The Johnson papers consist of 52 letters written by Henry J. Johnson to his sister, Clara, and three documents relating to Henry's career in the 1st West Virginia Infantry. The letters, particularly the first few, contain useful reports of minor military incidents, but by and large, the correspondence contains little information on actual battles or campaigns. Johnson writes frequently of his acquaintances, both civilian and soldier, and these comments create an interesting impression of life in his hometown, Wellsburg, West Virginia, and in the West Virginia and Maryland countryside around the head of the Shenandoah Valley.
Of particular interest in the collection are Johnson's comments on the efforts of western Virginia to remain within the Union and separate from its Confederate origins. His own hometown was so severely divided that many people took a malicious pleasure in the misfortunes of neighbors who had joined the "enemy." Johnson himself was a Union man through-and-through, yet an outspoken opponent of the anti-slavery movement and of firebrands like the "infernal abolitionist" Owen Lovejoy.
For military history, Johnson's account of the abortive effort to cut off Lee's escape from Pennsylvania after Gettysburg is intriguing for what it says about the toll exacted on the Army of Northern Virginia, and in another letter, he includes an interesting anecdote about a soldier's surprise visit to General Irwin McDowell's quarters.