More on Company Aytch

I’d have to say that one of the things I enjoyed about this book is Watkins’s ‘humbleness’ in his writing. He knows there are some things that cannot be explained or described (and I don’t just mean by HIM, but more so by any writer, although he graciously speculates otherwise). One particular passage struck me.

Presentinent, or The Wing of the Angel of Death:

“Presentinent is always a mystery. The soldier may at one moment be in good spirits, laughing and talking. The wing of the angel of death touches him. He knows that his time has come. It is but a question of time with him then. He knows that his days are numbered. I cannot explain it.”

He goes on to relate the story of Bob Stout, who declines three days of rations because he “knows” that his time has come. Of course Stout is killed just as Watkins is telling him “you wern’t killed, as you expected.”

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A Strange Coincidence

We are all, I’m sure, familiar with the phenomenon of – upon learning a new word – “suddenly” seeing that word in print the next day or soon thereafter.  Perhaps the same may be said of learning of or reading new books.  As I have posted about earlier, I have been reading some Sir Walter Scott lately, having completed the novel, Waverley and having started the novel, Guy Mannering.  Well, lo and behold, as I’m reading Company Aytch last night, I come upon a sketch about one soldier, a certain Sergeant A.S. Horsley, whose knapsack is inspected by General Bragg’s inspector general, General Owleydousky.  The contents?  It included Ivanhoe, Guy Mannering(!), Rob Roy (all by Scott) and various other books.  It seems he ‘carried the literature for the regiment’.  I speculated earlier about my potentially being the ‘only person on the planet’ currently reading Guy Mannering.  And yet here in reading this book, looking back nearly 150 years, a poor soldier is tromping through the Civil War in Tennessee carrying this very same book.  Very cool.

Finished Book #7 of 2010

Just finished Company Aytch by Samuel Watkins this morning.  It is a memoir of the civil war by a private in the Army of Tennessee.   Total of 240 pages and fairly fast and compelling reading.  It is more a series of short two or three page sketches about various battles, incidents and people.

Watkins is “a good writer for just a Private” – that sounds bad, but I guess one expects the ‘rank and file’ of the army to not be as educated or literarily (is that a word?) adept.  The book was written over 20 years after the end of the war, and Watkins continually inserts the disclaimer that he’s “just a private soldier” and to “consult the histories” for more information.

He also has a habit of describing half the people in the book as “the best soldier ever to shoulder a rifle” or “the best soldier ever to tear a cartridge”, etc., etc.  Many of the descriptions in the book are not for the faint-hearted though, as war is, indeed, hell (I believe that quotation belongs to Sherman).

Well, that’s three books on the Civil War I’ve read this year (goal of 12), so I’m actually a month ahead (!)  (I’m never ahead on my projects.)

If you want to sample this book, it is available in the public domain.  Here is a link to the book on Google Books.

Got another new book

Actually this one was a belated Xmas present from my brother – who is aware of my P:CW.  It’s called “Company Aytch” by Sam Watkins.  I did see it on a couple “top 50/top 10/top 100 books on the Civil War” lists on the internet, so it is apparently well-liked.  Not sure what month I’ll read it in for 2010’s “project” – maybe March…

Following is the blurb about the book on Amazon.com:

Company Aytch is one of my favorite Civil War books, ever.”–Ken Burns

Among the plethora of books about the Civil War Company Aytch stands out for its uniquely personal view of the events as related by a most engaging writer–a man with Twain-like talents who served as a foot soldier for four long years in the Confederate army. Originally published in 1881 as a series of articles in the Columbia, Tennessee, Herald, Sam Watkins’s account has long been recognized by historians as one of the most lively and witty accounts of the war. Parallels between this text and The Red Badge of Courage suggest that Stephen Crane was also among Private Watkins’s readers.