History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 February 2007

Major Sullivan Ballou's Love Letter

I couldn’t bear to watch the whole of Ken Burn’s 1990 PBS documentary on the Civil War. But every now and then, I have a flash-recall of the bit I did see and hear---the words written by Major Sullivan Ballou in a letter to his wife, Sarah, just a week before he died the first Battle of Bull Run:

"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 for me it is 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 . . . "

"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."

Here are the words of a common man who was uneducated and born into poverty---who passionately loved his wife. He was not a duke or an earl or a member of the American elite, but he was a romantic hero on so many levels. I can’t help but wonder about Sarah Ballou, and how she must have reflected upon this letter after her husband’s death, knowing she was loved so completely.

It’s this part that really moves me: . . . 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."

Wow. I remember that passage seventeen years after I heard it. It's one of the best written examples of everlasting love I’ve ever read. In honor of St. Valentine and February and history, I had to share it.

If you would like to read the whole letter, go to: http://www.brotherswar.com/These_Honored_Dead-7e.htm

Okay, now I have to go get a hankie.



Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Gorgeous! It's always amazing to me how much more poetic even simple people were in the days before phones. (And they didn't have emoticons, so I guess they had to work harder.) Not to mention that they were so very sincere. Beautiful stuff. Thank you.

11:07 PM  
Blogger RK Sterling said...

Oh, wow, that just brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing it.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for that, Kathrynn. I'd like to think that in the coming years we in historical romance will find ways to honor, remember, and dream about the uncommon common people who are still slighted by the historical record.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Edie Ramer said...

That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh goodness. Wow. Thank you so much! That went straight to the heart. Thank you!

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's beautiful and I am going to go reread it and others. Thanks for posting it. Letters of this kind are so profound.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How romantic! The best kind of romance. Thank you Kathrynn for sharing that bit of poetry, for poetry it truly is.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing that, Kathrynn. It makes me feel less cynical just reading it.

9:56 AM  

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