June 27, 2011

Letter from Sullivan

There are a few things that make me cry every single time without fail. The Sullivan Ballou letter is one of them. When he gets to the "Oh, Sarah" part, I lose it. If, by chance, you haven't heard it from the Ken Burns documentary, you have to listen to this.

Sarah and Sullivan were only married 5 or so years before he lost his life. She has two boys. The letter was probably never mailed, but delivered to her after his death. I can't imagine what widows must have dealt with in that day, but I also can't imagine the worth of such a letter from your husband.

The full letter is below.

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.


9 kind comments from you:

Paulena B. said...

I have never heard of this nor have I had read it before. What a touching letter! Thank you for sharing.

Chantal said...

I read that letter in high school and printed out a copy and pinned it to my wall so I could see it all the time. I still have it! It's intense.

Skinnie Piggie said...

Oh wow! That's amazing...

vintch said...

oh, gracious. i've never seen/heard of this. what a sweeping, beautiful love story! can you just imagine how she cherished that letter? so sweet. i love reading old letters. i have a copy of thomas wolfe's letters to his mother and it's so touching.

Poekitten said...

Never heard of it before. I started crying at the Oh Sarah paragraph too. I'm sure she read and reread this letter many, many times in the following years.

Erin said...

It's heartbreakingly beautiful. We should all be so lucky to be loved so dearly by our husbands.

Mrs. H said...

Mr. H and I read this together...
how sweet and touching! What a wonderful man to have laid down his life for his country.

beka said...

ohhh my.

JennyTheBeatBoxer said...

Wow. He's marvelous. That's the most beautiful thing I've ever read. I'm going to use it in my next blog.

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