September 11, 2015

The tragedy of War - Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife - July 1861

Major Sullivan Ballou, age 32, died in the line of duty on or about July 28, 1861, near Manassas, Virginia. 

Sullivan Ballou
Sullivan Ballou was from Rhode Island. He was a lawyer and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln. 

He married Sarah Shumway in 1855 and they had two sons, Edgar and William. 

Sullivan volunteered to join the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment. 

On July 14, 1861, Sullivan wrote his wife a letter from Washington, D.C. 

On July 21, 1861, Sullivan fought at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia. Part of his right leg was shot off.  He was pulled off of the battlefield and the rest of his leg was amputated. He languished in a hospital tent until he died of complications on or about July 28, 1861. 

Sullivan Ballou was buried in a nearby churchyard.  Witnesses at the time stated that Confederate soldiers, dug up his grave and cut off his head. 

Sullivan's wife, Sarah, never remarried. She moved to New Jersey to live with her son, William. She died in 1917. 

Sarah did not receive this letter until months after Sullivan's death. 

Below is a very truncated version of Sullivan Ballou's letter.  However these few paragraphs demonstrate the pain, the torment and the loss that is involved from the endless and ongoing wars on our planet. 

Speak up against aggression wherever you find it. 

God help us because we can't seem to help ourselves. Amen. 

My very dear Sarah:

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.

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. 

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.

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 if 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.

- Sullivan

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