Once upon a war, a young man named Sam Watkins from Tennessee left home to go fight for the Confederacy during the year 1861. Serving in the army during this period was no picnic. Soldiers marched 20 miles a day and lived on cornbread (or dust) when rations were low. Having marched on foot all over the darned South in crazy weather, from the Appalachians to Mobile and then some, Sam was surprisingly upbeat about the ordeal and a total bad ass warrior in support of the Lost Cause.
In his memoir of the war called Co. Aytch (Company H), Mr. Watkins describes in great detail how he had probably killed around 100 yankee soldiers in various battles, from Shiloh to Nashville . He describes men walking around after battles with no arms, no lower jaws, etc. In one case, being able to see inside one particular gentleman after having his upper body blown apart, “seeing his lungs move and his heart beating as I walked past him on the road”.
Down would drop first one fellow and then another, either killed or
wounded, when we were ordered to charge bayonets. I had been feeling
mean all the morning as if I had stolen a sheep, but when the order to
charge was given, I got happy. I felt happier than a fellow does when he
professes religion at a big Methodist camp-meeting. I shouted. It was
fun then. Everybody looked happy. We were crowding them. One more
charge, then their lines waver and break.
The soldiers were so adept at marching, that they could do so seemingly do so “in their sleep”. For when dawn arose after an all night forced march, men would slowly begin to unwind, giggling and joking, sharing tobacco, as if they had just awakened from a long, restful slumber. Most southern men did not have shoes. It is a testimony to the human spirit, and what men can do when they set their mind to it.
Sitting around the campsite was no safe place either, for the enemy would fire “feeler” cannonballs to find out where the opposing forces were. If the food didn’t kill you, a stray cannonball would. Sam saw one take off a buddy’s head, right in the middle of an interesting conversation. Men would often see cannonballs bouncing around a meadow for hundreds of yards, taking out anything in their path, including men, animals and tree limbs. Subsequently, when the balls hit a camp and did some damage, the victims would fire their artillery back in anger. In the end, this is how the other guys would know in what direction the enemy troops were concentrated.
All told and to solidify his bad ass southern hospitality, Sam eventually made it home alive after the war. And through all his misery and hardship during the war, he never once took clothing or new boots from a dead man. In a time when morals and religion meant something more, Sam survived under tougher circumstances due to the era and traditions in which he lived. Of the 120 original men in his company, Sam was one of 7 to return home in 1865. That’s bad ass!
“Co. Aytch”, by Sam R. Watkins