Author Archives: Phil Leigh

Ron Chernow’s Biography on Ulysses Grant

(October 18, 2017) Nearly all authors recognize the importance of a book’s first line as do most readers. We can, for example, often identify a previously read book merely by seeing its first line. Examples might include, It was the best of times, the worst of times… and All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Finally, It was a Monday in Washington January 21; Jefferson Davis rose from his seat in the Senate. It is with the conceded significance of the first line that I was surprised by Ron Chernow’s choice.

Provided below is a guest post by Joseph Rose who is the author of Grant Under Fire. Joe shares his reaction to the “wrong-headed” first sentence of Chernow’s new Grant biography.

The opening line of Ron Chernow’s new biography on Grant—“Even as other civil war generals rushed to publish their memoirs, flaunting their conquests and cashing in on their celebrity, Ulysses S. Grant refused to trumpet his accomplishments in print”—seems positively wrong-headed. It plays on the rather false image of the modest Ulysses. Instead, his staffer, Adam Badeau, began Grant’s military history in 1865. Grant later told Badeau:

“Your first volume was prepared in my office, while you occupied the position [of] an officer on my staff, with the temporary rank of Col. This gave you [pay three grades beyond your actual rank,] access to papers and documents that other writers at the time could not have convenient access to. You also had the assistance of several very intelligent staff officers to aid you in hunting up data, relating insidents[sic], furnishing military terms with which you were not then familia[r] &c.

Your second and third volumnes[sic], were prepared abroad while you were holding office under the government. A great deal of time was spent by my staff officers in furnishing you information that you called for from time to time, and in some instances in sending you books and papers from the Archives in Washington at the risk of their being lost. You had possession of a copy of the records of my headquarters,—my work really—kept for my special use, until you were through with your work. I also read through every chapter of your book before the latter appeared before the public. I knew what care had been taken to get the facts of history correct. and corrected the facts.”

Other books on Grant coming out in 1868 with the first volume of Badeau’s work are those of Albert Richardson, Charles A. Dana and James H. Wilson, and Henry Deming. All were “carefully guarded against any expression which could be used against Grant by the politicians,” in the upcoming presidential election. Another campaign biography that year was penned by James G. Wilson.

If “other civil war generals rushed to publish their memoirs, flaunting their conquests and cashing in on their celebrity,” Ulysses S. Grant did the same, but took somewhat longer in doing so. Throughout the war and after, he befriended journalists and authors who praised him without qualification. And, in his Personal Memoirs, Grant subtly built himself up, while disparaging the people he didn’t like. Very often, when doing so, he stole the laurels from those who actually deserved it to place on his own head. All of this, and more, belies Chernow’s claim of modesty.

***

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A Black Advocate of Confederate Monuments

(October 10, 2017) Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article about eighty-eight year old Nelson Winbush who is a Florida black man and proponent of Confederate monuments. His grandfather, Louis Napoleon Nelson, was a Tennessee slave who followed his master and sons into the Confederate military. Initially Louis was a cook but later became a rifleman and a chaplain under the command of cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.

According to The Post, Winbush “said his grandfather believed he was defending his home state of Tennessee from “Yankee” invaders, not fighting to preserve slavery. His final wish, Winbush said, was that he be buried in his Confederate uniform…This pride has been embraced by Winbush, who joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans nearly three decades ago.”

The Post reporter (Kimberly Kindy) quotes remarks by historian David Blight that suggest few Southern blacks were loyal to the Confederacy, or their masters. (In response to my email yesterday, however, Dr. Blight replied that he never spoke to Kindy. Although he added that he does not know where she obtained quotes attributed to him, he speculated they may have come from some of his talks on YouTube. For her part, Kindy never replied to my email.) Nonetheless, Kindy’s article states:

Blight said the version of events that recalls black soldiers as co-signers to the Confederate Army’s mission emerged after the war, growing out of the Lost Cause tradition.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Blight said, the Sons of Confederate Veterans began to promote this as historical fact, saying that many Southern blacks had supported the war. “It’s a popular mythology — the trusted, contented slave, Blight said. “And if you want the Confederacy to be somehow palatable in the post-civil rights era, it helps if people believe there were a whole lot of black people who supported it.”

