Finished Co. Aytch
Monday, March 10, 2008

Finished Company Aytch on the ride back from Branson (much sooner then I expected) and so here’s some of my thoughts (and a mini-review):

For those who don’t know, Company Aytch is a memoir of a private soldier in the Army of Tennessee, Sam R. Watkins, who enlisted in it at the beginning of the war and served with it until its surrender in 1865. Of the 119 other men who enlisted with him at the start, only six others came back home with him at the end. Sam was wounded (not severely enough to be sent home) several times and one of his final wounds was (if nse of horror and fear he must have felt that day.

Sam isn’t a professional writer and while that is evident, it isn’t really a problem. To me it came across as just an average guy trying to tell his story; he never makes himself out to be a hero and I respect him for it. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says (or that I think he’s completely correct).

For example, he’s writing about some action after the Army of Tennessee has abandoned (and set fire to) Atlanta and he makes a claim that (paraphrasing) “Other then Lookout Mountain, we’d licked the Yankees”, which is a bit of bullocks. If they’d won every battle except one, why had they been forced out of Tennessee and into Georgia and were now on their way up to the Carolinas? I can’t speak for Sam, but I think it probably has to do with the fact that he only saw his company’s point of view, so battles like Shiloh, where his unit was only in action the first day would seem to be victories (even though they lost it on the second). I also disagree with him on his views on the war and the Union, but he fought against it and that’s to be expected.

All in all, I liked the book a lot. One of the best things about Co. Aytch is that most of the story isn’t the battles, but the stuff that happens in camp or on the march. Of course there are the battles, but most of a soldier’s time isn’t fighting and this book is spot on for that. The book is good on showing what an average soldier’s point of view was of the fighting, but I won’t be able to use it as a stylistic guide for writing it (I may try the sort of serial in a newspaper approach).

Now I’m starting The Highland Brigade in the Crimea . We’ll see if I finish it as quickly; I was worried that I was picking too many books, but I may have a shot since I finished the last one in less then a week.

I had originally planned to outline some of the challenges ahead, but I think I’m stopping here for now and I’ll give myself sometime to think that part over. Fundamentally, the biggest challenge is understanding the universe (times, dates, planets, how the military will function) and I’m sure there’s resources out there, I’ll just have to find them.

As promised, here are the lyrics to the Civil War song "Short Rations", transposed from a Bobby Horton CD and a google book.

Short Rations-Dedicated to the Cornfed Army of Tennessee
Lyrics by Ye Comic, Music by Ye Tragic

Fair ladies and maids of all ages
Little girls and cadets howe’er youthful
Home-guards, quartermasters, and sages,
Who write for the newspapers so truthful!
Clerks, surgeons, and supes—legislators,
Staff officers, (fops of the Nation,)
And even you, dear speculators,
Come list to my song of starvation!

For we soldiers have seen something rougher
Then a storm, a retreat, or a fight,
And the body may toil on and suffer
With a smile, so the heart is all right!

Our bugles had roused up the camp,
The heavens looked dismal and dirty,
And the earth looked unpleasant and damp,
As a beau on the wrong side of thirty;
We were taking these troubles with quiet,
When we heard from the mouths of some rash ones,
That the army was all put on a diet,
And the Board had diminish’d our rations!


Reduce our rations at all?
It was difficult, yet it was done—
We had one meal a day—it was small-
Are we now, Oh, ye gods! To have none?

Oh, ye gentlemen issuing rations,
Give at least half her own to the State,
Put a curb on your maddening passions,
And, commissaries—commiserate!


Tell me not of the Lacedamonian
Of his black broth and savage demeanor,
We keep up a fare less Plutonian,
Yet I’d swear our corn coffee is meaner!
Tell me nothing of ancients and strangers,
For, on seeing our Southern-bred Catos,
I have laugh’d at old Marion’s Rangers,
Who feasted on roasted potatoes!


Erewhile we had chicken and roasters
For the fowls and pigs were ferocious,
We would send them to shoot Pater Nosters,
And the deed was not stamped as atrocious;
But since men have been shot for the same,
We parch corn—it is healthier, but tougher
The chickens and pigs have got tame
But the horses and mules have to suffer


But the “corn-fed” is proof to all evils,
As a joke for all hardships and troubles,
In honor and glory he revels
Other fancies he looks on as bubbles!
He is bound to be free and he knows it,
Then what cares he for toil and privation!
He is brave and in battle he shows it
And will conquer in spite of starvation!



Monday, March 10, 2008 6:34 PM


Badkarma, I didn't mean to imply that at all. I may be a Unionist, but I have nothing but respect for the average soldier in the "Corn Fed Army of Tennessee", I just disagreed with that assertion.

I picked Co. Aytch for nearly that exactly reason; I wanted a soldier's view and that's just what I got. In fact, that particular passage illustrated that point very well, in my opinion. It also gives me a bit of leeway in writing; if I decide that the uprising should fail, I can still end on a reasonably high note for the particular soldiers involved.

In honor of the Army of the Tennessee, I'm going to add the lyrics to the song "Short Rations" to this log posting.

Monday, March 10, 2008 5:28 PM


Wow sounds like something I'd enjoy,Thanks for sharing

Monday, March 10, 2008 5:13 PM


CO Aytch is a 'sideshow of the Big Show' as Sam put it. Instead of the usual bird's eye view of a battle or of the war in general, it's a soldiers view, on what he could see around him.

Excellent choice. It's long been hailed as one of 'the' books available on the war that details day to day living among the AOT.

As to his statement they had licked the yankees, sadly, you'll find that inept leadership was responsible for the woes of the AOT, not the soldiers themselves.


You must log in to post comments.