Co. “Aytch,” First Tennessee Regiment
by Sam R. Watkins, edited by Ruth H.F. McAllister, Providence House
How do you improve on a classic Civil War memoir? Very carefully and with terrific sensitivity, one would hope. Fortunately, Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister has mastered this approach in her new release of Co. “Aytch,” First Tennessee Regiment, published more than 125 years after the original. McAllister, who is Watkins’ great-granddaughter, has significantly enhanced Co. “Aytch” by inserting important new material and revisions that come directly from Watkins’ worn pencil.
After his memoir’s original publication in 1882, Watkins had plenty of time to think about his account, and it occurred to him that he had some additional recollections and improvements to offer. But as things often occur in life, one’s best intentions go awry—Sam never got around to supplementing his memoir. McAllister dedicated herself to the task of “completing” Watkins’ book, and in so doing she offers a valuable contribution to Civil War history.
Watkins was one of those rare individuals who could write exactly the way he talked, and McAllister wisely allows Sam “to do his own talking” by including only his additions and revisions. The pleasant result is that the new Co. “Aytch” not only reads like the original but also allows us to hear Sam Watkins speaking to us anew, in his trademark laconic fashion. We just can’t get enough of him.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.