While the number of blacks bearing arms for the Confederacy was small, significant numbers traveled with the Rebel armies as servants and workers. According to eyewitness British military observer Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur J. L. Fremantle who marched with Lee’s army to Gettysburg, each regiment was accompanied by twenty to thirty slaves. Although few may have used a weapon in combat, Fremantle was convinced of their loyalty to the South. They could, he averred, be converted into effective soldiers due to “the affection that undoubtedly exists as a general rule between the slaves and their masters…”

Although Dr. Blight is fond of quoting a racist pre-war speech defending slavery by Alexander Stevens who became the Confederacy’s Vice President, Stephen’s remarks to the Georgia legislature less than a year after the war ended contradict the skepticism about slave loyalty attributed to Blight by The Post as well the suggestion that Stephens disdained blacks.

Wise and humane provisions should be made for [ex-slaves]…so that they may stand equal before the law, in the possession and enjoyment of all rights of person, liberty and property. Many considerations claim this at your hands. Among these may be stated their fidelity in times past. They cultivated your fields, ministered to your personal wants and comforts, nursed and reared your children; and even in the hour of danger and peril they were, in the main, true to you and yours. To them we owe a debt of gratitude, as well as acts of kindness.

I speak of them as we know them to be, having no longer the protection of a master or legal guardian; they now need all the protection which the shield of law can give. But above all, this protection should be secured because it is right and just…

The Post article also (perhaps falsely) implies that professor Blight has concluded the Confederate constitution identified slavery as the chief cause of secession and the Civil War. In truth, however, the CSA constitution differed from the USA constitution in four ideological ways:

1. Corporate welfare was outlawed. The Confederate government was forbidden to pay subsidies (“bounties”) to private industry.

2. Protective tariffs were prohibited. The Confederate government could only collect tariffs for revenue. Any tariff designed to protect an industry from foreign competition was illegal. Such tariffs were regarded as another form of forbidden corporate welfare.

3. With minor exceptions, the Confederate government was prohibited from spending money on public works. Such spending was regarded as an obligation of the states individually—a form of state’s rights.

4. Slavery was explicitly legalized.

The contrasting interpretations between Nelson Winbush and those that reporter Kimberly Kindy attributed to David Blight may underscore the wisdom of Blight’s fellow Yale professor, Carlos Eire, who escaped Castro’s Cuba as a boy.

“Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”

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Maryland, My Maryland

(October 9, 2017) Recently the University of Maryland ordered that the school’s marching band discontinue the tradition of playing the state song, Maryland, My Maryland, during its pre-game performance at each football game. The decision was triggered by a feeling that the lyrics should be censored because they suggests that many—perhaps most—of the state’s 1861 residents were opposed to coercing the seceded states back into the Union and that they objected to the dictatorial methods used to force Maryland to remain in the Union.

The first verse lyrics are provided below, excluding the “Maryland, My Maryland” refrain:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore.
His torch is at thy temple door.
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore
And be the battle-queen of yore.

William Safire explained in a 1984 New York Times column why the anthem should be retained even though the “despot” allusion in the first line is to an ever-sacred Lincoln.

Maryland was a slave state with strong anti-Union sentiment. Detective-bodyguard Allen Pinkerton had to slip the new President through Baltimore in the dead of night and in disguise on the way to his inauguration in Washington. In cracking down on the disloyal element in Maryland, President Lincoln usurped Congress’s power to suspend habeas corpus and authorized arbitrary arrests, and went on to dispatch General McClellan to arrest Maryland legislators before they could meet to vote secession.

These Presidential actions may be described in history classes as having been necessary and in a good cause, but if practiced by a Central American ally today would rightly be denounced as ”despotic.”

If some student, lustily singing the state song in school assembly, is inspired by the once [and future] incendiary words to ask his teacher who the supposed despot was, or what the trouble in Baltimore was all about, does education suffer? Of course not; in our art and artifacts can be found the vestiges of the issues that aroused our ancestors, and we should do all we can to preserve rather than obliterate them.

