Co. Aytch : A Side Show Of The Big Show / Sam R. Watkins

In 1861, when the Civil War began, Sam Watkins was twenty-one and living in Tennessee.  He, along with a majority of young men living in the state, rushed to offer his services in support of the South.  This book is his account of the war as seen from the narrow focus of his battle experience during this time period.  Serving in Company H of the First Tennessee Regiment, at the beginning of  hostilities the regiment numbered some 1,250 men.  Over the course of the next four years it added 2,000 replacements.  On the day they surrendered in 1865, less than a hundred soldiers were still alive.  Throughout the book, Watkins keeps pointing out that his story is narrowly focused and does not include the grander perspective of commanding officers or politicians.  If Watkins’ account is to be believed, his regiment never lost a single battle until 1865.  Nonetheless, throughout the war, they seem to be mostly retreating rather than advancing.  The author served as a private until 1864 when he was promoted to corporal.  In this memoir, the emphasis is  on the fact that he was just a common soldier.  Yet he often mentions being around officers and generals, even sharing meals with them.  Watkins was shot in the arm at the battle of Murfreesboro, although he recounts numerous other close encounters with serious injury.  This book is certainly of interest from the perspective of what a common Confederate soldier experienced during the war.  But in the second half, the battles blur into repetitiveness and, I suspect, some embellishment on the part of the author.  Even so, he does a marvelous job of conveying the “you are there” feeling of a soldier’s lot during the conflict.  Written in 1881-1882, this book presents a picture in which, although every battle was won, the war was still lost.  For someone who wants to get a sense of what life was like for the common soldier during the Civil War, Watkins’ depiction presents an accurate account, if not an entirely honest one.

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