July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington
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 again, I feel impelled to write a few
lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be 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. 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
. . .
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 unresistibly on with all
these chains to the battle field.
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 for 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
grown 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 battle field, it will whisper your
name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have
caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often
times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears
every little spot upon your happiness . . .
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 . . .
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.