Sam Watkins was a Corporal in Company H, 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment, the “Maury Grays.” He fought in nearly every large battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War, including the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Corinth, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, and Jonesboro. His memoir, “Co. Aytch: A Side Show of the Big Show,” vividly portrays the life of the common private soldier, from the hardships of camp life to the horrors of battle and the camaraderie of a unit. Of the 120 men who enlisted in Co. H in 1861, Sam Watkins was one of the 7 alive when the Army of Tennessee surrendered. Here are some excerpts from Sam’s book:

After the Battle of Perryville

“We march on. The scene of a few days ago comes unhidden to my mind. Tramp, tramp, tramp, the soldiers are marching. Where are many of my old friends and comrades, whose names were so familiar at every roll call, and whose familiar “Here” is no more? They lie yonder at Perryville, unburied, on the field of battle. They lie where they fell. More than three hundred and fifty members of my regiment, the First Tennessee, numbered among the killed and wounded-one hundred and eighty-five slain on the field of battle. Who are they? Even then I had to try to think up the names of all the slain of Company H alone. Their spirits seemed to be with us on the march, but we know that their souls are with their God. Their bones, today, no doubt, bleach upon the battlefield. They left their homes, families, and loved ones a little more than one short twelve months ago, dressed in their gray uniforms, amid the applause and cheering farewells of those same friends. They lie yonder; no friendly hands ever closed their eyes in death; no kind, gentle, and loving mother was there to shed a tear over and say farewell to her darling boy; no sister’s gentle touch ever wiped the death damp from off their dying brows. Noble boys; brave boys!”

Swimming the Tennessee River with “Roasting-ears”:

The Tennessee river is about a quarter of a mile wide at Chattanooga. Right across the river was an immense corn-field. The green corn was waving with every little breeze that passed; the tassels were bowing and nodding their heads; the pollen was flying across the river like little snowdrops, and everything seemed to say, “Come hither, Johnny Reb; come hither, Johnny; come hither.” The river was wide, but we were hungry. The roastingears looked tempting. We pulled off our clothes and launched into the turbid stream, and were soon on the other bank.”

His account of the fighting at The Dead Angle during Battle of Kennesaw Mountain:

“Well, on the fatal morning of June 27th…as the sun began to mount toward the zenith, everything became quiet, and no sound was heard save a peckerwood on a neighboring tree, tapping on its old trunk, trying to find a worm for his dinner. We all knew it was but the dead calm that precedes the storm. On the distant hills we could plainly see officers dashing about hither and thither, and the Stars and Stripes moving to and fro, and we knew the Federals were making preparations for the mighty contest. We could hear…the rumbling sound of heavy guns, and the distant tread of a marching army, as a faint roar of the coming storm, which was soon to break the ominous silence with the sound of conflict, such as was scarcely ever before heard on this earth.

….a solid line of blue coats came up the hill….. My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued in the next two hours. Column after column of Federal soldiers were crowded upon that line…but no sooner would a regiment mount our works than they were shot down or surrendered…

Yet still the Yankees came. It seemed impossible to check the onslaught… comparison with this day’s fight, all others dwarf into insignificance. The sun beaming down on our uncovered heads, the thermometer being one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and a solid line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns being poured right into our very faces, singeing our hair and clothes, the hot blood of our dead and wounded spurting on us, the blinding smoke and stifling atmosphere filling our eyes and mouths, and the awful concussion causing the blood to gush out of our noses and ears, and above all, the roar of battle, made it a perfect pandemonium. Afterward I heard a soldier express himself by saying that he thought “Hell had broke loose in Georgia, sure enough.”

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