Samuel “Sam” Rush Watkins (June 26, 1839 – July 20, 1901) was a noted Confederate soldier during the American Civil War. He is known today for his memoir Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show, often heralded as one of the best primary sources about the common soldier's Civil War experience.
Watkins was born on June 26, 1839 near Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee, and received his formal education at Jackson College in Columbia. He originally enlisted in the “Bigby Greys” of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, but transferred shortly thereafter to the First Tennessee Infantry, Company H (the “Maury Greys”) in the spring of 1861.
Watkins faithfully served throughout the duration of the War, participating in the battles of Cheat Mountain, 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 men who enlisted in “Company H” in 1861, Sam Watkins was one of only seven alive when General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina April, 1865. Of the 3,200 men (1,250 when the regiment was first raised, plus a further 1,950 recruited or conscripted between then and then end of the war) who fought in the First Tennessee, only 65 were left to be paroled on that day.
Soon after the war ended, Watkins began writing his memoir, entitled "Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show" His memoir is recognized around the world and is sometimes used for teaching purposes by teachers. This helps students learn what life was like during the Civil War. It was originally serialized in the Columbia, Tennessee Herald newspaper. “Co. Aytch” was published in a first edition of 2,000 in book form in 1882. “Co. Aytch” is heralded by many historians as one of the best war memoirs written by a common soldier of the field. Sam’s writing style is quite engaging and skillfully captures the pride, misery, glory, and horror experienced by the common foot soldier. Watkins is often featured and quoted in Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary titled The Civil War.
Watkins died on July 20, 1901 at the age of 62 in his home in the Ashwood Community. He was buried with full military honors by the members of the Leonidas Polk Bivouac, United Confederate Veterans, in the cemetery of the Zion Presbyterian Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.
Samuel's brother, David Watkins, served in the First Tennessee Cavalry, commanded by (among others) Colonel J. H. Lewis.
In popular culture
The song "Kennesaw Line" by Don Oja-Dunaway, tells a heart-breaking vignette of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on the morning of June 27, from the perspective of Sam Watkins, with part of the lyrics directly paraphrasing his description from the book "Company Aytch" (see the section entitled "Dead Angle, on the Kennesaw Line"). The best-known version of this song is sung by Claire Lynch on the album "Lines & Traces" by the Front Porch String Band.
- Preface to Co Aytch by Roy Basler
- Co. Aytch, or, A side show of the big show and other sketches.
- "History Happens: Kennesaw Line".
- A brief biography for Samuel Rush Watkins;
- Samuel R. Watkins Camp No. 29, SCV.
- "Co. Aytch" at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions)
- "Co. Aytch" at LibriVox (audiobook)
- Works by Sam R. Watkins at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
- Sam Watkins at Find a Grave