Samuel W. Hankins,
Simple Story of a Soldier:
Life & Service in
the 2d Mississippi Infantry

(Confederate Veteran, 1912;
University of Alabama Press, 2004)

Simple Story of a Soldier is all that title suggests and more. This is the short memoir of a Confederate soldier who served in the Confederate's Army of Northern Virginia. Samuel Hankins was only 16 when he joined the 2nd Mississippi Infantry without his parents' permission. He was 20 when the Civil War ended.

This is a very short book, 76 pages, but what it provides is a primary source of a soldier's life in the Confederate Army. The book flows very well. It will only take a reader an hour or two to read it. Hankins is very descriptive about his surroundings and what is happening around and to him.

Hankins starts off by telling how he joined the army and trained with others in preparation to move out by rail and meet up with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. They had nice, proper uniforms and other equipment, although Hankins did not like his oldstyle musket. He talks about several battles like the Peninsular Campaign, Antietam, Chancellorsville (where Stonewall Jackson was killed) and Gettysburg. He shows that most soldiers did not know where they were marching to or how many foes they were facing. Only the high-ranking generals knew where they were going.

Hankins talks about the time he came down with measles and his visit to a so-called hospital in Richmond. There were many empty coffins outside of the doors of the hospital, which was not encouraging to the sick and wounded. He survived and rejoined his regiment. He discusses the rigors of army life and recalls that things were good at first for the Confederates, but eventually things began to run out, including food, weapons, ammunition, clothing and other necessities. His new and beautiful gray uniform that he started out with was in rags by 1863. At one point he had no shoes, but he was one of the lucky ones in that his family sent him some shoes.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, he was wounded in the foot and taken prisoner. He and other prisoners were in rags or nothing at all and the Federals had them take off those rags and receive new clothes before they were sent off to a prison camp called David's Island near Long Island. He was paroled and joined up with a Confederate cavalry unit as a lieutenant. His wounded foot would not allow him to return to the infantry so he spent the last days of the Civil War in the cavalry fighting in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. When he and the others heard that General Lee had surrendered, they decided to do so, too, since the war was a lost cause -- which they had known for some months before.

The memoir was originally published in 1912 in the journal Confederate Veteran. John F. Marszalek provides a new introduction. This memoir is a primary source that belongs in any Civil War collection.

- Rambles
written by Benet Exton
published 28 May 2005

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