One of the many blessings we enjoy in this country is that we are free, and we know well the sacrifices of men and women who serve in the military have made-especially at this time of year. How hard it is to answer a nations call at the suffering of those you love most of all-And of all the letters written home to family over the more than 200 years of this nations history, none is more compelling than the one written by Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, to his wife; Sarah, in Smithfield in the early days of the Civil war.
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 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 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.
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 these chains to the battlefield.
The memory of all these 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 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 have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us…
If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that 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, how foolish I have sometimes been.
But, oh Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you in the brightest days and in the darkest nights. Always. Always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; and as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do no not mourn me dead: Think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
Major Sullivan Ballou
Note: Sullivan Ballou was killed one week later at the first Battle of Bull Run