Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Sam Watkins

Marker ID:  
Location: 2322 Zion Road, Columbia, TN
County: Maury
Coordinates: N 35° 35.909    W 087° 8.689
  35.59848333    -87.14481666
Waymark: None


Sam Watkins
A Common Soldier's Lasting Legacy

Samuel Rush Watkins and his wife, Virginia (Jenny) Mayes Watkins, who worshipped here at Zion Presbyterian Church, are buried in the cemetery. In his book Company Aytch: or, a Side Show of the Big Show, Watkins left an incomparable memoir of his experiences as a rank-and-file soldier during the Civil War.

Watkins left his home a few miles west of here when the war began, enlisted in the 3rd Tennessee Infantry, and then transferred to Co. H (the Maury Grays), 1st Tennessee Infantry. He fought in the battles of Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Franklin, and Nashville, among others. Of the 120 men who enlisted in Co. H in 1861, Watkins was one of only 7 remaining when Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman in April 1865.

Watkins first published Company Aytch as a serial in the Columbia Herald newspaper. Issued in book form in 1882, Company Aytch had a production run of only 2,000 copies. Watkins's father, Frederick Henry Watkins, provided the money with understanding that he would receive "first fruits" from the book's sales.

Filmmaker Ken Burns boosted the popularity of Company Aytch when he used selections from it in his groundbreaking 1990 documentary, The Civil War. In 2007, Watkins's great-grand-daughter published an expanded edition with hand-written notes from his original copy.

"America has no North, no South, no East, no West. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and undivided." —Pvt. Sam R. Watkins, Co. H, 1st Tennessee Infantry.

Zion Presbyterian Church (built 1847-1849) serves Maury County's oldest active congregation. The adjoining cemetery contains more than 1,500 graves, including veterans of the Revolutionary, Mexican, and Civil War.

Zion Presbyterian Church, 1936 - Tennessee State Library and Archives
Sam Watkins Courtesy Maury County Archives
Virginia M. Watkins Courtesy Maury County Archives

Tennessee Civil War Trails