Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a most beautiful love letter

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 memory 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.

36 comments:

  1. Laura, that's absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  2. I've never read that letter until this post, but now I will never forget it. I'm once more stunned by the power of the written word. Thank you for sharing that.

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  3. Oh goodness...Laura, why make me cry so early in the morning? That just tugs at my heart. I'm sure Sarah must have treasured that letter so much.

    How I love letters...sadly, our generations will have less of these, as most of our writing to each other is done on 'ye olde email.' Its just not the same.

    I am glad though that when my husband I first started dating, we would send each other cards and letters in the mail. Well, Will did this to humor me because of my love of mail ;) but I know our daughter will treasure them in coming years. Although I dont know that we were so eloquent as this....

    Also--- wanted to ask you about your google problem. Sometimes google kicks me out when I try to comment. Usually there is a pull-tab under the comment box that asks you what commenting program you'd like to use (such as blogger, livejournal, etc) if you select 'blogger', it will let you comment as normal again.

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  4. He left behind a broken, well-loved heart. Exquisite : )

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  5. oh my! that is probably the sweetest, most heart-wrenching love letter EVER!
    That man knew how to put his feelings into poetic words. i wonder how Sarah felt when she received it (probably after his death). i bet she treasured it with her whole heart.

    thanks for sharing that with us. where did you find that story?

    (my comment moderating letters for this comment are: raining............... isn't that appropriate?)

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  6. Thanks so much for reading, Ruth. I thought it was especially fitting for Valentines Day. Sad but beautiful!

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  7. Lori, 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!

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  8. Heather, So glad you've saved those letters to pass down. I'm still mad at Martha Washington for burning her and George's correspondence:)

    I think men have a hard time writing letters but I treasure them. Randy only wrote me one and I'm not sure where it is! I love mail like you do - one of my absolute favorite things is to go to the mailbox. And you are so right - email is just NOT the same:)

    Thanks for the google help. I have just been having fits! It won't let me access via blogger so I am having to go in a different way. But thanks to your comment, I investigated and am no longer being kicked off my own blog:) Yet another reason I prefer the handwritten version of everything!
    Bless you bunches.

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  9. Viginia, Well said! You always manage to sum up your thoughts so beautifully and succinctly. I could learn a few lessons from you - you have marvelous style:)

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  10. Lisa, I agree with you - the sweetest, most heart-wrenching love letter ever! I wonder about Sarah also and if she ever remarried, etc. Am so glad she kept the letter and passed it down and let historians have a look. What a wonderful legacy for her and their sons. I like to imagine Sullivan as wonderful a man as he was a writer.
    Raining, indeed:)

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  11. OHHH! that is beautiful. What an amazing epistle of love. And what a great reminder to let those around us know of our love before it's too late.

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  12. please enter me into the contest

    I follow you on google

    I have your button on my blog
    http://edna-myfavoritethings.blogspot.com/

    mamat2730(at)charter(dot)net

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  13. Great thoughts, Kristen. "An amazing epistle of love," for sure. And we really should appreciate every moment! Thanks for the reminder.

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  14. Oh, that love letter is breath-taking! What a Valentine! Thanks for sharing with us.

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  15. Wow. What an absolutely beautiful letter. His prose ... his heart ... it's left me speechless. Thank you for sharing it today, showing us a true demonstration of sacrificial love.

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  16. Yes, Mary, breathtaking is a good word. I wish I'd thought of a few of his sentences myself. It does a romantic's heart good:)

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  17. Edna, I'm so happy to enter you in the drawing for Courting Morrow Little. June is right around the corner! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I love my reading friends!

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  18. Brenda,
    I thought you would appreciate his fine prose - you have quite an ear for it. And it truly is a beautiful (and rare) example of what's important in life - sacrificial love is just the right phrasing.

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  19. That left me breathless. How beautiful. No wonder the letter still exists. His beloved must have treasured it always. May we treasure our own loves that way. Thanks so much for sharing this, Laura. Have a blessed day and thank you so much for your sweet friendship!

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  20. Reading that letter gave me goosebumps. What a legacy of love -- both for his wife and his country -- to leave to future generations. The emotions are so raw and real and seem larger than life. Do people love that way any more? I like to think so. But, Laura, don't get any ideas about killing off your Scotsman in your current WIP!

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  21. Hi Carla, So glad to hear from you:) Being a romantic at heart like me, I thought you'd love the letter. I think Sullivan's letter is a little like the legacy of the widow's mite and Mary's perfume in Scripture - so full of the things that honor God that it was passed down to us. From the standpoint of his beautiful prose, he was a real hero!

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  22. Kav, I was hoping to hear from you here:) The realist/pessamist in me thinks that type of man is no more. But I want to believe there are men still out there like that - who are capable of that sort of love for family and country. Fits right into our hero list of a week or so ago.
    Interesting that you would say that about my WIP. There are so many opportunities in all my books where I could take a dark turn (and am tempted). But I know that would affect readers terribly! So I'll keep my hero intact till the end, bless you.

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  23. I was hoping at the end you would tell us he survived. Sensitive, soulful, loving men like that should NOT die. It pains me to think what his wife must have felt, both when she read the letter and when she received word of his death. So sad.

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  24. Oh, I'd so hoped he survived. I'm sure his wife treasured the letter for the rest of her life.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  25. 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.

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  26. Gin, It really is a heartbreaking letter and I hated to type that final line of his death in the post. I agree with you whole-heartedly - men of that caliber shouldn't die. One of the big mysteries of this life. So glad to hear from you today!

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  27. Michelle,
    I'm so glad you told us the rest of Sullivan's story here. Being a writer, I'm always reading between the lines and wonder if she didn't remarry because she knew no other man could measure up? Now I'm curious about his sons. Thanks so much for digging deeper and sharing it here!

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  28. Susan, This beautiful letter is a treasure. Sullivan's story makes great novel material - only I think we writers would think of a happier ending. Or at the very least, his wife receives the letter and goes on with her life, thinking him dead, and then somehow, miraculously, he shows back up:)
    Bless you for stopping by!

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  29. It's not often that you see letters written like that in our age I would say. Sadly, we are learning to express ourselves more and more with text message and twitter mentalities.

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  30. AB, I am sad that it is so. The lack of fine writing is even apparant between the generations. My son, who is 13, dislikes writing intensely and part of the reason is the focus on texting/twittering, etc. What I would give for a letter like this one, even without the romantic elements!

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  31. Happy Valentine's Day to all : ) Letter writing and penmanship are both mostly lost arts. My grandfather, born in 1906, was taught penmanship in school. While he was certainly a masculine, conservative gentleman, he wrote in beautiful, flowing script. Not flowery or feminine, but modestly elegant. I have saved as many samples of his handwriting as possible. Just one more thing to treasure about my "Paw Paw" : )

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  32. Virginia, That's so interesting about your grandfather. I'm so glad you've saved the treasures from his hand. My mom was just reminding me how my grandfather, born about the same time as yours, would take a pen and then, before he began to write, he would hold it and do this little flourish in the air before he put the pen to paper. Obviously the training they had in penmanship was very fine. An art, indeed:) Like the clothing from bygone eras, so much elegance and beauty have been lost!
    Happy Valentine's Day to you and everyone!

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  33. I'd read that letter some years ago and was moved to tears. What a way with words Major Ballou had. He left Sarah a wonderful gift, one that has continued to bless readers for over a century and a half. Oh, to pen words that will have such a lasting effect . . .

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  34. Keli, As a writer you really do see the beauty therein. Thanks to Michelle here, I dug a bit and found that he was only 32 when he passed away and his beloved Sarah was 22! And she never remarried. You are so right - what a gift of words with such lasting effect. Amen.

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  35. Wow! I have to admit that it takes a whole lot to make me cry and this is probably the first letter that I have ever read that has made the tears roll down my cheeks! This is so amazing and beautiful...what a love they must have shared! Thank you so much for sharing it!

    XOXO~ Renee

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  36. Renee, Isn't this an amazing letter! I'm touched that it touched you. Reading it certainly does that for me. We have romantic hearts, I guess.
    So happy to see you over in my neck of the woods here! I'm really enjoying your blog and can't wait to visit again!

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