*Throughout 2020 the “Publication of Note” portion of the newsletter will highlight some of our director’s favorite regimental histories or collections of published primary sources.
A native of Hanover County, Virginia, Henry Robinson Berkeley enlisted in the Hanover Artillery on May 17, 1861. From the moment of his enlistment in the spring of 1861 through the Civil War’s end four years later, Berkeley kept a detailed diary. While his diary reveals much about the life of a Confederate artillerist and the Army of Northern Virginia, Berkeley’s diary is of particular value to those interested in the Shenandoah Valley’s Civil War history.
Originally published in 1961 by the University of North Carolina Press, the Virginia Historical Society released a new edition 30 years later. Two sections of Berkeley’s diary – June 1863 and the summer and autumn of 1864 – are of particular value to those interested in the Shenandoah Valley’s Civil War history. His entries in mid-June 1863 offer significant insight into the Second Battle of Winchester. Of particular note are the observations he makes about Winchester’s Confederate civilians greeting Confederate soldiers “wild with joy” after Confederate general Richard Ewell’s victory over General Robert H. Milroy.
As insightful as Berkeley’s entries are for mid-June 1863, the depth of his musings during General Jubal Early’s operations in the summer and autumn of 1864 is astonishing. Berkeley not only provides perspectives about Early’s entrance into the valley and such notable engagements as the Second Battle of Kernstown, Third Battle of Winchester, Battle of Fisher’s Hill, and the Battle of Cedar Creek, but also offers a window into the thoughts of a Confederate soldier at a time when maintaining morale proved quite difficult. Perhaps most striking is an encounter Berkeley had with three Confederate cavalrymen, who in the aftermath of the Battle of Cedar Creek, advised Berkeley to go home as all was lost. Berkeley showed a remarkable commitment to the Army of the Valley and its commander at a time when support for Early waned significantly.
Although no longer in print, used copies of this valuable diary are readily available. Anyone with a modicum of interest in the conflict’s many facets in the Shenandoah Valley should consider adding a copy of this indispensable source to their library.