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Sidney O. Little papers, 1862-1863

35 items

This collection is a series of letters written by Sidney O. Little during his service as a private in Company B of the 118th Illinois Infantry. Little and his company fought in the Vicksburg Campaign.

In many respects, Sidney Little's correspondence from the Civil War reflects the attitudes and experiences of many soldiers from western states who saw hard service in the Mississippi Valley, but trudged through, and who remained unionists despite a deep antipathy toward the question of slavery. Little's disdain for African Americans, and his lack of concern for their welfare or for the institution of chattel slavery make him -- however unfortunately -- an unremarkable example of a Union soldier, simply because of the commonness of his opinions, but his ability to articulate these opinions and his observational powers truly set him apart.

During the Vicksburg Campaign, in particular, Little's descriptions of the southern countryside and its inhabitants can be outstanding, and many of his letters are larded with little vignettes on the recalcitrance of the southern resistance, the fears of southern women, or the all too brief account of seeing planters scatter when the Yankees come, taking their best slaves, "except the old ones that are not worth anything," and except for the resourceful ones who take flat boats out into the swamp, remaining there until the planters are gone (1863 April 14). This somewhat respectful description of resourceful self-liberation by slaves carried little weight in Little's opinions of African Americans, nor did his keen interest in the strategies that southern women used to cope with the chaos of war time translate into respect for women. His letters include several worthwhile discussions of the conditions under which the citizens of Louisiana and Tennessee, and particularly women.

The Little letters contain interesting accounts of a small number of engagements, all during the Vicksburg Campaign. His description of the rather minor role of the 118th Illinois at Chickasaw Bluffs supplements three excellent accounts of Arkansas Post (reported separately to his brother, sisters, and mother), and some very fine accounts of small maneuvers west of Vicksburg in March and April, 1863. His account of the capture of Vicksburg and the state of the city upon occupation is engrossing, though probably based upon second-hand sources, since he was hospitalized at Milliken's Bend at the time. Finally, Little's letters from June through December, 1863, provide a somewhat sketchy account of his experiences in hospital, highlighted by his personal cure for diarrhea -- pickled pigs' feet.

Typescripts are available for all letters in the collection. From the pagination of these, it is apparent that not all of Little's letters have survived in this collection, but the location of the others is unknown.