This digital collection assembles handwritten letters, diaries, and military orders spanning the era before, during, and after the American Civil War (1861-1865). The collection documents the southern Illinois experience of the war, and spotlights life on the homefront from the perspective of two women whose husbands served in the Fifth Illinois Cavalry.
Benjamin L. Wiley Papers
Born in Ohio, Benjamin Ladd Wiley (1821-1890) settled in southern Illinois, where he pioneered the cultivation of fruit orchards near his Makanda home. A Mexican War veteran, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the Fifth Illinois Calvary in 1861, but resigned citing ill health and family issues in 1862. A year later he returned to command a cavalry brigade, then served on recruiting duty until he was discharged in 1865. Wiley's military papers cover the daily routine of a cavalry commander and document his changing status after resignation and restoration. The heart of the correspondence consists of letters to and from his wife, Emily Davie Wiley (1830-1920), who managed the orchards and coped with the illness of their oldest son Willie, as he gradually went blind. The John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois, graciously loaned their collection of Wiley letters to be scanned for this digital collection.
Mann Family Papers
Nancy Clendenin Mann (1829-1912) and John Preston Mann (1822-1908) lived in Liberty (now Rockwood), Illinois, on the Mississippi River seventy miles south of St. Louis. John Mann served in the Fifth Illinois Cavalry from 1861 to 1864, rising to 2nd Lieutenant, Company K, and regimental commissary. Because he saw little action and was stationed only a few days' journey downriver, John Mann was able to preserve all of Nancy's letters. These letters offer scholars a chance to study all aspects of life on the homefront from the perspective of a woman who watched the war's traffic steam past her front porch. Nancy kept John connected to their four daughters and consulted him about the family finances. She also depicted political tensions in a town where many families had southern ties, while their neighbors provided shelter to runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.
The digital collection also features the papers of Joseph Skipworth, 31st Illinois Infantry, and an assembled collection of letters from Union and Confederate commanders. Smaller collections range from pocket diaries kept by Illinois soldiers to tintypes to individual letters, such as a March 30, 1862, letter from Isaac Parks, 52nd Illinois, to his wife, written from Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, a week before he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. These items serve as snapshots of the varied experience of the Illinois common soldier, from the daily rhythm of camp life to the hard marches between battles.