Sam Watkins in 1861
|Born||Samuel Rush Watkins
June 26, 1839
Maury County, Tennessee
|Died||July 20, 1901
Maury County, Tennessee
|Resting place||Zion Presbyterian Church,
Maury County, Tennessee
|Pen name||Sam. R. Watkins|
|Alma mater||Jackson College|
|Notable work||"Co. Aytch"|
(m. 1865; his death)
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Provisional Army of the Confederate States|
|Years of service||1861-1865|
Samuel Rush Watkins (June 26, 1839 – July 20, 1901) was an American author and humorist. He is best known for his memoir of life as a soldier in the Confederate army, called Co. Aytch or A Side Show of the Big Show (1882).
Early life and education
American Civil War
He originally enlisted in the “Bigby Greys” of the Third Tennessee Infantry in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, but transferred shortly thereafter to the First Tennessee Infantry Regiment, 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. Samuel's brother, David Watkins, served in the First Tennessee Cavalry, commanded by (among others) Colonel J. H. Lewis.
Soon after the war ended, Watkins began writing his memoir, entitled "Co. Aytch" or "A Side Show of the Big Show". His memoir is recognized around the world and is sometimes used for teaching purposes. 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. Occasionally he yielded to exaggeration to make a point. One example to describe how cold the regiment's first winter in mountainous West Virginia was his claim to have discovered a guard detail of the 3rd Arkansas regiment frozen to death at their posts as if they were still on guard detail.
Watkins is often featured and quoted in Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary titled The Civil War. (See specific quotes from Watkins in Wikiquotes .) 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.
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, 1864, 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").
- Watkins, Sam. R. (1882). 1861 vs. 1882. "Co. Aytch", Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
- Sam Watkins, Author; Philip Leigh, Editor; "Co. Aytch: Side Show of the Big Show" (Yardley, Penna.: Westholme Publishing, 2013), 25
- Information about his gravesite can be found at the "Find a Grave" website. Sam Watkins at Find a Grave
- For example, in the book he wrote, "On that awful day the sun rose in a clear and cloudless sky; the heavens seemed made of brass and the earth of hot iron." Watkins, Sam. R. (1882). "Co. Aytch", or, A Side Show of the Big Show and Other Sketches. Retrieved October 8, 2014. The corresponding lyrics:
Well the sun rose high above us that morning
On a clear and cloudless day
A peckerwood, he tapped on a tree
That would soon be shot away
The heat blistered down through the leaves on the trees
The air seemed hot enough to catch fire
Heaven seemed to be made of brass
The sun rose higher and higher
- Watkins, Sam. R. (1882). 1861 vs. 1882. "Co. Aytch", Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House.
- Watkins, and Leigh, Sam, and Philip (2013). Co: Aytch: Side Show of the Big Show, Illustrated and Annotated (First ed.). Westholme Publishing. p. 282. ISBN 978-1-59416-179-7.