Monday, May 28, 2007

Love's Sacrifice

Today, we honor the patriotism and service of those who paid the supreme sacrifice for their country. To commemorate the bravery of these fallen heroes, I would like to share with you a letter written by a Civil War soldier to his beloved wife before marching into battle. The expressions of love and sacrifice found herein remind me that valor and courage and true love--of spouse and country--are qualities not only reserved for fictional characters, but in the hearts of our fellow citizens. skd

July 14th, 1861 Washington D.C.

My 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 0 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 his 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?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death--and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

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 oftentimes 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 garish 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 thee, 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

***********
Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.

Born March 28, 1829 in Smithfield, R.I., Ballou was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.; Brown University in Providence, R.I. and the National Law School in Ballston, N.Y. He was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar in 1853.

Ballou devoted his brief life to public service. He was elected in 1854 as clerk of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, later serving as its speaker.

He married Sarah Hart Shumway on October 15, 1855, and the following year saw the birth of their first child, Edgar. A second son, William, was born in 1859.

Ballou immediately entered the military in 1861 after the war broke out. He became judge advocate of the Rhode Island militia and was 32 at the time of his death at the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

When he died, his wife was 24. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with her son, William, and never re-married. She died at age 80 in 1917.

Sullivan and Sarah Ballou are buried next to each other at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI. There are no known living descendants.

Ironically, Sullivan Ballou’s letter was never mailed. Although Sarah would receive other, decidedly more upbeat letters, dated after the now-famous letter from the battlefield, the letter in question would be found among Sullivan Ballou’s effects when Gov. William Sprague of Rhode Island traveled to Virginia to retrieve the remains of his state’s sons who had fallen in battle.

6 comments:

Carrie Turansky said...

What a beautiful letter. Thanks, for sharing this with us, Susan. It is a beautiful tribute.
Blessings,
Carrie T.

Sandie Petit said...

For those interested, according to Wikipedia, the letter was delivered to Sarah after it was discovered.

Vickie said...

Thanks for sharing this moving missive with us. I'm the mother of a soldier who spent a year in Iraq. I prayed long and hard that year for my son's safety, but Sullivan's letter reminds me to keep praying for the servicemen and women who are still in harms way and far from their families.

Vickie

Anonymous said...

His words speak to us across the years, just as vivid and touching as they were so very long ago.

Thanks for sharing it. It's a tribute to love and patriotism.

JanetS

Drema said...

What an amazing letter -- proof positive that history does not have to be boring. Thank you for sharing, Susan.

Jean Kincaid said...

Wow, Susan. Wish I'd read this before Sunday's service. I would have told my SS class about it. Makes us want to pray for our troops, doesn't it. Thanks for sharing.