Friday, March 21, 2014

The Horrible Fate of Union Major Sullivan Ballou, 1861

Dear Readers,

After watching Ken Burns' Civil War series again, I'm again struck by the letter that Union Major Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife before he was to go into battle.

In his letter to his wife, Major Ballou attempted to express his longings, worry, fear, guilt, sadness, and most importantly the inner battle he was going through between his love for her and his sense of duty to the country.

The letter was featured prominently in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, where it was paired with Jay Ungar's musical piece "Ashokan Farewell" and read by Paul Roebling.

Where the documentary featured a shortened version of the letter, which did not contain many of Ballou's personal references to his family and his upbringing. The following is an extended version:

July 14, 1861.

Camp Clark, Washington

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 again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. Our movements may be 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 battle field 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 your's, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows, when after having eaten for long years the bitter fruits of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable, that while the banner of my forefathers floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, underneath 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 Sabbath night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying perhaps the last sleep before that of death while I am suspicious that Death is creeping around me with his fatal dart, as I sit communing with God, my Country and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently and often in my heart for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I love, and I could find none. A pure love of my Country and of the principles I have so often advocated before the people — 'the name of honor, that I love more than I fear death,' has called upon me, and I have obeyed.

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 on with all those chains, to the battle field.

The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you, come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified 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 still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys 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 battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears, every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortunes 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 buffit the storm, 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 gladest days and the darkest nights, advised to 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 cools 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 up 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, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.

Tell my two Mothers I call God's blessings upon them new. O! Sarah I wait for you there; come to me, and lead thither my children.


Now for the rest of the horrible story ...

The Attrocities of War

As most of us who have watched the Ken Burns' Civil War series on PBS, Major Sullivan Ballou had become famous over 130 years after his death for the touching heartfelt letter he wrote to his wife, Sarah, just a few days before he was to be killed at the First Battle of Bull Run.

The First Battle of Bull Run, also know as First Manasses, was the Civil War's first major battle between the North and the South.

What took place to the Major and others who died there was not mentioned in the Ken Burns film, and probably for good reason.

Major Sullivan Ballou was born on March 28thm 1829 in Smithfield, Rhode Island, to Hiram and Emeline Bowen Ballou.

His formal education was at the Phillips Academy of Andover, Massachusetts, and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduating from Brown University, Sullivan Ballou taught "Elocution" at the National Law School in Ballston, New York.

While there, he also studied law and was admitted to the bar in Rhode Island in 1853. He served as a clerk of the Rhode Island House of Representatives for three years, then became a member of the House and was unanimously chosen speaker in 1857.

Like many Northerners dissatisfied with the Whig and Democratic parties, he joined the new Republican Party when it was formed in the late 1850s.

Through that affiliation, he soon became closely acquainted with Governor Sprague, a wealthy mill owner who became Rhode Island's governor in 1860. Sprague was 29 years of age and the youngest state governor in the United States when he was elected.

With the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, like many other northern states, Rhode Island began to raise regiments for duty with the Union.

Rhode Island played an important role in the Civil War despite its small size. It sent eight regiments of infantry, four regiments of artillery and three regiments of cavalry to the front, in addition to several smaller units. 

On June 5th, 1861, the 2nd Rhode Island was formed and mustered into service in Providence. It was commanded by Col. John Slocum. Sprague had appointed him Colonel because Slocum had formerly served as a Major with the 1st Rhode Island.

Due to his close ties to Governor Sprague, Sullivan Ballou received a commission as a Major with the 2nd Rhode Island.

The unit was immediately sent to protect Washington.

Arriving in the nation's capital on June 22nd, the 2nd was incorporated into Colonel Ambrose Burnside's brigade.

In July 1861 the northern newspapers pressured President Lincoln to bring a quick end to the rebellion of the southern states.

Adding to the strain was Lincoln's awareness that the ninety-day enlistments of the recruits who had responded to his call to arms after the attack on Fort Sumter were rapidly coming to an end.

Something had to be done, and soon, and President Lincoln was being pressed to take action.

Despite his hesitancy that the Union's troops were not yet adequately trained, General Irvin McDowell proposed a plan.

He would march his army of 35,000, currently bivouacked around Washington, thirty miles south and attack the Confederate forces defending the vital railroad junction at Manassas, Virginia.

A "quick" victory would open the way to the Confederate capital at Richmond.

By late July of 1861, the 1st Rhode Island was one of the dozens of regiments which moved out of the capital as part of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell's army -- and headed for the Confederate lines along Bull Run.

McDowell's plan of attack was for a portion of his forces to show themselves as a distraction to the Confederate front, while the main body of his Union attack column swung far to the right.

