|If you have spent much time reading here, you probably know Private Sam Watkins of Company H, First Tennessee Infantry. Sam had a keen eye for nonsense, and his tales were often told with humor. He saw things as the man on the firing line, from the bottom of the totem pole. In his words:
“Ah! reader, there is no glory for the private soldier, much less a conscript…. Glory is for generals, colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants, and when the poor private wins battles by dint of sweat, hard marches, camp and picket duty, fasting and broken bones, the officers get the glory.
“The private’s pay was eleven dollars per month, if he got it; the general’s pay was three hundred dollars per month, and he always got his…. Men who never fired a gun are today the heroes of the war.”
As a historian, I sometimes wonder how it is that certain senior officers get so much attention in the historical records. There I am reading about General Stuffed Shirt, thinking to myself, “But this guy was canned for relentless incompetence. Why are the “experts” going on and on about him, quoting his memoirs and giving him notoriety for being a fool?”
Let me quote Sam Watkins on this:
“Now, I tell you what I think about it: I think that those of us who fought as private soldiers and those of us who stuck it out to the last, deserve more praise than the general who resigned because some other general was placed in command over him. A general could resign. That was honorable. A private could not resign, nor choose his branch of service, and if he deserted, it was death.”
Don’t get me wrong, countless officers high and low are worthy of the highest praise. And the private or sergeant that gets the medal is surely heard about – and should be!
But many an anonymous private performed the bravest of deeds, time and time again.