Charlotte Morton was a "soldier's sweetheart" a month shy of her 16th birthday when she took part in one of the greatest parades Portage County had ever seen.
The two-hour procession, which stretched 10 miles long according to eyewitness accounts, was part of the Great Union Mass Meeting, which was held in Ravenna on Saturday, Sept. 5, 1863, to benefit the Soldiers' Aid Society.
The young girl recorded her recollections in detail in a diary that she kept. Her narrative, which her grandson, Dudley Weaver, shared in a Portage County Historical Society publication 100 years later, provides a vivid first-hand account of home front patriotism during the Civil War.
"The procession occupied over two hours, marching from Courthouse Square to fair grounds," she wrote, referring to the original Portage County Fairgrounds, which were located on Freedom Street on Ravenna's north side. "Eyewitnesses estimate (the) entire length of procession at ten miles ... There were 35 bands present."
The grand parade had gotten under way at 9 a.m. at the Courthouse, where a 150-foot tall wooden flagpole was raised for the event. Bands and drill teams performed as the procession assembled.
Col. H.W. Bristol was grand marshal for the parade, riding on "a magnificent war horse which had been wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg," carrying "a battle-scarred regimental flag of the famed 7th OVI," Charlotte Morton recalled. Bristol's arrival was heralded by "a mighty boom from the the retired guns of Cotter's Battery," the Ravenna Light Artillery, which was the first Portage County unit to depart from Ravenna when the war began in 1861.
Every community in Portage County was represented in the parade, and they tried to outdo one another in their displays of patriotism.
"Each township had a band of music. Some two, brass and martial," she wrote. "Some were musicians and some for show. Akron sent five and Cleveland three."
Streetsboro's contingent in the parade included "a triumphal car drawn by 16 white horses, carrying young ladies waving Union flags." Edinburg's "was of mammoth dimension and most imposing in appearance, calling to mind the spirit of George Washington."
Randolph's was led by a "cavalcade of young Zouaves. Their uniforms were gorgeously bright red, baggy knee-length trousers. Dark blue, wrist-length close-fitting jacket, unbuttoned. Their head wear was a yellow, handmade turban," she recalled.
Hiram's passed with "a splendid likeness of General James A. Garfield, followed by a group of school children singing Garfield's favorite hymn, 'Ho! Reaper of Life's Harvest.'"
"Ravenna had a good mile in the train with nearly every citizen who was sober marching," she recalled.
The teenage diarist showed hometown pride as she recalled the Franklin Mills unit in the procession.
"Our division from Franklin was one of the finest," she wrote. "A huge circus-type wagon drawn by real retired war mules. Aboard we sweethearts of soldier boys, dressed in white, tried to portray nurses caring for the wounded on the battlefield. Another wagon of equal size carried the wives, sisters and daughters of the brave volunteers of Franklin."
The procession finally ended at the Fairgrounds, where a throng estimated at 15,000 -- a huge number by any standard, but phenomenal for a county whose population was roughly 24,000 -- gathered for a midday meal followed by speeches. The featured speaker was former Ohio Gov. William Dennison Jr.
"The dinner was prepared outdoors by members of the Ravenna Soldiers Aid Society, assisted by hundreds of volunteers from all the townships," she wrote. "In all, over $1,000 was collected for local soldiers' family relief." That would be nearly $15,000 today.
"The mass meeting closed by a gradual thinning of the crowd, brought on perhaps by the several fisticuffs which broke out between members of two political parties," her account concluded.
Charlotte Morton married her soldier-sweetheart, Adam Weaver, just a few days after her 18th birthday in October 1865. The pair had carried on a faithful correspondence throughout the Civil War. Their home in Kent became a gathering place for Civil War veterans and widows who affectionately called her "Aunt Charlotte."
As an adult, Charlotte Morton Weaver became one of Portage County's most respected local historians, a woman whose encyclopedic memory spanned nine decades. The diary entry she penned 150 years ago as a teenager is an early example of her keen attention to detail.
She never forgot the sacrifices of the Portage County men who fought to preserve the Union.
One of her proudest moments was the unveiling of the Civil War memorial at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, which bears the name of her beloved Adam. Eighty-year-old Charlotte Morton Weaver delivered the closing remarks at its dedication in 1928.