Safire’s explanation that Lincoln’s actions in Maryland “if practiced by a Central American ally today would rightly be denounced as despotic,” also applies to elections during Reconstruction that took place under the glitter of Federal bayonets.

Although Maryland never joined the Confederacy, the story of why she didn’t merits scrutiny.

Shortly after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the cotton states rebellion, Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks convened a special session of the legislature on April 26, 1861. Since Hicks was a Union-loyal man he did not want the session held in the state capital at Annapolis because of the prevailing Southern attitudes in the eastern part of the state. Therefore he chose Frederick, which was a strongly pro-Union town northwest of Washington.

The session starting on April 26 adjourned on August 7 without voting to secede but agreeing to reconvene again in Frederick on September 17. However, the April-to-August session did approve two items hostile to the federal government. First, it voted to refuse to reopen railroad connections to the Northern states that were cut when bridges north of Baltimore were destroyed four days after Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Second, it passed and delivered a resolution to President Lincoln protesting Union occupation of the state.

After the Confederate victory at First Bull Run on July 21, Southern sentiment gained potency in Maryland. Another Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri the following month strengthened the impression that the Confederacy would win its independence. (It would be another six months before a significant Union victory would suggest otherwise.) By mid-September many legislatures increasingly believed Maryland could join the winning side by seceding whereas picking the winning side earlier appeared to be a more speculative matter.

Although Maryland voters had previously chosen their legislators in free elections, President Lincoln concluded he would selectively prevent those representatives suspected of harboring pro-secession attitudes from attending. Consequently, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and arbitrarily arrested legislators presumed to be pro-Confederate. He never brought any of them to trial for the simple reason that they had not committed any crime.

Thirty-one legislators were arrested. Many others were prevented from attending because they realized that if they journeyed to Frederick they too would be jailed if Lincoln suspected them of Southern sympathies.

While nobody can know whether Lincoln’s “intervention” (usurpation?) prevented Maryland’s secession, at least one authoritative participant said that it did. Specifically, Assistant Secretary of State Fred Seward—son of Secretary of State William H. Seward—who was directly involved in the arrests, wrote that he believed the 17 September session of the Maryland General Assembly would have voted to secede if legislators had been permitted to freely attended. It was only by illegally blocking them that Maryland artificially remained in the Union.

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Monumental Objection

(October 8, 2017) Last Thursday evening I spoke to the Cobb County (Georgia) Civil War Roundtable and visited the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park earlier in the day. Since my annotated and illustrated version of Confederate Private Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch was my first Civil War book I was especially interested in visiting the battlefield’s “Dead Angle.” It was the Union army’s chief attack point and Sam’s was one of two defending regiments, assaulted from three sides.

For about ninety minutes on the morning of June 25, 1864 about 5,000 (mostly Illinois) Yankees attacked 1,000 Rebels at a defense line salient. Despite enduring murderous fire a minority of the attackers reached the opposing entrenchments where the fighting devolved into hand-to-hand struggles. Notwithstanding undeniable bravery, the attackers could not dislodge the defenders who were too well entrenched. Casualties totaled 825 Federals as compared to 170 Confederates.

Monument to Illinois Soldiers at Dead Angle (Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield)

Sam Watkins described the fighting as follows:

It seemed that the archangel of Death stood and looked on with outstretched wings, while all the earth was silent, when all at once a hundred guns from the Federal line opened upon us, and…poured their…shot, grape and shrapnel right upon [us] when, all of a sudden, our pickets jumped into our works and reported the Yankees advancing, and almost at the same time a solid line of bluecoats came up the hill.

My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued…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, but every man was true to his trust…Talk about other battles…but in comparison with this day’s fight, all others dwarf into insignificance…[A] solid line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns poured 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.

I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war they were not aware of it.  I am satisfied that on this memorable day, every man in our regiment killed….All that was necessary was to load and shoot.  In fact, I will ever think that the reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their living men passing over the bodies of their dead.  The ground was piled up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees.

Watkins went on to add, “a Yankee rushed me and said ‘You have killed my two brothers and now I’ve got you’…I heard a roar and felt a flash of fire and saw…Willam A. Hughes, grab the muzzle of the gun, receiving the whole (blast)…He died for me.