The premise was for the Union forces to use the narrow paths through woods and fields, cross Bull Run and Catharpin Run at Sudley Ford. and then move around behind the Southerner's left flank.

Gen. Burnside's brigade was combined with that of Colonel Andrew Porter to create a small division led by Colonel David Hunter that was selected to be in the flanking movement.

On June 21st, Gen. Burnside's soldiers led the way, with the 2nd Rhode Island first in line and then followed by the 1st Rhode Island.

Believe it or not, as crazy as it sounds, many people from Washington arrived at Bull Run and took positions as "spectators."

Governor Sprague accompanied the regiments, riding on a white horse beside Gen. Burnside, determined not to miss their moment of glory when they "teach" the South a lesson.

At least they thought so!

The Union troops slugged along as they moved into position because the Confederates had felled trees to block the road, which in many places was just a simple cow path that became chock-full of exhausted Yankees.

Finally, around 9 a.m., way behind schedule, Gen. Burnside's regiments started across both streams and headed south on the Manassas-Sudley Road.

And yes, those tired and sweaty Union foot troops took up even more time as they filled their thirsts in the muddy waters.

Five companies of the 2nd Rhode Island made the advance, and immediately spread out as skirmishers on both sides of the road.

To the left the land rose to form high ground, locally called Matthews Hill, and the Matthews house stood on its slopes.

While the skirmishers cautiously moved toward the summit, they received their first hostile shots in the form of a volley delivered by elements of Brig. Gen. Nathan Evans' South Carolina brigade.

Hearing reports of shots, assuming his men were engaging the Southerners and not the other way around, Gen. Burnside quickly shifted his men to the left of the road to meet anf resistance.

The balance of the 2nd Rhode Island formed in a battle line and were ordered up the hill behind the skirmishers.

Governor Sprague's soldiers shucked off their packs and blankets and ran forward, rushing "wildly and impetuously" and getting "rather mixed up," admitted Private Eben Gordon.
The disorganized but enthusiastic Rhode Islanders reached the crest of the hill recently abandoned by Gen. Evans' outnumbered skirmish line.

The Carolinians, however, had not given up the field. Instead they had only fallen back down the southern slope of the hill, and they greeted the Rhode Islanders with voleys of fire.

One private in the 2nd remembered it as a "perfect hail storm of bullets, scattering death and confusion everywhere."

With his advance stalled, Gen. Burnside ordered up Captain William Reynolds' artillery battery. Once Reynold's artillery moved to the summit of Matthews Hill, they began concentrating their fire on southern positions.

Colonel Slocum had been very active during the attack. It's said that what he lacked in experience, he certainly made up for with courage and leadership.

At one point, Col. Slocum is believed to have climbed atop a rail fence that ran across Matthews Hill and began waving his sword to encourage his men forward.

He was soon downed when he was shot in the head.

Privates Elisha Hunt Rhodes and Thomas Parker carried him off the field to the Matthews house, and then the Colonel was evacuated by ambulance to the field hospital at Sudley Church, which was located near Sudley Ford.

Command of the regiment fell to Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton, and he helped Major Ballou to shift their line while Gen. Burnside was busy getting the balance of his brigade — the 1st Rhode Island, the 71st New York, and the 2nd New Hampshire — to come up and into the battle.

In order to better direct his men, it is said that Major Ballou rode his horse 'Jennie' in front of his regiment to encourage his men on. Like Col Slocum, this would lead to his death.

With his back to the Confederates, it's said that a 6-pounder artillery ball, probably fired by a gun of the South's Lynchburg Artillery, tore off his right leg and killing his horse instantly.

The stricken Major Ballou was then also carried to Sudley Church, where they amputated his leg before setting him aside with a dying Col. Slocum.

The 1st Rhode Island was the initial regiment to reach the line, arriving after the 2nd and Reynolds' Battery had held off the Rebels for a half hour.

Eventually, the rest of the brigade came up, and Gen. Burnside led it in a push that cleared the Rebels from the area north of the Warrenton Turnpike by about noon.

The morning's fight had gone to the Union, but that afternoon the battle took a different course as a Confederate counterattack put the Union troops and spectators running back to Washington.

Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements extended and broke the Union right flank.

Emboldened by the arrival of reinforcements and by the first use of the blood-curtailing Rebel Yell, the Confederates charged forth in the late afternoon.

The Union line didn't hold and retreat quickly transformed into mindless head-long dash back to Washington with Union troops discarding much of their equipment along the way.

The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a complete rout. And yes, it was there that Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre "Stonewall."

