May 26, 2007

Sullivan Ballou's Letter to His Wife, Sarah: In Honor of Memorial Day

One more serious post, gentle reader, in honor of Memorial Day. Then we're back to snark and fun.

One wonders what goes through a soldier's mind before preparing for battle. Why does a soldier go to war despite a strong love for family? Sullivan Ballou's letter, written days before the first Battle of Bull Run, is one of the most eloquent examples in existence and will bring tears to one's eyes. I have included a video clip and an excerpt.

In this video, which comes from Ken Burns' historic Civil War series, Sam Waterston reads the letter. The haunting music is Ashokan Farewell. Sullivan, who died a few days later, did not have an opportunity to send the letter.

The reading of the letter appears in Honorable Manhood in minute 4 of this video.

Excerpts of Sullivan's letter to Sarah:

"I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on 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 . . .

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 gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as 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 . . ."

Read the full letter here.

1 comment:

Linda Merrill said...

Thanks, Ms. Place, for including this piece. I was working in the PBS system when The Civil War premiered and Sullivan Bellew's letter read by the wonderful Sam Waterston to the perfection of the musical piece Ashokan Farewell by Jay Unger is one of the best examples of the power of the documentary to tell a story in a manner that makes us think and feel. This was probably one of the most requested items to come out of a PBS program.