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Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War Mass Market Paperback – August 12, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0684833248 ISBN-10: 0684833247
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Editorial Reviews


Bell Irvin Wiley Author of The Life of Johnny Reb No memoir by a rebel participant is richer in intimate detail than this engaging story.

Margaret Mitchell From Gone With the Wind Letters A better book there never was. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

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 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 1,200 men 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". 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 sixty-two 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. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (August 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684833247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684833248
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Sam Watkins did not intend to write a detailed history of the war, but rather to write of his personal experiences as a private soldier. And what experiences he had! As you read this book you wonder how he ever came out of the war alive - most of his friends and comrades did not. This is one of the most humorous, and one of the saddest, books I have ever read: the political humorist Will Rogers would be jealous. At times Watkins' stories had me convulsing with laughter, at other times near to tears. He tells of how, caught behind enemy lines, he figured out a way to get the Federal password/countersign: simply demand it of a Federal officer (they were stupider than the privates). Once he had that, he could roam around at will behind Federal lines for the rest of that day. He tells of how he and a friend were sitting on a log sharing a meal from the same plate when a someone yelled for him to "look out". In turning his head he was just missed by a solid shot. His friend, not so lucky, had all but his face swept away by the cannon ball - his brains feel into the plate from which they had been eating. Watkins also tells of the demise of a friend's pet rooster named "Fed" and the "election speeches" of two friends for the rank of corporal. Tears of laughter will run down your face as you read these............This is a wonderful book by a heroic man. I recommend it without reservation.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Theo Logos on December 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Twenty years after participating in the war that reshaped American history forever, Sam Watkins sat down to write his memoirs, without benefit of journal or notes. He commenced his tale with a short, folksy parable of the cause of the war, as Southerners saw it. He then quickly launched into telling the tale as he viewed it - not from the heights of a general officer, but from the mud and dust covered ground-eye view of a common "webfoot" infantry soldier. In doing so, he created what is perhaps the best, most readable, and most compelling account of a Civil War infantry man that has ever seen print.
Watkins told his tale in an easy, conversational style. The book is not written as a single narrative, but as a collection of tales and memories, just as he might have told them to friends and family around his hearth. His antidotal style put side by side humorous tales and the horrors of war that he observed, showing how casual a thing gruesome death became to a soldier. He wrote with great feeling, telling the reader when recalling a particular incident left him overwhelmed with emotion still after twenty years, and constantly referencing his religious faith that he would someday see all of his fallen comrades again in a better world. He hid nothing of himself, and that candid emotion sets his book apart, and gives it its greatness.
This book is not a history, per say. Watkins constantly reminded his readers of this. It is a collection of impressions of what it was like to be one of the little men doing the shooting and killing - the men who history mostly overlooks. "Co Aytch" fills in the yawning gaps of how war is really fought and experienced that you will never find in any general's memoirs. This book is essential for a full understanding of the Civil War, and it is a pleasure and a joy to read. I highly recommend it.

Theo Logos
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Candace Scott on February 12, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the perfect civil war book and will satisfy the greenest novice or the most accomplished historian. Watkins writes brilliantly, naturally and in colloquial tones that have scarcely aged in the 130 years since he penned this memoir. It's exactly as if this marvelously likeable and funny soldier is sitting in your rocking chair, personally spinning yarns about his civil war experiences. It's that immediate and that real, as if you are accompanying him on every train, bivouac or battlefield.
Watkins becomes part of you as you read on, like a treasured friend or talisman. It doesn't matter what side of the conflict you're on, whether you're a confirmed Yankee or passionate Rebel, it's simply impossible not to adore Watkins and his deft touches with the pen. He describes the terror of going into battle, the strange exhilaration of the battles aftermath and the realization you are still alive. His best moments are describing a visit to a field hospital where he sees his best friends intestines opened up in a gaping wound, with only minutes to live. His pathos and deep sentiment are prevelent throughout the book.
Buy this book *now,* don't wait another moment. It's a book you will read and re-read throughout life, a deserved and enduring classic. Whether you care little or nothing about the American civil war, it matters little. This is a little masterpiece, pure and simple.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dave on October 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
As the great author Bell Irvin Wiley put it, "No memoir by a Rebel participant is richer in detail than this engaging story..." There are plenty of Civil War memoirs available to us Civil War buffs today but those written by Confederate privates are few and far between. As another reviewer already stated, many memoirs that have survived are those by Union officers. This is simply the best Civil War memoir ever written in my opinion. It is brutally honest, tragic, & sometimes humorous, & is filled with rich details of the everyday life of the Confederate soldier: hard marches that never seemed to end, picket duty, the bloody battles he experienced as a private in the 1st Tenn. Regt. of the (Confederate) Army of Tennessee, etc. The combat descriptions are vivid & shocking: the desperate hand-to-hand combat in the trenches around Atlanta -"We were killing them by scores...", the bloodbath at Shiloh, the Confederate disaster at Nashville, etc. I'll never forget his descriptions of the "Dead Angle" at Kennasaw Mountain where Union regiment after regiment hurled themselves at the Confederate lines -"I am satisfied that on this memorable day, every man in our regiment killed from twenty to one hundred each". For anyone who wants to know what it was like to fight in the Civil War, this book is an absolute must-have!
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