Letter to Sarah Ballou


Sullivan Ballou's letter is featured in our collection of Civil War Stories.
Letter to Sarah Ballou
Currier & Ives, American Civil War Print, 1861-65
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 Thu, Jul 14, 2022

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.


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