Robert William Hicks was born on January 10, 1837 and, at the age of 25, he enlisted in the Confederate Army on March 14, 1862. He served as a Sergeant of Company I in the 34th Virginia Infantry Regiment until the end of the war. Throughout his military service during the Civil War, Hicks maintained a near daily journal of news and event which detailed the grueling conditions of the duties and life of a soldier. Hicks participated in many conflicts between the two armies, most notably during the Battle of the Crater when the Union army set off a large explosion early in the morning on July 30, 1864 in an effort to capture Petersburg, Virginia.
Assigned to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Robert Hicks was present with the 34th Virginia Infantry for Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse in April, 1865. Paroled out of service, Hicks returned to his home in the Lynchburg, Virginia area and resumed his life as a citizen. Robert Hicks married Frances Ann Morris in 1868 and had six children, four of which survived to adulthood. To support his family, he operated a tobacco farm and later became a business operator in Bedford County. Hicks also served as a Justice of the Peace in Campbell County. He died on November 27, 1917 at the age of 80 and is buried in Bedford County, Virginia. His diary was donated by Carol and William Bass.
Hicks, like many other Civil War soldiers, kept a diary of his daily life while in the military. In January of 1863, Hicks mentions that he has a very sore arm from receiving a vaccination, most likely for smallpox. Smallpox vaccinations, developed in 1798 and widely used by the 1830’s, were required under regulations for both the Union and Confederate forces, however this were often not met because most units were raised at the state-level and hurried off to fight.
Hicks also gives a detailed account of the Battle of the Crater, which was a failed attempt by the Union army to break through the Confederate defenses during the Siege of Petersburg. He describes the failure of the Union’s advance across the crater, and seeing the bodies of soldiers, mostly from the U.S. Colored Troops, sprawled out after the battle. He then recounts how both sides agreed to a temporary truce so that the dead could be collected for burial.