The Semantha Atkeson papers consist of three antebellum letters of a Buffalo, Virginia (now West Virginia), teenager. The fourth item is a journal excerpt describing in detail Atkeson's experiences during the opening stages of the Civil War, and the last item is a school essay written by Atkeson.
In the collection's three letters, each one page long, Semantha Atkeson corresponded with cousins and acquaintances about daily life in antebellum Buffalo, Virginia. In her letter of August , written to a cousin, Semantha discussed the teachers at her school and related the burning of her Uncle Crawford's house, as well as her grandmother's close brush with death: "…it got set afire by granmother's pipe she let a coal drop on the bed in her room there…but she did not know it till she heard the ceiling crack…and when she seen the fire she was so bad scared that she could not holloar [sic]." Semantha shared further details of her studies, which she generally enjoyed, in a short letter to Mary Pattin (March ). In the third, and final, letter in the collection, dated October 27, 1860, Semantha listed and described five 1859 deaths "in our family," including two "little negro boy[s]" and "old aunt Nanny…an old negro woman who had been helpless as a child for 2 years." Semantha also provided a detailed account of the illness and death of a brother, who died of an "inflammation of the brain."
The collection also contains 8 pages from Semantha's journal, written in October and November 1861, in which she recounted her experiences during the beginning stages of the Civil War. The Atkeson family staunchly supported of the Confederacy, and Semantha's writing vividly reflected their political opinions. Semantha often mocked Union soldiers and twice wrote about taunting them by cheering for Jefferson Davis. She also witnessed a gathering of hundreds of troops for the Confederate cause, and was subject to a Union search of her family's home. Her acquaintance Mary Pattin assisted in nursing wounded soldiers during this time, and Semantha wrote about Mary's experience with two soldiers who, despite both being seriously wounded, "still continued to fight they talked and argued, until they become so excited, that they were injuring their health."
Additionally, the collection holds a school essay entitled "The Bear," written by Atkeson for an assignment and received as "very good" by an instructor.