battery A 115 horses, eight mules, and 150 men. The men lived in sixteen tents and had ten messes, each including, in addition to their baggage carts, three axes, three spades, some cooking utensils, picks and a couple hundred pounds of coiled rope. Horses were often tied up outside of the tents. Horses were fed in large leather “nose bags” holding about two gallons of feed. The bags were strapped on the head of the horse and kept stray grain to a minimum.
[Figure 11: 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were captured and imprisoned in 150 prisoner-of-war-camps during the Civil War. This one was near Chicago.]
More guns were on their way, and perhaps uniforms, though purveyors of military jackets and other clothing were already circulating through the tents and selling their goods. These “sutlers” also sold pencils to replace the stubs the men wore down as they were curled in their bedrolls writing at night, and paper sheets, which were dear. Postage was hard to get in the field, and so the men often asked parents to send stamps from home. All of the boys’ mail came addressed to Captain Cotter at Lexington.
People from the countryside came into camp for all kinds of reasons. As before, there were periodic receptions for speechifying and the presentation of awards. Area people often came to camp with pigs or grain to sell. Other camp visitors brought tips as to where rebels had stashed supplies in the neighborhood. This was the first area many of the men had ever been where they saw slaves so plainly, and many used these first experiences to make judgments.