While Sam Watkins is best known as one of the most readable chroniclers of the war in the Western Theater, most folks forget his unit served with Stonewall Jackson during the last months of 1861 and into 1862.
In the earliest part of January 1862, Jackson’s rag-tag army, toiling on its ill-fated campaign to capture Romney, Virginia, occupied that area around what is now Berkley Springs, West Virginia. “Kind friends—you that know nothing of a soldier’s life—I ask you in all candor not to doubt the following lines in this sketch…” he wrote of that time. “But whether you believe it or not, it is for you to say.”
At a little village called Hampshire Crossing, our regiment was ordered to go to a little stream called St. John’s Run, to relieve the 14th Georgia Regiment and the 3rd Arkansas. I cannot tell the facts as I desire to. In fact, my hand trembles so, and my feelings are so overcome, that it is hard for me to write at all.
But we went to the place that we were ordered to go to, and when we arrived there we found the guard sure enough. If I remember correctly, there were just eleven of them. Some were sitting down and some were lying down; but each and every one was as cold and as hard frozen as the icicles that hung from their hands and faces and clothing—dead! They had died at their post of duty. Two of them, a little in advance of the others, were standing with their guns in their hands, as cold and as hard frozen as a monument of marble—standing sentinel with loaded guns in their frozen hands!
The tale is told. Were they true men? Does He who noteth the sparrow’s fall, and numbers the hairs of our heads, have any interest in one like ourselves? Yes; He doeth all things well. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His consent.