A native of Olney, Ill., Harvey William "Will" Stewart enlisted as a bugler in Co. E, 6th Ill. Cav., on Oct. 20, 1861. He rose through the ranks to become captain on Mar. 17, 1865, and mustered out on Nov. 5 of that year.
Stewart's Civil War letters, written to his future wife, Alta Elliott of Olney, cover only the period from June 1864 to Nov. 1865. They touch on the Collierville, Tenn. campaign (letter of July 19, 1864) and the mission to Germantown and on to Memphis, where he was taken ill (Sept. 19, 1864). Stewart was also in the skirmish at Columbia, Tenn. (Jan. 4, 1865) and the Battle of East Port (Jan. 11, 1865). His correspondence mainly reflects the "dull monotony of camp," but those in April 1865, note the fall of Richmond and the assassination of Lincoln. There are also two subsequent letters from Steward to his wife, in 1869 and 1876 .
Stewart and his descendants also kept a copy of a large broadside, Military Register, Company E, Sixth Illinois Veteran Volunteer Cavalry (lithographed by A. Hoen & Co. and published by F. A. Hanzsche, both of Baltimore, Md.). This item includes vignettes of the regiment's experiences from its enlistment to its return home, a table of its engagements, and a list of its members, including Stewart as captain of the company.
In 1983, the collection was given to the Illinois Historical Survey by Louise Jones of Urbana, Ill.