Sidney O. Little papers  1862-1863
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Biography

Little, Sidney O.

Rank : Private

Regiment : 118th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Co. B (1862-1865)

Service : 1862 November 7-1864 February 1

At the time of the Civil War, Little lived with his mother, Sarah P. Durant, his father-in-law and siblings in Carthage, Ill., the seat of westernmost county in the state, Hancock. Mustering into the service on November 7, 1862, as a private in Co. B of the 118th Illinois Infantry, Little accompanied his regiment to Memphis, Tenn., to be fitted out for field service, and was then thrown into the thick of the fray during the opening rounds of the campaign against Vicksburg. Barely a month into the service, the regiment had already fought in two major battles, at Chickasaw Bluffs and Arkansas Post, before turning to Young's Point to assist in constructing a canal to prepare for the main assault on Vicksburg.

Little seemingly endured all of the hardships afflicting Union soldiers during the Vicksburg Campaign, from illness to hunger, from brushes with the enemy to brushes with the citizenry. After only a month in the service, having passed through a series of long marches and the peril at Arkansas Post, Little felt himself ill used. "We are treated like a pack of hogs," he wrote home, "and half of the time we have nothing to eat, but iron-clad crackers" (1863 January 17). Disheartened, he could see no end in sight for the war, despite the clear demoralization of the Confederate forces at Fort Hindman and their eagerness to surrender, and Little claimed that he could see no desire among his fellow soldiers to wage the war for Lincoln, a man "afraid to stick his head out of the door," and worse, an "old scamp... a coward and a scoundrel withall" (1863 February 19).

A sticking point for Little all along had been his feeling that the war was being fought to end slavery. He abhorred the Emancipation Proclamation, insisting that Lincoln would gain friends if he repealed it, adding "we don't want their nigs anyway, for they are a burden to any regiment" (1863 April 12). His attitudes toward African Americans never improved, and even after Port Hudson, where although the performance of "colored" regiments forced him grudgingly to admit "The nigs make a good soldier," he added "but don't put them by white men. They are very good to have about camp to haul water and wood and do the dirty work. They have top do it when they come around where I am, and I have anything I want done" (1863 June 15).

However harsh his antagonism toward Lincoln and the antislavery rhetoric, Little's attitudes differed from the run of the mill copperhead. "I am still a Democrat," he insisted, "but not a copperhead" (1863 April 12). Refusing to relent on his unionist principles, even when badly demoralized, his perspective turned gradually toward a hawkishness as the Vicksburg Campaign lingered. In April, he looked back on the evolution of his attitudes and concluded:

"It was for a while I would have liked to have seen a compromise in any way, but now I want to see them [secessionists] whipped into the work until they will get down on their knees and beg for the Stars and Stripes to protect them through all coming life. They are a proud, haughty set of men and don't like to come down, but we, the Yankees, will make them submit even yet" (1863 April 12)

By June, 1863, however, Little had fallen out the ranks, probably with dysentery or diarrhea, and was sent into hospital at Milliken's Bend. He kept tabs on his regiment as they crossed behind Vicksburg, and he was elated over the capture of the city, calling Grant "the Little Giant of the West or anywhere else" (1863 July 9). Yet while his attitude had come full circle from the doldrums of January, his body did not. In August, still ailing, he was remanded to the hospital at Benton Barracks, Saint Louis, and was discharged from the service for disability on February 1, 1864.