As Sam watched the litter carriers take Hughes away the dying soldier kept telling them, “Give me Florence Fleming,” his name for his rifle, which was engraved on it in silver lettering. “It was the last time I saw him,” Watkins wrote. “But I know away up yonder…in the blue vault of heaven…we will sometime meet at the marriage supper of the Son of God.”

Although twenty-first century traffic around Kennesaw is heavy, the Dead Angle is peaceful and thickly wooded.  The weathered remains of the Confederate entrenchments stand as remnants of the original earthworks much as the Appalachians are the residue of a range that was once as mighty as the Himalayas.

As I walked around the area I gradually became aware that there were no Confederate monuments. Although markers that described the action would mention both Union and Confederate participants, all the memorials were for Union soldiers. The most prominent was the Illinois monument pictured above. But there were also memorials for two slain Union generals and a third one for an unknown Federal soldier.

When I first visited the Gettysburg battlefield long ago, the spot where Joshua Chamberlain’s regiment turned back a part of the Rebel attack on Little Round Top was an obscure, seldom visited point. After Michael Shaara published The Killer Angels, however, the spot became one of the most popular sites on the park and a monument was added to memorialize Chamberlain and his troops. Even though the PBS Civil War Documentary in the early 1990s similarly popularized the Watkins memoir, there is no memorial to him and his comrades at Dead Angle.

The absence of Confederate monuments at Dead Angle reflects three factors.

First, Union veterans originally organized the site as a private park in 1898. For many years after the war Republican politicians “waved the bloody shirt” to remind Northern voters of Civil War casualties in order to gain political support among such veterans to promote hatred of Southerners, who were generally Democrats. Consequently, former Union soldiers formed the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) as their veterans association. It successfully lobbied for generous, federally funded Union veterans pensions paid from the taxes of all Americans, including their former, impoverished, Southern enemies. Not until1890 did the GAR gradually start relaxing its advocacy for universal censorship of Confederate displays such as Rebel battle flags and Confederate statues.

Second, Southerners were too poor to pay for memorials after the war. It was not until the decades between1890-1920 that they had even modest sums available while the declining influence of “bloody shirt” politics relaxed opposition thereby enabling most of the Confederate statues remaining today to be erected.

Third, the present political climate is an amplified echo of the “bloody shirt” dogma of long ago. It demands hatred toward the memory of Rebel soldiers as well as the censorship and destruction of Confederate iconography. 

Few of us object.

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To Speak at Cobb County Civil War Roundtable

On Thursday I will be speaking to the Cobb County (Georgia) Civil War Roundtable about my Trading With the Enemy book. The details are provided below.

Topic: Trading with the Enemy
Date: Thursday, October 5, 2017
Time: 7:00 PM

Location: Hilton (Atlanta/Marietta) Hotel & Conference Center
500 Powder Springs Street
Marietta, Georgia 30064

Additional Information: Michael K. Shaffer

Trading CoverMy Amazon Author Page

Speech at Palm Coast Civil War Roundtable

(September 25, 2017) Provided below is my speech about Confederate Private Sam Watkins to the Palm Coast Civil War Roundtable.

***

Margret Mitchell who authored Gone With the Wind once said of Confederate Private Sam Watkins:

Perhaps he did not contribute enormously to our store of information about military strategy and campaigns, but he certainly left a record to show what the dryly humorous foot soldier thought about it all…A better book there never was.

The chief aim of my annotated and illustrated version of Co. Aytch is to add the context that Ms. Mitchell felt was missing from Sam’s 1882 memoir. In contrast, there is little to be added to the humor, passion, and tragedy of Sam’s writings, which at times rise to a standard approaching Mark Twain. Partly that’s because Sam is telling a true story, and genuine adventures are often more compelling than fictional ones. As someone once cleverly explained, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” If nothing else, Sam’s memoir is a thorough documentation of how routinely war planning “goes wrong.”

