Thursday, March 6, 2008

Co. Aytch, Confederate Everymen?

Well, since Lee led off with something from some of his ongoing research, I thought I might do the same with mine. I am currently looking into the "real" Co. Aytch from Sam Watkins' famous old standby. Seems to me that as great a reputation as Sam has gotten for being the likable "Confederate everyman" (thanks to Mssrs. Wiley and Foote) the facts don't quite line up with the reality. To whit:

The following are the occupations of members of Co. H, 1st Tennessee Infantry. They are broken down into two groups, the original enlistees, the Maury Grays of which Sam himself was a member, and the latter additions who enlisted or were conscripted at various times. Numbers are low, you notice that neither column adds up to 100 men, but these are the ones who appear in the 1860 (and in some cases the 1850) census.

Maury Grays' Occupations:
Mechanic, various occupations- 11
Farmer (nonslaveholding)- 10
Farmer (small slaveholder)- 8
Lawyer- 6
Clerk in store- 6
Student- 4
Apprentice, various- 4
Professional, various- 3
Farmer (planter)- 3
Court Clerk- 2
Laborer- 1
Printer- 1

Father's occupation for those with no occupation listed:
Farmer (planter)- 6
Professional, various- 2

Take a look at how socially and economically top-heavy the Maury Grays are. While there are poor laborers, and slightly better-off mechanics, the percentage of professionals, lawyers, druggists, clerks, is decidedly greater in this group than in Columbia as a whole. Clue number 1 that this ain't your average bear.

The later additions tell a different story than. Here we see a more representative sample of all strata of Middle TN society. The nonslaveholding farmer dominates, and the number of professionals has dropped dramatically. There are some younger sons of planters who made their way into the company after the initial wave, but by and large we see a markedly less affluent set in this group.

Later Additions to Co. H, Occupations:
Farmer (nonslaveholding)- 7
Farmer (Small slaveholder)- 4
Clerk- 2
Student- 2
Mechanic- 2
Father is a slavholding farmer- 2
Laborer- 1
Watch Maker- 1

So, some questions to ponder. Who were the Confederate everymen in Co. H, 1st Tennessee. Was it Sam and his bunch, or the more "common" men like one of the small farmers, Mr. Fain King? How did these later enlistees interact with the original men? We are familiar with the tightly knit small group cohesion that can form in military units, veterans shunning replacements and similar phenomena. What happens to that effect when those replacements are from a different social and economic background as yourself? Did these two groups interact much within the company?

A clue to that relationship between the two groups lies in observing how often our standard source, Sam Watkins, mentions men who came into the company later. Unsurprisingly, those names don't often show up, and when they do they are often only in passing. Fred Bailey's work with the TN Veterans' Questionnaires sheds some light on the of inter-class relations in Tennessee regiments, but even his thorough reading of the evidence leaves these sorts of questions unanswered or maybe unanswerable. Unfortunately, much of the dynamics of the unit's daily interaction is inference. There simply isn't much to base assumptions on one way or the other.

But give some thought to what it meant to be a Maury Gray in Co. H. What did your above-average social and economic status mean for your life before the war? How did that status affect your opinions on secession, slavery, and your decision to enlist? Were you one of Mark Weitz's deserters or Jason Phillips' diehards? How did you react to defeat, surrender, and the postwar world?

Some fun to ponder over the next little while...

No comments: