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Sam R. Watkins' Story Essay

1370 words - 5 pages

Sam R. Watkins was a Confederate soldier from Columbia, Tennessee. At age twenty-one, Watkins joined the First Tennessee Regiment along with one hundred and nineteen other young men and boys. He was one of only seven men to survive every one of its battles. He writes a memoir twenty years after being in the war about his experience as a private. Watkins juxtaposes stories of horror and gruesome death with humorous memories throughout his four years in the war.
Though morale became very low toward the end of the war, Watkins recounts the passion the privates felt for both the war and for their beloved South. He believed that the Confederate Army were “…trying to protect their homes and families, their property, their constitution and their laws, that had been guaranteed to them as a heritage forever by their forefathers.” Though slavery was an issue, it was not the primary concern and was rarely mentioned in the memoir. However, Watkins did write that any man who owned twenty or more slaves back home was allowed to leave the army, and he notes the war “…was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”. The South and its inhabitants especially believed that they were fighting for the faith that each state was a separate sovereign government, as laid down by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Many southerners felt that the North was invading their country and doing despicable things all under the name of the “Union”, and that the war was a necessary last resort after all efforts to conciliate the North had already been made.
Living conditions in the Confederate army were typically very difficult. Watkins recounts, “The soldiers were starved and almost half naked, and covered all over with lice and camp itch and filth and dirt. The men … living principally upon parched corn, which had been picked out of the mud and dirt under the feet of officer’s horses.” Civilians that the soldiers encountered were often also starved. In one memoir, Watkins tells of how a group of privates distract an old lady while they steal her hog, only to find that she herself is starving. Watkins feels terrible after he learns of her situation, and returns to pay her with confederate dollars that his father has given him. Hygiene was poor, and the soldiers would sometimes play gambling games with the lice that could always be found on their body or in their beds. Toward the end of the war, many soldiers went barefoot in the snow and were driven to taking the shoes of the corpses on the battlefield. This winter also happened to be one of the coldest in history, and some men wore little but rags on their backs. There was also a lack of weapons in the various companies. In one account, Watkins describes a competition of sorts where a particularly...

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