Mark Twain first achieved fame seven months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox with “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a story about a shrewd frontier gambler who tricks a California prospector. The miner owns a pet frog that has out-jumped every competing frog in the county. While the miner is occupied catching a new frog for the gambler to wager against his champion, the gambler feeds the prospector’s frog buckshot. When the miner returns, the speculator declares the freshly caught frog a suitable contender and places his wager. To the dismay of all— save one—the champion frog won’t budge, and the cheater wins.

Watkins tells of a similar, but true, incident several years earlier when his Confederate army was idled for seven weeks in Tupelo, Mississippi. To overcome boredom the soldiers would bet on most anything, including how fast lice would run off of a tin plate. One soldier was constantly winning until the others figured out he always heated his plate before a race.

Unlike Twain’s, Watkins’s literature would go almost unnoticed for over a century. After his memoir was serialized in the Columbia (TN) Herald in 1881–82, fifteen hundred copies were printed as books. Between the author’s death in 1901 and the Civil War Centennial in the early 1960s, Co. Aytch was seldom reprinted and always in small editions. In 1962, Collier Books opportunistically published it along with seven other out-of-copyright Civil War books, such as the memoirs of Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. However, in Ric and Ken Burns’s groundbreaking 1990 PBS documentary, The Civil War, Watkins’s memoir was quoted frequently and as a result the book has become quite popular.

Watkins came from a prosperous family and had some formal education. His memoir includes a number of Latin phrases. There are also multiple references to Shakespeare and Greek mythology, as well as numerous biblical ones. Sam was born in the summer of 1839, in Maury County, Tennessee, which is about forty-five miles south of Nashville. When he was twenty-two he enlisted in a company of Confederate soldiers that adopted the name “Maury Grays.” They were officially designated Company H of the 1st Tennessee Regiment.

Originally about one hundred men joined the company, but when it surrendered almost precisely four years later, only seven of the initial soldiers remained, including Watkins. During the war, Sam was wounded three times. He was also captured three times, but returned to his comrades by escaping. He fought in nearly all of the major battles of the principal Confederate army west of the Appalachians. Examples include Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro (Stones River), Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, the 120-day Atlanta campaign, Franklin, and Nashville.

Aside from fighting, Sam endured the constant hardships of marching and camping in an ill-provisioned army. Like most of his fellow soldiers, he was often barefoot and hungry. It was especially hard to stay warm in winter. Sam’s death in 1901 at age sixty-two may have been premature as a lingering consequence of such deprivations.

Although Watkins was unmarried when he marched off to war, he had a sweetheart named Jennie Mayes who was his age. When the two were teenagers, their families owned adjacent farms. Two of the most touching entries in Co. Aytch are a poem and letter from Jennie, which Sam read “500 times.” They married shortly after the war, and Sam clerked at his father-in-law’s general store. Within a dozen years they had seven children, and Sam owned a general store in Columbia. Just before the end of the 1870s, their oldest child died of typhoid, which was thought to have originated from the household’s source of potable spring water. Consequently, Sam moved the family to a farm outside of town in1880 where he started work on the memoirs.

Eventually he had eight children, and the older ones recalled seeing him writing late at night and early mornings. They remembered he sometimes laughed and sometimes cried, depending on what he was writing. He continued to write thereafter, with stories appearing in magazines like Confederate Veteran and Southern Bivouac, in addition to articles in local newspapers.

Evidently Watkins shared a simple religious faith with most of the common soldiers. Seemingly crude to a modern reader, it was nonetheless a type that could quickly detect false devotion in others, no matter how elaborately disguised. The battle of Chickamauga provides an example. One Sunday shortly before the battle a distinguished preacher was invited to address the troops, a visit Watkins satirized in his memoir:

God is an abyss of light, a circle who is everywhere and His circumference is nowhere. Hell is a dark world made up of spiritual sulfur and other ignited ingredients.’

When the old fellow got this far I lost further run of his prayer … I don’t think anyone understood him but the Generals … About this time we heard the awfullest racket … tearing through the woods toward us … a mad bull … running and knocking down the divine … (bringing) the services to a close without the Doxology.

