Letter to Sarah Ballou

by


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.

Sullivan

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

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.


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