As time wore on, the newness of drill and the glamour of public shows wore off some. Confidence remained high in the Captain, who was often on trips to secure supplies and returning with the goods. At one point he brought each of his men a new Union Jacket when he returned from Columbus with twelve hundred rounds of cannon ammunition. The men appreciated Cotter’s efforts and considered them generous, as they did the arrangements he made with his friends in Louisville to have bodies sent home were things to come to that — and if not, to have them “buried nice”.
All too soon the men would hear the lonely wail of funeral trains headed north in the dark and set camp at make-shift graveyards less than a quarter mile from them. Diaries from the Battle of Shilo would recall bodies by the hundreds thrown into rain filled gullies, their legs straightened, the bodies tamped down so as to make room for more. Men on the hillside would attach a noose to a man’s foot or head, haul him down to the hollow and roll him in. Those mass graves remain to this day, with only five marked.
It was getting late in the year and the men were ready to move on toward what they considered a ‘glorious cause.’ None knew where they were going, or when. They weren’t sure what their purpose or function would be, though it was rumored that they’d serve as an advance guard if the rebels under Lieutenant Buckner of Kentucky were to be attacked. There were repeated alerts to pack things up and be prepared to move on out, though movements weren’t made.
Trains passed them day and night heading to battlefronts. They would hear drums coming toward the city and figure that reinforcements to their battalion were on the way. Long trains passed them which were headed north — loaded with soldiers and one day some two hundred wagons came through carrying wounded soldiers. The men were not being communicated to by leadership and began anticipating that some grand slaughter was being prepared for them.
The boys were anxious, but felt a little relieved to have a physician with them, and they thought him as good as the Dr. Ferguson which many of them shared at Ravenna. They knew that as many men were dying of diseases as were dying of warfare. Dr. Pitman was an old doctor from Charleston. In order to have him with them the men supported him out of their own pockets. Sometimes busy with cases of diarrhea, dysentery, and fevers, he had fewer cases of malaria than did the doctors of other units. Diaries also noted attentive care by a Wallace Stedman whenever any of the troop were sick. Several Ohio men died of what was described as typhoid pneumonia — diseases usually fatal in camp. Their bodies joined the parade of those heading home to the North, which was described in some letters home as “back in America”.
It was in late October, about a month after Spafford had joined Battery A that his troop had proceeded to Louisville. Now, Union forces were headed south again, sometimes in long marches, sometimes by troop train. Cotter’s battalion was directed to demolish the old Camp Cotter and report to General A. M. McCook. They were moving south but had no idea where they were headed. Progress would be slow and uneventful.
[Figure 12: Major General Alexander McDowell McCook]
Again and again, troops would be alerted to be prepared to break camp within the hour, and then days or weeks might pass before they were given the cue to proceed among a rather steady stream of troops moving into the South as Confederates held out and then folded when challenged, generally burning whatever they abandoned. This was an “industrial war”, for more than taking fixed positions on battlefields, war was pursued by blowing up trains, taking down trestles, or burning or blasting stores. Much of the “war effort” involved weeks long rebuilding of roads and bridges, laying track, or spying. Even “intelligence” was a new part of this war as telegraph units produced and transmitted deceptive messages within enemy networks in order to produce chaos.
To Camp Nevin, Kentucky
On the 22nd of October the troops finally made some movement. The boys of Battery A joined over 6,000 men catching the train south from Louisville at 7 o’clock and made it 53 miles to Camp Nevin in Hardin County of Kentucky, passing bridges, some as high as 80 feet and as long as 300 across the Salt River, which had finally been rebuilt.