This same brave Chaplin rode with us at…Chickamauga, exhorting the boys to be brave [and] aim low…’Remember boys that he who is killed will sup tonight in Paradise’. Presently bullets started to smack into nearby trees…”and the parson put spurs to his horse and was seen to limber to the rear and almost every soldier yelled out, ‘The parson isn’t hungry and never eats his supper.’”

Yet Sam could also tell the poignant side of soldier life. On the evening after the battle of Chickamauga in northern Georgia, he experienced a heartrending sight. He was with a detail of soldiers looking for wounded when they were approached by a group of women with lanterns also searching for survivors:

Coming to a pile of our slain, we had turned over several . . . when one of the ladies screamed . . . ran to the pile . . . and raised [a] man’s head, placed it in her lap and began kissing him . . . saying ‘Oh, they have killed my darling, darling, darling! Oh, mother, mother, what must I do? . . . My darling! Oh, they have killed him, they have killed him!’

I could witness the scene no longer. I turned and walked away.

Several times Watkins narrowly missed becoming the object of such bereavement himself. Once during hand-to-hand combat at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, a Yankee rushed me and said, ‘You have killed my two brothers and now I’ve got you’ … I heard a roar and felt a flash of fire and saw … William A. Hughes, grab the muzzle of the gun, receiving the whole (blast) … He died for me.

Watkins watched as litter carriers took Hughes away. The dying soldier kept telling them, “Give me Florence Fleming,” his name for his rifle, which was engraved on it with silver lettering. “It was the last time I saw him,” Watkins wrote. “But I know away up yonder … in the blue vault of heaven … we will sometime meet at the marriage supper of the Son of God.”

Shakespeare writes of combat transforming soldiers into a “band of brothers” who become more motivated to fight for one another than any political cause. Thus, during the hasty retreat from Missionary Ridge at the battle of Chattanooga in November 1863, Sam describes how four Rebels demonstrated brotherly affection for a comrade in a manner that would have been unthinkable under almost any other circumstances:

We saw poor Tom Webb lying . . . shot through the head, his blood and brains smearing his face and clothes, and he still alive. . . . We did not wish to leave the poor fellow in that condition and [four of us] got a litter and carried him . . . to Chickamauga Station. . . .

The next morning Dr. J. E. Dixon . . . told us that it would be useless for us to carry him any further [because] it was utterly impossible for him ever to recover. . . . To leave him where he was we thought best. We . . . bent over him and pressed our lips to his—all four of us. We kissed him goodbye.

Despite such experiences, Sam’s persistent eye for humor almost never failed him. One evening he and the louse-racing champion, T. C. Dornin, were instructed to infiltrate the nearby Union picket line and gather information about the opposing army. His identity obscured by darkness, Watkins pretended to be a federal infantryman as he quizzed a Union sentinel.

‘Captain, what guard it this?’ He answered, ‘Nien bocht, you bet,’ is what I understood him to say. ‘What regiment are you from?’ ‘Iet du mein got Donnermetter stefel switzer.’ I had to give up—I had run across the detail of a Dutch regiment.

Sometimes Sam might have been telling stories that he had heard from others but merely put himself into the narrative. One example is his description of getting friendly with a Union sentry the night before the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. The opposing lines were not close enough to permit the following narrative, but it could have happened on another battlefield to someone else:

We [two enemy sentries] got very friendly … and made a raid upon a citizen’s pantry where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuits. The old citizen was not home—he and his whole household had gone visiting … In fact, I think all of the citizens of Perryville were taken with a sudden notion of promiscuous visiting about this time; at least they were not home to all callers.

Conversely, his description of the First Tennessee Regiment’s participation in the actual fighting the next day is a mixture of confusion and horror that leaves little doubt about its authenticity.

While we were marching through a cornfield they opened their war dogs upon us … from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Here General Maney’s horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We had killed all in the first line and were charging over the second when … their third and main battle line … poured their deadly fire.

It was death to retreat now … we were soon in hand-to-hand fighting, using the butts of our guns and bayonets. The guns were discharged so rapidly, it seemed the earth itself was in volcanic uproar.

The next morning a wounded comrade … asked me to lay down beside him. When I awoke the poor fellow was stiff and cold in death.

