HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War
Author: Sam R. Watkins
Cover illustrator: David Zachary Cohen
Publisher: Touchstone, reprinted in 2003
Related website: http://www.simonsays.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Watkins, Sam R. Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War (originally published in 1882; republished in 2003 by Touchstone, a registered trademark of Simon and Schuster Inc., Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). Samuel “Sam” Rush Watkins was born on June 26, 1839, near Columbia, Maury County, TN, and received his formal education at Jackson College in Columbia. Early in May 1861, the twenty-one-year-old Watkins joined the First Tennessee Regiment, Company H (the “Maury Greys,” or Co. Aytch as he calls it), to fight for the Confederacy. He faithfully served throughout the duration of the War, participating in the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Perryville, Murfreesboro (Stones River), Shelbyville, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Adairsville, Kennesaw Mountain (Cheatham Hill), New Hope Church, Zion Church, Kingston, Cassville, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Franklin, and Nashville. Of the 120 original recruits in his company, Watkins was one of only seven to survive every one of its battles when General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in April, 1865.
Soon after the war ended, Watkins began writing his memoir, entitled “Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show,” which was originally serialized in the Columbia, TN, Herald newspaper. Some twenty years later, with a “house full of young ‘rebels’ clustering around my knees and bumping about my elbows,” Co. Aytch was published in book form as a first edition of 2,000 in 1882. This remarkable account is a classic Civil War memoir of a humble “private soldier” fighting in the American Civil War which balances the horror of war with a sense of humor at the lighter side of battle. It is filled with tales of marches, commanders, Yankee enemies, victories, and defeats. Watkins did not set out to write “history.” For that we must read history books. His aim was simply to record his personal observations, and Co. Aytch is heralded by many historians as one of the best the best primary sources about the Civil War experience of a common soldier in the field.
Of course, as you can imagine, there are graphic descriptions of fighting and killing. Some references to smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and gambling occur. Also, the “d” and “h” words and the name of God are occasionally used as exclamations. But remember that all this falls within the historical context. When writing about the war, Watkins says that he “was not a Christian then,” but evidently later became one, and his account contains a number of religious observations. Watkins, who was often featured and quoted in Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary titled The Civil War, died on July 20, 1901, at the age of 62. Several other editions of the book are available, including those from Plume (1999), Hard Press (2006), Turner (2011), Civil War Press (2013), CreateSpace (2013), and Westholme (2013). As I understand it, the book is the primary source material for the Civil War reenactment presentations done by my good friend John Notgrass.