Letter to Sarah Ballou


Sullivan Ballou's letter is featured in our collection of Civil War Stories.
An illustration for the story Letter to Sarah Ballou by the author Sullivan Ballou
Currier & Ives, American Civil War Print, 1861-65
An illustration for the story Letter to Sarah Ballou by the author Sullivan Ballou
Currier & Ives, American Civil War Print, 1861-65
An illustration for the story Letter to Sarah Ballou by the author Sullivan Ballou
July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. 
Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall 
under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may 
be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. 
If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, 
I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the 
cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. 
I know how strongly 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.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all 
of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, 
after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, 
I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—
is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and
proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife 
and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my 
love of country.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with 
mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love 
of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly 
on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come 
creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have 
enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to 
ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have 
lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable
manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon 
Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—
perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—
that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my 
dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last 
breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. 
How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I 
wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, 
and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and 
my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit 
land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious 
little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen 
around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest 
day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and 
gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon 
your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans 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.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know 
a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, 
and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the 
dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence 
in your maternal care and your development of their characters. 
Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. 
O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither 
my children.


Letter to Sarah Ballou was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Sun, Jan 01, 2012

Featured in our collection of Civil War Stories and Short Stories for High School II

It appears that this moving letter was never actually mailed. It was found in Sullivan Ballou's trunk after he passed away from the wounds he received at the First Battle of Bull Run. The letter was delivered to his wife by the Rhode Island governor William Sprague.

The following scene is from the PBS documentary The Civil War by Ken Burns. The letter is set to Jay Ungar's musical piece "Ashokan Farewell" and read by Paul Roebling.


facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button share on pinterest pinterest

Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add Letter to Sarah Ballou to your own personal library.

Return to the Sullivan Ballou Home Page

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson