Civil War Trails marker honors Maury County soldier

By TIM HODGE
thodge@c-dh.net

A brown aluminum marker rested on the ground at Zion Church Cemetery in Columbia, waiting for permanent placement near one of Maury County’s most famed residents’ grave.

The monument bares the likeness of Samuel Rush Watkins, born June 1839 in the Zion community between Mt. Pleasant and Columbia. His wife Virginia Mayes Watkins is also pictured — the pair beside each other on the marker and in their eternal resting place.

Two workers dug holes, gently lifted the sign, aligned the posts with the newly dug holes and put the marker in its new home.

The Confederate soldier was honored with a Civil War Trails marker Tuesday, the monument placed a stone’s throw away from his gravesite. The Civil War Trails program is a group of historic demarcations that winds through Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The program has marked more than 1,500 sites.

Sam Watkins is most recognized as the author of “Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show.” The first-hand soldier’s account of the Civil War is highly regarded by historians. Documentary film-maker Ken Burns included some of Watkins’ experience in his 1990 film “The Civil War.”

“(Company Aytch) shows how an individual got around at all the major battles, and it brings it home. He personifies the common soldier,” Civil War Trails Executive Director Mitch Bowman said.

Maury County has seven Civil War Trails markers, he added.

The markers attract visitors as far as Europe, tourists who often take weeks to travel the routes, Bowman said.

“The Civil War Trails program’s main mission is to make visiting Civil War sites a user-friendly experience,” he said. “We like to captivate an interest in a wide swath of audience, from children on up to experienced historians.”

Maury County Archives Director Bob Duncan helped author the marker’s verbiage, some of which reads, “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’ writings appeared in the The Daily Herald and were compiled into a book in 1882.

His home is a few miles west of his grave site, and his family worshiped at the Zion Presbyterian Church, according to the marker.

He fought in several major battles, including Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Franklin and Nashville. Watkins was only one of seven soldiers of the original 120-member Company H when Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Army of Tennessee surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman in April 1865, according to the marker.

“His story is what draws people to Maury County,” Maury County Convention &Visitors Bureau Assistant Director Becky Leifheit said about Watkins.

The markers create a draw for Civil War enthusiasts, and many people visit Maury County seeking information about the Civil War, including visitors from Australia and England, Leifheit said.

Civil War Trails markers can also be a boon for tourism in the area, especially with ongoing the 150th anniversary, she said.

“We just have so much history here — not only Civil War history — but our Antebellum homes really draw people here,” Leifheit said.

The MCCVB is working toward getting additional markers at the Nelson Hotel in downtown Columbia and Elm Springs on Mooresville Pike. Leifheit said she would like to see one of the two markers placed next year.

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