I only caught the portion about the Ken Burns production on The Civil War and remember how amazing that documentary was at the time of its release. As the program concluded, Ken told the story of Sullivan Ballou. I share this from Wikipedia:
“Sullivan Ballou (March 28, 1829 – July 29, 1861) was a lawyer and politician from Rhode Island, and an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is best remembered for the eloquent letter he wrote to his wife one week before he fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, where he was mortally wounded.
In his now famous letter to his wife, Ballou endeavored to express the emotions he was feeling: worry, fear, guilt, sadness, and the pull between his love for her and his sense of duty to the nation.
The letter was featured prominently in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, where a shortened version of it was paired with Jay Ungar's musical piece "Ashokan Farewell" and read by Paul Roebling. The documentary excluded many of Ballou's personal references to his family and his upbringing. It has been difficult to identify which of the several extant versions is closest to the one he actually wrote, for the original seems not to have survived.
July the 14th, 1861, Washington D.C.The letter may never have been mailed; it was found in Ballou's trunk after he died. It was reclaimed and delivered to Ballou's widow by Governor William Sprague, either after Sprague had traveled to Virginia to reclaim the effects of dead Rhode Island soldiers, or from Camp Sprague in Washington, D.C.”
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.
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 often 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 brightest 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 me, 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.
As I often do, I looked up the Ancestry of Sullivan Ballou. I discovered that he’s a distant cousin of the wife of one of my cousins. This chart shows that relationship:
I was amazed and delighted to find this connection in my family to Sullivan Ballou. Others may not find it significant, but I find it noteworthy. I must share with my cousin Todd Becker.
My dear Genealogy friend Terri Kallio shared this YouTube link to the Letter as it was read on the Civil War presentation. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Terri!