Pettit came to Washington, D.C. from Elkhorn, Wisconsin in summer 1863 to work as a clerk in the War Department, leaving his wife Hannah and daughters Mary, Agnes, and Lucy at home. His main duties as a clerk were to answer letters received by the Department. He wrote many letters to his wife describing his activities and his thoughts related to wartime Washington.
He took advantage of many opportunities available to a civil servant of the period in the nation's capital. He occasionally attended fortnightly openhouse at the White House, lectures at the Smithsonian Institution, and sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court. Since the letters in this collection are from Jan. 2-Mar. 30 and Oct. 5- Dec. 30, 1865, the six summer months' activities are unknown. Pettit was killed while riding horseback in Washington the day after the last letter was written.
38 letters by Pettit to his wife; a letter from Pettit's wife soon after Lincoln's assassination; a letter from Lucy, Pettit's daughter, to her grandparents describing her birth (?) on February 2, 1843; and a first draft of "my family reminiscences"--seventeen manuscript pages describing the family's genealogy from the mid-1600s when they first arrived in this country.
Pettit's letters describe Washington concerts and performances, visits to and observations about White House open houses, well known-personages, church leaders, his co-workers, and opinions on the United States and war, bureaucracy, politics, and slavery. Pettit's anti-slavery sentiments are expressed. Other topics in the letters include Lee's surrender, the 1864 election, etc.
William Pettit Correspondence, 1864-1865, Archives Center, National Museum of American History