September 10, 2011

Letter to a wife

A week before the Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, wrote home to his wife in Smithfield.

July 14, 1861 Camp Clark, Washington DC

Dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. And lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am now engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield.
The memories of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them for so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes and future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and see our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us.
If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name...
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been!

But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night...always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again...

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the 1st Battle of Bull Run.


Alistair said...

Oh goodness...Ms. Edna, why make me cry so early in the morning?

Anonymous said...


Charles said...

Ms. Edna, thank you for posting this.
I came across this letter in my research years ago and never forgot it. The wording is stunning! It was also featured on Ken Burns's amazing documentary about the Civil War. Well worth watching even though I prefer the Revolutionary period!

Anja said...

OHHH! That is beautiful. What an amazing epistle of love and a great reminder to let those we love know before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

Alas, sadly, today we are expressing ourselves with text message and twitter banalities.

Ruth said...

How appropriate for these time and how eloquently written. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I read this earlier today, and have not been able to get it off my mind. The letter is absolutely beautiful.
I was curious so I googled Sullivan Ballou. According to the Wikipedia article, he and Sarah had two sons. She never remarried, and she lived with one of their sons until she died in 1917.
Thanks for posting this.