A Confederate Girl: The Diary Of Carrie Berry, 1864, edited by Kerry Graves
This book is one that I found deeply fascinating. On the one hand, the content of the book is not stellar in that it does not even meet the usual level of a Middle Grade fake diary of the kind that one can easily read from the Dear America series, but on the other hand, this book was not written for an audience of middle grade readers but was written by an obscure teenager who happened to be a lifelong resident of Atlanta, Georgia and whose personal journal for that momentous year just happened to have found its way into historical archives there. Although this book is by no means a polished volume as is the case of most books that are written about the Civil War, it has the advantage of being written by someone who happens to have been caught up in the war’s cruelty, reflecting the state of the gossip that was available to civilians as well as the quick way that those who (like the author and her family) stayed in and around the city of Atlanta during Yankee occupation faced immediate hostility from those who left the city to its fate.
This book is a short one that is barely 30 pages long. And that is including an editor’s note and foreword that describes the book and the author and its place as part of Georgia’s historical record. The book begins in 1864 with a discussion of the dangerous shells that fell around where the author and her neighbors lived, forcing them to flee into a cellar at unpredictable times. After that the author discusses the war between blue and Gray and the course of the Atlanta campaign as it was known and understood to civilians. The editor includes a discussion on how to make a rag doll. This is a rare light moment before the author gets into some grim discussion of bread riots, the burning of Atlanta, and then the return of Atlanta and the inevitable recriminations that followed about collaboration. The book then finishes with comments by the editor about starting one’s own diary, the timeline of the Civil War, words to know, internet sites, and further resources that the (presumably young) reader can use to find out more about the war as well as places to write and visit and an index.
Admittedly, this book is not hard to read, but its value is not so much in its reasoning and analysis as in its evidence about how life was life for an ordinary and not particularly famous person in the midst of the experience of war, including the horrors inflicted upon civilians in a siege and the recriminations that result from perceived collaboration with an enemy. The fact that the author continued to live in the area and lived an obscure life and married and apparently had a family suggests that the loss of reputation her family suffered from its decision to remain in Atlanta and deal with the Yankees did not cause it lasting harm, which is fortunate for them because author is an appealing witness to war and the suffering that results from people who find themselves on the front of war’s fighting and difficulties. Given the difficulties faced here, it is good to know that the author ended up alright even if she was not famous enough to leave other historical records about her later life. She is most notable for being a young and observant witness to the ending of the Civil War and how it disrupted the unity of cities that thought themselves safe from the troubles of war until the South started to collapse.