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Sarah Stilson Correspondence
The correspondence includes 27 letters written to Stilson and twelve written by her, spread fairly evenly over the war years, from March 1861 to April 1865. Several of Stilson's letters are in the form of drafts, or of notes for letters that may or may not have been sent. The heart of the collection, comprising 25 items, is Stilson's correspondence with her friend and confidante Oliver Waldo West (b. 1842), a young newspaper editor (and future lawyer) from North Dansville, Livingston County, whom Stilson had met at a teachers' institute in 1860. In August 1862 West was mustered in to Co. K, 130th New York Infantry; he remained with the regiment, as 1st lieutenant, when it was converted to cavalry and designated the 1st New York Dragoons, in mid-1863. The following October West was detached to serve on the staff of Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasanton, commanding the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He was captured on 7 May 1864, at Todd's Tavern, and spent the balance of the war in prison. The letters exchanged by West and Stilson (16 written by West, 11 by Stilson) are long, lively, and opinionated—often, it would seem, provocatively so. While much of the content is personal news, recounted at length, with frequent touches of humor, the letters are also very much a dialogue, an exchange of ideas and feelings about both contemporary affairs and the broader life of the mind. There is a good deal of commentary on literature; both West and Stilson had a weakness for verse. There is also a good deal of verbal sparring, not least about gender relations. Also in the collection are three letters to Stilson from Capt. Henry J. Gifford of the 33rd and 49th New York, written after the battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Spotsylvania, and two other letters from soldiers.