Skip to main content

Sarah Stilson Correspondence

Identifier: MSN/CW 5061

Scope and Contents

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.


  • Creation: 1861-1865


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Sarah Lyra Stilson was born in Burma (Burmah) in 1838, the daughter of the Rev. Lyman Stilson (1812-1886), a Baptist missionary, and Lucretia Brownson. Her parents had arrived in Southeast Asia earlier that year, under the auspices of the American Baptist Missionary Union. They were to remain in Burma, along the Arakan coast and at Maulmain, until the death of Mrs. Stilson in 1851. On returning to the United States Rev. Stilson settled in Nunda, Livingston County, New York; Sarah Stilson attended the Nunda Literary Institute and turned to teaching, first in Livingston County and, from 1863, at the Corning (New York) Academy. In April 1861 Stilson wrote, and published locally, a patriotic poem urging enlistment in defense of the Union ("To the 33rd New York Volunteers"); the sentiments expressed therein are much in evidence in her wartime letters. After the Civil War Stilson enrolled at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, graduating in 1869. Much of her subsequent teaching career was spent at Girls High School in Brooklyn. Stilson died in 1912.


.2 cubic feet.

Language of Materials



Letters written by and to Sarah Stilson, a teacher in New York State, during the Civil War. At the heart of the group is a lively correspondence of 25 letters between Stilson and Oliver Waldo West, a Union cavalry officer.


The collection is arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Sarah Stilson Correspondence
George Rugg
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556