Scope and Contents
The collection consists of thirty-eight letters which William Pettit wrote to his wife from Washington, D.C.; a letter written soon after Lincoln's assassination by Pettit's wife; a letter from Lucy Pettit (Pettit's daughter) to her grandparents describing her birth on February 2, 1843; and a first draft of "my family reminiscences" - consisting of seventeen hand-written pages describing the family's genealogy from the middle 1600's when they first arrived in this country.
All 38 letters of the collection have been transcribed on typewriter. Pettit was concerned about how much wood his wife should order and what she should pay for it. He commented about his children's schooling and their penmanship. He discussed how much money he was sending home and how he was budgeting himself. His first letter describes New Year's Day when he went to the White House to see the ambassadors pay their respects to Uncle Sam. He got pushed with the crowd inside the White House and describes Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and the types of people crowding in. He continued to go to the White House open houses because he was amused at the types of people who went there including those who put on airs, showed off their clothes, or thought they themselves were important.
Pettit had a subtle sense of humor as he describes well-known personages, church leaders, and people he worked with. He lived in a boarding house on 9th St., N.W. He has some interesting comments to make about the life and opinions of the time concerning the United States and war, bureaucracy and politics.
Pettit was strongly anti-slavery and had very positive views of Negroes. Some of these came from his religious convictions and others as a result of actual behavior of blacks during the War in incidents which he describes.
He wrote about the coming 1864 election and the competition against Lincoln. He mentioned that Grant had been to Washington. He reported about the troops in the Army of the Potomac and rumors of war activities. For example, he mentions that the Southern rebels planned to blow up prisoners of war in Richmond if the city was to be taken. There is a description of an escape from a Confederate camp by a Northern officer.
Pettit tells about meeting with a drunken soldier whom he helped to get food and housing; and who tried to save from being knocked in the head as was happening weekly in Washington. He went to concerts and commented on the performances. He particularly expressed his preference for Wisconsin performers. He described church services and decorations for Easter and Christmas.
Pettit mentioned a Negro victory in battle, and commented that talk of re-enslaving such men was "mean." He said that Negroes had helped many to escape from the Confederates.
In the letter from Hannah dated April 17, 1865, his wife comments about Lee's surrender and her thoughts on the President's assassination. She said it was like losing a family friend. At first, they had thought it was a mistake but was shocked when it was verified. She said that she had spent a gloomy Easter because of it although the day was beautiful. She asked the rhetorical question whether the vice president could do the job and concluded that this event would be a great trial for the Nation's good.