Henry Pippitt papers  1864-1865
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Collection Scope and Content Note

Virtually all of Henry Pippitt's surviving Civil War correspondence consists of letters addressed to his mother, Rebecca, documenting two intertwining themes: the Petersburg Campaign from start to finish, and Pippitt's personal campaign to keep himself and his family in good order. Well written, if not particularly polished, Pippitt's letters offer fine commentary on the last year of the war as seen through the eyes of a young working class man, grown up far beyond his years.

Pippitt's personal struggles weave throughout the collection, surfacing at numerous points, and his various ways of dealing with his ragged home life are reflective both of the depth of his difficulties and his resourcefulness. He alternately castigates, cajoles, threatens or ignores his dead beat father, does his best to assuage his mother's depression over losing her son to the army, and her jealousy of the woman he courts, and he does his best to deal with or explain away his financial problems and his own lapses into drink. Throughout all of his experiences, military and personal, Pippitt matures physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Of particular interest is the letter of September 4, 1864, in which Pippitt describes why he is (again) out of cash. After sketching a somewhat fantastic tale of heavy rains, floods, and an entire camp swept away in the deluge, he swears that the story is the truth and not a lie. This and other letters illustrate an interesting dichotomy in Pippitt's character. Having grown up in a lower-class family, he is constantly aware of the shortage of money, both in camp and at home, but despite his frequent promises to send home sizable sums, he manages to fritter away most of his pay and at times, dips liberally into the already slender family purse to supply himself with what he calls "necessaries."

In more narrowly military terms, the collection contains several brief, but powerful letters describing the hard life in the Petersburg trenches, skirmishes, and the battles of Petersburg, the Crater, and Cold Harbor. A curious side note is Pippitt's tale of the Confederate defenders of Petersburg under-mining Union forts facing the city following the Crater disaster. The series of letters written from Point of Rocks and Chafin's Farm illustrate not only the constricting stagnation of the siege effort during the winter of 1864-65, but the gradually deteriorating morale of the Confederate forces, seen in a flood tide of deserters.

Finally, Pippitt's use of language is often as interesting as what he says. His use of phrases such as "dead beat" (24:45), "helter skelter" (24:66), "if he don't like it, he can lump it" (24:37), or "let [the landlord] know that you haint a going to be shit on by him" (24:38) seem thoroughly up to date, and are an excellent record of urban, working-class patterns of speech.

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