Battlefield Diary 1862: Lieutenant William W. Barnett . . . or is it? “Who?” is only the beginning!

Barnett Diary Spine and PagesThe diary arrived in a handsome case that clearly identifies the contents as the work of Lieutenant William W. Barnett. A legible note in the front of the diary tells us that Barnett served in the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves. Records indicate, however, that Barnett mustered in with the 8th as a private in Company A on 15 May 1861 and was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate on 20 March 1863, also as a private! Who is our lieutenant?

The records do show a William H. Barnett of the 8th PRVC, Company A,  whose name was sometime recorded as William W. Barnett. There is another William W. Barnett, also serving in the same regiment and company, but with a different enlistment record than man discharged in March 1863, a record that is also contradicted by events recorded in the diary. A history of the 8th reports that this regiment consisted of men from Armstrong Co. in western Pennsylvania. The 1860 census for that county lists at least three William or W. H. Barnetts ranging in age from 19 to 21. Who is William Barnett?

Once you know what you might be looking for, the clues in the diary itself are easier to spot. On 15 September, Barnett writes, “This day is my birthday and I am twenty one years old and in the hospital.” This suggests our Barnett would be 19 in June 1860, the time of the census. He writes often in the diary that Henry has come to visit, and mentions an uncle Hezekiah Wood. William Barnett of Armstrong Co., son of Alexander and Hannah Barnett, is 19 in 1860, has a 21 year-old brother named Henry B., and a youngest brother named Hezekiah. Henry B. Barnett served in the 9th PRVC, a regiment that moved throughout 1862 in tandem with the 8th. William’s post office, as listed on the census, is Freeport. In faint writing on one of the last pages of the diary is written, “My mother Mrs Hannah Barnett resides in Freeport Armstrong County Penna.” We have a winner.

But what of Lieutenant Barnett? It turns out that our Barnett re-enlisted in August 1864 in the newly formed 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. Though entering as a private, he was promoted at least twice, finally to the rank of lieutenant on 19 January 1865. At war’s end, he returned to Pittsburgh and mustered out with his battery on 30 June 1865.

The task of identifying the diary’s writer is only the beginning. The diary itself is the treasure beyond! More about this in an upcoming post!!