The memoir of Sam Watkins
“Co. Aytch” on the American Civil War is still to this day a goldmine source of
a personal, first-hand account of this national struggle. The purpose and
motives for writing such memoirs are to define ones role in history and to give
understanding and bring to light the religious, political, and psychological effects
of that specific era. Sam Watkin s in his
account, which was written a little over two decades after the war, would be
composed solely on his ability to remember. He frequently emphasizes that he
does not use a journal or any personal notes but as he states within the first
two sentences, he point out that, “I write only from memory, and this was a
long time ago” (Watkins).

In
April 1861 when the war was beginning, Sam Watkins would be a young 21 year old
man when he went on to join the Confederacy. He went on to fight every single
battle from Shiloh to the Confederate surrender with “Company H” in the First
Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. It was on the western frontier where he
experienced and witnessed the prospect of war on America’s largest scale.

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While
most of these kinds of memoirs glorify personal triumph, Sam uses his in order
to convey his heartfelt pains, hardships, as well as the tough discipline and
training he had and others had to endure. Sam was captured three times but yet
he escaped. He was shot twice, looked death in the face and yet came out on top
optimistically ready to go. It was this optimism, along with being keenly
religious and unapologetically patriotic that I give credit for getting him
through the horrors of this war. Not only is this what I believe got him
through the war but is what makes this memoir so successful. He was honest and
candid of the drama, like his exertion of the battle of Shiloh “I do not
pretend to tell of what command distinguished itself; of heroes; of blood and
wounds; of shrieks and groans; of brilliant charges” (Watkins). But he also
used a comical aspect of reality, “A first lieutenant by the name of Aleck Stephens,
commonly styled Smart Aleck” (Watkins).

This
balance is why renowned filmmaker Ken Burns uses so many passages of this
specific memoir by Watkins in his Civil War films. This memoir empowers and
captures the true experience of what it was like to be a private in America’s
deadliest war. It conveys the truths and insights of the war in a jocular and
entertaining way without sacrificing the realistic and genuine impact the Civil
War had on our country and those involved. Most importantly this memoir not
only apprehends the overall experience a Civil War private like Sam Watkins
would have faced but it almost unintentionally gives a solid account of the
whole war itself.