Preview: Leigh (ed), “Co. Aytch”

29 10 2013

9781594161797_p0_v1_s260x420Philip Leigh’s edition of Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch, Or, A Side Show to the Big Show is the fourth version of the book I have owned. The first, a small paperback which I read cover to cover, is gone. The second is a nice Morningside edition, and the third is a version revised and expanded by Watkins and edited by his great-granddaughter in 2007. Of course, the first exposure many had to Watkins’s memoir was via Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War, in which, with Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Watkins supplied the perspective of the common soldier.

Leigh, a contributor to the New York Times Opinionator blog-like project (it’s not a blog really, but rather a series of print articles available online), has “fleshed out” Watkins’s recollections with 240 or so sometimes lengthy annotations. In addition to the color and detail it provides, Watkins’s book has long been noted for some pretty significant mis-rememberings, and some of the annotations help to identify and explain them. They also provide background on military situations, personalities, and terminology. A nice feature are numerous clear, Hal Jesperson maps which along with the annotations help put Sam’s travels in perspective, and give a clearer picture of the bigger show. Do you need this to replace whatever other edition of Co. Aytch you may own? Probably not, but if someone is considering taking a first dip into soldiers’ memoirs this may be a nice place to start.



2 responses

4 11 2013

Thanks for the review.

I agree that the Hal Jespersen maps are a nice benefit and I hope more authors will make use of his work.

After reading Sam’s book straight-thorugh twice, I decided that I wanted to help him get his story even better known. That is the reason for this annotated and illustrated version.

I understand your conclusion that it can be suitable for a first time reader, but also feel that anyone who read the original version and was confused by some of his “mis-remebers” may also find it valuable for clarification. It may be particularly appropriate for a teacher who assigns the book to first time readers in a Civil War history class.


4 11 2013
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for commenting, Phil. Your points are well taken, particularly the bit about using Watkins in class. The book fills a niche, I think, and I wish you luck with it!


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