As the Confederate lines began to crumble under heavy Union assault, Jackson's brigade provided crucial reinforcements on Henry House Hill, demonstrating the discipline he instilled in his men.

Confederate Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!"

At the battle's climax, Virginia cavalry under Colonel James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart arrived on the field and immediately charged into a confused mass of New Yorkers, sending them fleetly to the rear. 

The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated as narrow bridges, overturned wagons, and heavy artillery fire added to the confusion. The retreat was further impeded by the hordes of fleeing spectators.

By July 22, the shattered Union Army finally reached the safety of Washington.

The First Battle of Bull Run ended as a Southern victory. The South would call it the First Manasses.

The 2nd Rhode Island took little part in the afternoon battle, instead it remained in "reserve" licking its wounds with Gen. Burnside's brigade.

The regiment had suffered heavily: 93 of its men were killed, wounded and missing. Sprague survived the fight unharmed but his horse was killed.

Ballou and Slocum, too badly wounded to move during the Federal retreat, were left behind in the care of Union Army surgeons who amputated Ballou's shattered leg.

Both men died, Col. Slocum on July 23 and Major Ballou days later on the 28th. They were buried side by side just yards from Sudley Church.

In early March 1862, word reached Washington that the Confederates were abandoning their lines around Manassas in a move to better protect Richmond from the Army of the Potomac's advance.

Union troops soon occupied the area.

So where's the body?

Union Major Sullivan Ballou was a member of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, but his remains were nowhere to be found.

Governor Sprague discovered that Major Ballou's remains had been exhumed and desecrated by Confederate soldiers soon after the battle.

This fact actually initiated a Congressional investigation. And yes, some say the findings still remain a controversy and a mystery since the facts were too hard to accept for the times.

It appears that Major Ballou's close friend Rhode Island Governor William Sprague witnessed the opening of the Major's grave and is said to have stared into the empty grave with a mixture of shock and horror.

The Rhode Island governor and a party of 70 others had departed Washington City that March 19, 1862, morning for the Bull Run battlefield, with the intent of retrieving the bodies of several 2nd Rhode Island officers who were left behind.

Remember, this was a recovery mission.

Privates Josiah W. Richardson, John Clark and Tristam Burgess of the 2nd assisted in the effort; they had also stayed behind at Sudley Church after the battle and had witnessed the burial of both Major Ballou and Col Slocum.

Troops from the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry escorted the mission, and a surgeon, chaplain and two wagons filled with forage, rations and empty coffins rounded out the column.

Because of muddy roads and driving rains, the group made slow progress and finally arrived at Cub Run on the eastern edge of the Bull Run battlefield on the afternoon of March 20th.

That was the known location where Captain Samuel James Smith of the 2nd Rhode Island had been killed during the retreat. Yet, by nightfall, the group had not found Smith's grave along either sides of the creek.

Disappointed at the failure to find Smith's resting place, the party begin the search for other graves.

Riding along the Warrenton Turnpike during stormy weather on the morning of March 21st, the column arrived at Bull Run to discover that the stone bridge had been blown up by the withdrawing Confederates.

Near it though, the group examined a skeleton that was just sitting against a nearby tree.

They rode north and forded Bull Run and Catharpin Run, then they continued on to Sudley Church.

Now abandoned and polluted with severed remains left behind, the church stood with its door open.

It's said that curious soldiers stopped to investigate the structure, a few even rode their horses inside and up to the pulpit.

Sprague instructed Private Richardson to lead them to the spot near the churchyard where the Rhode Islander troops were buried.

Richardson did so, pointing out two mounds that he claimed were where Colonel Slocum and Major Ballou had been buried.

Soldiers began to dig amid the thickets of huckleberry bushes, the still graveyard echoing with the sound of shovels as the men went about their morose task.

Under the direction of Walter Coleman, Governor Sprague's secretary, the assemblage commenced with the exhumation of Slocum and Ballou.

As the story goes, just then a young black girl, full of curiosity, made her way from a nearby cabin to investigate. She approached those digging and inquired if they were looking for "Kunnel Slogun"?

"If so", she said, "they were too late and would not find him."

That was when everything changed from a recovery mission to an investigation into what some have called the first war crime of the Civil War.

The young girl went on to tell a chilling tale too macabre for any of the detachment to believe.

She claimed that a number of men from the 21st Georgia Regiment had robbed the grave several weeks prior to their leaving.

Supposedly the Confederate troops dug up Col. Slocum, then severed his head from his body and burned the mutilated corpse in an attempt the remove the flesh and procure the bones and skull as trophies.

