And That’s How It’s Done

I was working on a silly post about the ridiculous behavior of celebrities who storm out of interviews when I found this Fox News piece about the 150th anniversary of the death of Major Sullivan Ballou. Frankly, I was unfamiliar with the name until I read this column. The focus is on the now-rare pride this Union Army General felt for his country and his family during the Civil War. He died in battle on July 28, 1861. It is especially poignant when one contrasts this man’s passion with the the lack thereof in today’s leaders. In fact, once you read this love letter – written to his wife, Sarah, his two sons, Willie and Edgar and of course, his country – my guess is you’ll feel a new level of disgust for the behavior of every politician who at this very moment are behaving like spoiled brats arguing over who got the most Skittles. There’s not an elected official – from the U.S. president to a city council member – in this country who wouldn’t benefit from reading this letter and then asking himself if his priorities are indeed in line with those of our forefathers.

I have to be honest, while the deep patriotic sense this Major felt makes me so proud, it’s the pure love he felt for his wife and family – another emotion that seems to be lacking in our contemporary society. Here’s the letter, courtesy of Fox News. One final side note: it’s believed the original is no longer in existence, but both of Major Ballou’s sons (who were young boys when their father died) gave their fiances a copy of it, verbatim, before each of their respective weddings. I think we can all learn something from this. As mentioned, Major Ballou died on this day 150 years ago. The letter was written on July 14 of the same year, just two weeks before his death. It’s remarkable the way his tone seems to prepare his wife for what he surely knew was inevitable. If you read nothing else, be sure to read the paragraph, close to the bottom that’s in bold (humor me…it’s the romantic in me).

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 or 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 dishonorable, 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 I have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor 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 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.

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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