U.S. History: Civil War- Sam Watkins’ Co. Aytch

Writings from prominent figures of the Civil War era are readily available, but firsthand accounts about the plight of common soldiers are rare. Sam Watkins of the First Tennessee Regiment wrote Co. Aytch in 1882, providing a unique perspective of the war from the field. Born in Maury County, Tennessee, Watkins joined the Confederate Army early in the war. He participated in the Battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Chickamauga, and he describes his experiences in vivid, readable prose. Although Watkins came from a wealthy family who owned slaves, Co. Aytch is widely accepted as a common soldier’s story because of Watkins’s rank as a private, and has provided a unique perspective for historians to study.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Cite textual evidence analyzing the life of the common soldier in the Civil War, including Sam Watkins and Sam Davis.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that refer to significant characters and situations found in...
Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word...
Analyze how similarities and differences in the points of view of the audience and the characters create effects such as suspense, humor, or dramatic irony.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting,...
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Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • Analyze excerpts from Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch.
  • Discuss the experience of common soldiers during the Civil War.
  • Identify the Battle of Shiloh on various maps (8th grade).
Essential and guiding questions: 

What is Sam Watkins’ purpose in writing the “Retrospective”? 
According to Watkins, what was the experience of common soldiers in the Civil War?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Sam Watkins became a household name after Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary was produced by PBS in 1990. If your school’s library has a copy or you have access to the film on Nexflix, Sam Watkins is introduced in Episode 1: The Cause (1861), 1:00:40-1:01:37. Show this segment to your students and ask why Burns would have highlighted his story.

Helpful Hints


  • PowerPoint (optional)
  • Co. Aytch “Retrospective” Excerpts
  • Co. Aytch “Battle of Shiloh” Excerpts