Like other soldiers, Sam was constantly hungry on the march back to Tennessee from Kentucky. Since the enemy did not pursue them aggressively, the soldiers could purchase goods from farmers who offered items for sale along the side of the road. Alternately they might confiscate goods from Union-loyal citizens. Shortly after his unit crossed the Tennessee state line where the expected rations failed to appear, Sam “struck out through the country” in search of food.

I had gone but a short distance before I came across a group of soldiers clambering over something. It was Tom Tuck with a barrel of sorghum that he had captured from a good Union man. He was selling it out at five dollars a quart. I paid my five dollars, and by pushing and scrounging I finally got my quart. I sat down and drank it; it was bully…it was not so good…it was not worth a cent…I was sick, and have never loved sorghum since.

The next year while the army was preparing fortifications they would never use at Chattanooga, Sam’s father paid a visit. The soldiers were living on parched corn. Since Sam was ashamed to offer such a meal, he introduced his dad to the regimental commander, Colonel Feilds, who invited the two to have dinner with him.

Shortly thereafter, an African-American cook dumped a frying pan full of parched corn on an oilcloth and announced, “Master, dinner ready,” Watkins recalled. “He [the regimental commander] was living like ourselves—on parched corn.”

Watkins’ memoir rarely speaks of African-Americans or slavery. However, after the fall of Atlanta, the Army of Tennessee—then commanded by Lieutenant General John Bell Hood—was advancing toward its namesake state in hopes of forcing Union Major General William T. Sherman to backtrack. Along the route, Hood destroyed railroad track north of Atlanta to cut Sherman’s supply line.

At Dalton, Ga., a 750-man federal garrison that included 500 African-Americans guarded the track. The federal commander, badly outnumbered, felt compelled to surrender, but wanted assurances that the African-Americans would be fairly treated. Hood would make no promises, but in the end the blacks were put to work tearing up railroad track. As Watkins described it:

We marched the black rascals out. They were mighty glad to see us and we were kindly disposed to them. We said, ‘Now boys, we don’t want the Yankees to … blame you; so let’s us just go out here on the railroad track, and tear it up, and pile up the crossties, and then pile the iron on top of them and we’ll set the thing a-fire and when the Yankees come back they’ll say, ‘What a bully fight (you) did make.’

Although I’ve discovered no separate account to support Sam’s story at Dalton, there is no doubt that about 500 black soldiers were surrendered to the Confederate army there and there are no reports a racial massacre. Moreover, it seems plausible that Hood would use the captured blacks as laborers to tear up railroad track.

During one idle period in Tennessee Sam and some comrades “made a raid” on a farmhouse where they spied a fat hog. They decided to steal the hog by having two of the soldiers, which included Sam, distract the inhabitants of the house with a visit. Nobody was home except an old lady and her widowed daughter. But the women invited Sam and his comrade to lunch when the old lady disclosed that she had three sons in the army and two had been killed. Presently distant gunfire informed Sam that the hog had been killed. When he returned to the rest of his group Sam

…did not know how to act…The hog was cooked, but I did not eat a piece of it. I felt that I had rather starve, and I believe that it would have choked me to death if I had attempted to eat it.

A short time later an old citizen from Maury County visited me and gave me some money my dad sent. After getting the money…I could not rest. I took some back to the old lady and said:

“Madam, some soldiers were here a short time ago, and took your hog…I wish to pay you for it.”

“I would much rather have the hog.”

“Madam, that is an impossibility, your hog is eat up.”

The old lady’s eyes filled with tears. She said that she was perfectly willing to give the soldiers everything she had, and if she thought it had done us any good, she would not charge anything for it.

“Well, Madam, here is a hundred dollar, new issue, Confederate bill.”

I laid the money on the table and left. I have never in my life made another raid upon anybody else.

I am not familiar with any Civil War personality more worthy of respect for his commitment to his “band of brothers” and the civilians who depended upon them than Sam Watkins. Co. Aytch is one of the finest military memories ever written. Both general readers and historians can enjoy Sam’s story, “a better book,” as Margret Mitchell claimed, “there never was.”

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