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July 14th, 1861
The indications are very
strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow and lest I
should not be able to write you again,
I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye
when I am no more . . .
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.
how 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 sufferings 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.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me 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
with all those chains to the battle field.
The memory of all the blissful
moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most
deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them for so long,
and how 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 see our boys grow up to honorable manhood, around
us. If I do
not return my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor
that when that my
last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your
name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you.
How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit
unseen around those they loved, I shall always be with you; in the
brightest days and the darkest night . . . always, always, and when
the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool
air, 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 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
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
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