Patriotism and Misery in the Narrative of Samuel Watkins
The writings of Samuel Rush Watkins are considered one of the best personal accounts of the Civil War. His writings document the actions and activities of Co. H., First Tennessee Regiment, which coincidentally was the title for the first edition of the book. The book is a biased perspective, as the author was a soldier for the southern states. Throughout his book he speaks out against northern doctrine and promotes the southern cause. However, his perspective being put aside, this book stands as one of the best documentaries that chronicles the conditions of the soldiers and citizens during the Civil War. This research will explore two wartime circumstances that affected Watkins experience. The first circumstance is that Watkin's social class and that he fought for the South affected his experiences and works. The second circumstance is the terrain and climate in which the experiences took place.
In support of the first circumstance that influences Watkins writing, Watkins makes the following statement.
"Secession may have been wrong in the abstract, and has been tried and settled by the arbitrament of the sword and bayonet, but I am as firm in. my convictions today of the right of secession as I was in 1861. The South is our country, the North is the country of those who live there. We are an agricultural people; they are a manufacturing people," (p.7).
This statement is perhaps the best condensed version of the reasons behind the Civil War and the philosophies that drove its existence. In a few sentences, Watkins summarized the southern philosophy and feelings about the South. Throughout the narrative Watkins refers to the Yankee troops as the enemy. It is apparent that he considers them the invaders. In several cases, Watkins gets to know one of the other side personally, but even though he is compassionate, it does not dissuade him from doing his duty as a soldier (p. 12).
He still maintains that those who come from the North have no business in the South. He believes that if they wish to have a different lifestyle, than they should keep themselves. He is pro-succession and maintains this philosophy throughout the book. His culture and southern upbringing echo throughout the narrative. Culture and the society in which he grew up shaped his political opinions and his voice throughout the book. His descriptions of the battles, clothing, manners, and the life of a soldier during this war are remarkable. However, it is his commentary and feelings about the northern invaders as well as his descriptions of the South that make this work stand out from other narratives. He often does not directly site or talk about his feelings, but they are apparent in his language and in his actions. The following is an example of how Watkins inserted feeling and passion into his writing.
"Flags made by the ladies were presented to companies, and to hear the young orators tell of how they would protect that flag, and that they would come back with the flag or come not at all, and if they fell they would fall with their backs to the field and their feet to the foe, would fairly make our hair stand on end with intense patriotism, and we wanted to march right off and whip twenty (Yankees," (p.6).
Through passages such as this Watkins provided a glimpse of the Civil War that is seldom found in other first person accounts.
It is not only Watkin's cultural ties with the South and southern upbringing that influence his writing and opinions. His writing style and word choice provide a clue as to his social status in his life prior to entering the army. First of all, the fact that he can write and keep a journal demonstrates that he is from the southern upper class. Education was a sign of wealth. However, not only could Watkin's write and read, his diction and word choice demonstrate a higher level of education. It was apparent that Watkin's was in tune with politics of the time as well. He expresses a deeper understanding of the political issues and bigger picture than he would have if he had grown up in a poor household. Watkin's educational status undoubtedly also had an…