Letters—there was a time when letter writing was the means of interpersonal communication. The Civil War has many romantic stories, but perhaps, the most touching is the letter of Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah on the eve of battle.
July 14, 1861 Sullivan wrote this famous letter, but for some reason it was never mailed. A week later at the Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou gave his life for his country, a country torn apart by civil war.
When Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island arrived at the battlefield to honour his fallen boys, he found the letter in Sullivan’s belongings. The rest is history.
Sarah never remarried. She lived until 1917 and is buried beside her beloved husband in the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.
Did Sullivan and Sarah live well in the brief time that they shared? All accounts indicate that they did.
Love—it is a treasure. A letter expressing that love is a testimony which time cannot diminish. The page may fade, but the words never do.
Some words are immortal because they capture those mystic chords of memory. These mystic chords of memory were formed when the morning stars sang, and the cosmic symphony played its first concert at the dawn of creation.
Sullivan’s letter ends:
“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 . . .”
“For we shall meet again…” The promise of love is forever. However, what of the reality?
Are Sullivan and Sarah destined to meet again on this earth or some other plane of existence which we mortals cannot fathom? Is our last goodbye on this planet traversing the cosmos our last utterance to those who love us? Will there be no soft breeze on our loved ones’ cheeks?
Or is there a mystery which lies in the shadows beyond our reality where love continues? Where the promise of love exits unhampered by mortality, time and space?
Ponderings of a weary soul traveller in search of those mystic chords of memory this February…
G. D. Williams © 2011
PBS Historic Documents: Sullivan Ballou Letter