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Major Sullivan Ballou's last letter home! - Keith Trestrail's Blog

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I am an International Man of Mystery - born in Trinidad, raised in New Zealand, and living in Australia. My earliest influences lyrically were those of the Calypsonians of the 1960s, the greatest being old Birdie himself the Mighty Sparrow as well as the joyful songs of The Merrymen. Later in my teens I was struck by the power of words and language from the mercurial pen of Bob Dylan. The first poem I ever wrote was in 1975 at the age of 14 for a class assignment. I copied the lyrics from the Pink Floyd song "Money" and got a great mark from my teacher, Mrs Laird. She congratulated me on my effort and creativity (something I possessed very little of in school) and so I eventually came clean and had to re-write it. She did commend me on my honesty and choice of lyric though and did what good teachers do...engage and encourage. It could have been worse - I nearly chose a Frank Zappa song that would have been highly inappropriate! My poetry is very much like me - a work in progress! I often revisit and revise my catalogue as I grow as a writer and am grateful for any constructive advice. The real writer and talent in my family is my wife who is more an author than a poet, but she is far too sensible to bare her soul to the world. I, however, am not! I love my golf, my cricket and my Rugby League (that's a similar sport to Rugby for all my non-European/Australasian readers) and support Russell Crowe's team, the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs and the North Queensland Cowboys in the Australian NRL (National Rugby League). Go the Bunnies and go the Cowboys!


Major Sullivan Ballou's last letter home!

Blog Posted:3/8/2016 6:15:00 PM

I thought I would share with you all this amazing heartbreaking letter and invite your comments. To those of you who have read it before I implore you to read it again.  

 

JULY 14, 1861

The following is a letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah at home in Rhode Island. Ballou died a week later, at the first Battle of Bull Run. He was 32.

 

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 of 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 dishonourable, 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 honour 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 honourable 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

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Date: 3/10/2016 1:49:00 AM
How sad to be killed in battle. You can see the dignity and resolve in his demeanor. Men like these made and continue to make America great. Thanks for posting and sharing.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/10/2016 6:26:00 AM
Men, and women, of purpose and principle are an example to us all. With conviction often comes great sacrifice. Thanks Suzanne.
Date: 3/9/2016 6:31:00 AM
He lived passion and devotion for the most important treasures of his life -His family and His homeland. Superb ... Guess each family that looses a member of their own at war , should get a letter such as this..cuz I do believe those words He've written are quite the reflection ,the thoughts ,of those men in battlefields.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/9/2016 5:21:00 PM
You're right, Charmaine. He was obviously a well educated man with a lovely command of language and sense of occasion. I think that letter expressed what many patriots were thinking on the eve of battle! A historical treasure.
Date: 3/8/2016 10:18:00 PM
Patriotism at its very best. Heartfelt write of a monumental sacrifice. A love that will transcend between this world and the afterlife. I can't imagine Sarah receiving the letter of notifying of her husbands death. The emotions she must have gone through remembering his last letter to her. Wonderful blog Keith...
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/8/2016 11:11:00 PM
Appreciate it Michael. Yes, receiving that letter would have in some small measure eased her pain. I hope so!
Date: 3/8/2016 9:53:00 PM
That is one letter that must have been so dearly cherished!! Great blog, Keith.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/8/2016 11:09:00 PM
Indeed. Sometimes I feel wars should be fought by unmarried childless men! Or, better still, not fought at all. Thanks Andrea.
Date: 3/8/2016 8:28:00 PM
A tremendous and heroic write. Thank you Keith for sharing.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/8/2016 11:04:00 PM
Full of eloquence and nobility...and dutiful love! Cheers Tim.
Date: 3/8/2016 8:25:00 PM
Such a letter and the sacrifices it contains, demands respect. I often think of the men and women in our military. Some being killed, never seeing their homes, friends and families again. Or returning with psychological or physical traumas. I see you included the age of Sullivan’s death @ 32. At his age, my daughter was only a 1 year old and my son had not been born yet. I have never had to leave my family, so I have no idea just how difficult it is, but I can sense it enough that it evokes my deep respect. Thank you for sharing this letter with us.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/8/2016 11:02:00 PM
Cheers Rob. Every war widow and orphaned child should receive such a letter!
Date: 3/8/2016 7:08:00 PM
I HAVE NO WORDS THAT CAN DO HONOR TO SUCH A MAGNIFICENT WRITE!! This nation has birthed such men and was blessed by God for doing so. Best Blog that I've ever read here and there has been a lot of very good ones over the years.
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Keith Trestrail
Date: 3/8/2016 7:49:00 PM
Wonderful stuff isn't it! I was riveted from go to whoa! Cheers Robert.

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Major Sullivan Ballou's last letter home!
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