College's New Digital Archive Offers Window into Life of a Civil War Soldier

Some of Union soldier Forrest Little's letters to his family in New York are in a display case in the library. The library's new online archive includes digitized copies and transcriptions of these letters.
With the College's new Civil War Letters of Forrest Little Collection website, one Union soldier's reflections on his involvement in the 1862 Virginia Peninsula campaign have been preserved for posterity and are available for the whole world to see.

The College celebrated the launch of the site, which features digitized copies and transcriptions of 23 Civil War–era letters, with a Nov. 1 event in the library. It represents the first of several efforts by the College to preserve and share some of its fragile historical holdings through the World Wide Web.

"It's wonderful to be able to share this information not only with Saint Mary's, but with the whole Civil War research community," said Tom Carter, the College's dean for academic resources.

The collection includes letters Little wrote from the 5th Vermont Volunteer Regiment's camps in Virginia to his parents in Crown Point, N.Y., a small town near Fort Ticonderoga. They cover Little's entire Civil War story, from his enlistment in Middlebury, Vt., on Sept. 6, 1861 to his death from typhoid fever on July 23, 1862.

"These letters provide a nice window into the life of a common soldier for any student of the Civil War," said Carl Guarneri, the history professor who oversaw the project.

Guarneri worked with Zephyr Snyder '02, a former history teacher at Saint Mary's College High School in Berkeley, and librarians Sue Birkenseer and Sarah Vital to scan the letters, transcribe them and provide historical annotations.

The collection offers an intimate portrait of a solider firmly committed to the cause of preserving the Union, and chronicles his involvement in the battles of Lee's Mills, Williamsburg and Savage Station.

"These letters are full of patriotic sentiments," Guarneri told the library audience, "Little even wrote that the soldiers would go down to Mexico after the war in order to save it from monarchy."

The Forest Little Collection is the first library foray into digital archiving. Guarneri intends to work with Saint Mary's to expand the Little Collection into a larger Civil War archive with other letters and diaries donated to the College.

Meanwhile, The National Institute for Newman Studies is working with the library to digitize its collection of materials by and about Cardinal John Henry Newman, a leader of Oxford Movement in 19th-century England that emphasized the connection between the Anglican Church and the early Catholic Church.

The library also hopes to create a digital archive of its Lasallian Collection, which includes writings by and about Saint John Baptist de La Salle and materials that cover the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Lasallian education and 17th-century France.

-- John Grennan, Office of College Communications
Photo by Gorbachev Lingad '10