Early in May 1861, 21-year-old Sam R. Watkins of Columbia, Tennessee, joined the First Tennessee Regiment. He fought in all of its major battles, from Shiloh to Nashville. Twenty years later, with a "house full of young 'rebels' clustering around my knees and bumping about my elbows," he wrote the remarkable account of "Co. Aytch," its common foot soldiers, its commanders, its Yankee enemies, its victories and defeats, and its ultimate surrender on April 26, 1865.Co. Aytch is the work of a natural storyteller who balances the horror of war with his irrepressible sense of humor and his sharp eye for the lighter side of battle. Among Civil War memoirs, it stands as a living testament to one man's enduring humanity, courage, and wisdom in the midst of death and destruction.More
"Anyone who wishes to hear a Southern view of why they fought should hear Watkins....[T]his work is moving and always fascinating because it is a great text penned by a man who has seen the spectrum of human cruelty, horror, and kindness." (AudioFile)
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Story of a Private Soldier
If you excised every passage when Watkins provides his disclaimer that he is "just a private soldier" and that he is not giving a full history of any particular event, but rather his memories of his personal experience, the book would be a quarter its actual length. A good first-had recounting of the Confederate experience, but in my opinion, Barry Benson's Civil War Book does a much better job and is much more engaging (also, without the constant pace killers of disclaiming that he is just a private soldier and that his view is not representative). Additionally, Benson has the advantage that he kept some form of a diary during the experience, which Watkins seems to base his recollections exclusively upon memory. The result, for Watkins, is a deficit of detail and a blending of events. The Watkins book is a very interesting historical artifact, but if you want a single example of a Confederate war memoir, your time is better spent with Benson.
- jesse unkenholz