They were to find out later that that was not Col. Slocum, but instead it was Major Ballou

The girl went on to say that the Colonel's coffin had been thrown into the creek -- but later fished out for use in another burial.
Reports said that Governor Sprague was horrified, and immediately demanded to see any sort of evidence that such an atrocity had taken place.

He then accompanied the girl as she led them to a nearby hollow where they found a heap of charred embers along the bank of the creek. The ash was still gray, which meant it wasn't very old.

There they found what appeared to be bones. And yes, upon closer inspection, Surgeon James B. Greeley of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry identified a human femur, vertebrae and portions of pelvic bones.

Nearby they found a soiled blanket with large tufts of human hair folded inside. And as the group carefully collected whatever evidence they could find, one noticed a white object in the branches of a tree along the creek bank.

A soldier atop a horse is said to have waded into the stream to recover what they would determine was two shirts, one a silk and the other a striped calico, both buttoned at the collar and unbuttoned at the sleeves.

The circumstantial evidence seemed to concur with what the little girl had told them. And yes, the unthinkable became more real when Surgeon Greeley did not locate a human skull or teeth with the other remains.

To add to an already confused, strange situation, Governor Sprague insisted that he recognized both shirts as having belonged to Major Ballou — and not to Slocum.

Private Richardson, who had nursed Ballou in his last moments a week after the battle, concurred with the Governor recognizing the shirts and the Major's.

So now, who did the beheaded body belong to?

Back at the gravesite, the group began to probe for any sort of solid object in the first grave.

The Surgeon suggested running a saber blade deeper into the ground. Soon a saber was handed forward and a soldier thrust it into the soft rain soaked soil.

Driven almost to the hilt, it met with no resistance. The grave was empty.

The same tactic was applied to the other grave, but with different results, as a hard object was soon struck. And immediately a few soldiers began to dig, uncovering a rectangular box buried no more than 3 feet deep.

The box was pulled from the grave, and the lid was pried off to reveal the body of 37-year-old John Slocum, rolled up in a blanket.

Easily identifiable by his distinctive red, bushy mustache, Slocum's remains were surprisingly intact. So now it appeared that the missing body was Major Ballou.

To gather further evidence, Governor Sprague, along with his aide and Lt. Col. Willard Sayles of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, went to the homes of nearby residents.

In the process they met a 14-year-old boy who claimed to have witnessed the awful deed, and verified that it was soldiers from the 21st Georgia Infantry who had carried it out.

Supposedly the boy went on to reveal that the troops from Georgia had planned it for several days. He also claimed that the Rebels tried to burn the corpse, but had to prematurely dowse the fire because of the horrible stench it emitted.

A farmer by the name of Newman confirmed the boy's story, then contending that no Virginian would have done such a thing and that those responsible were from a Georgia regiment.

Governor Sprague had also talked to a woman who had nursed the wounded at Sudley Church after the battle. She claimed that she had pleaded with the Georgians to leave the dead at peace.

Unable to persuade them, she had saved a lock of hair cut from Ballou's head, in the hopes that someday someone might come to claim the body.

Colonel Coleman took the lock of hair, and promised that he would return it to Major Ballou's wife.

Why did this happen?

The rationale for such a desecration did not come from the battle.

Historians say that the 8th Georgia Infantry was the only regiment from that state that may have come into contact with the 2nd Rhode Island, and that the 21st Georgia did not arrive at Manassas until after the battle. They were housed in winter quarters in the neighborhood of Sudley Church.

Specualtion is all that anyone can do in something like this. Historians question their motives saying perhaps the Georgia troops saw their actions as an attempt to revenge on the 2nd Rhode Island.

Maybe, while in search of the 2nd's commanding officer Col. Slocum that they uncovered both graves — Slocum in a simple box and Ballou in a coffin.

Then, maybe thinking the commanding officer must be buried in the coffin, they got it wrong and inadvertently mutilated the body of Major Ballou and not Col. Slocum.

Governor Sprague decided to continue on with their original mission and search for the body of Captain Levi Tower, another 2nd Rhode Island officer mortally wounded at the battle.

By candlelight, Private Clark, who had witnessed Tower's burial, led the way.  In the side yard of the bullet-scarred Matthews house Clark located the mass grave in which Tower was buried.

The evening had grown too dark, seventeen men crowded into the Matthews' parlor for the night, the same room to which John Slocum had been carried following his mortal wounding.

With saddles for pillows, the 17 slept by the heat of the fireplace while the rest of the party remained outside, suffering through a drizzly night.

At first light, Sprague and Greeley ventured into a nearby field to investigate the skeletal remains of a horse, which Sprague supposedly recognized as one that had been shot out from under him during the battle.

Meanwhile back at the house, the exhumation of Levi Tower was underway. The mass grave revealed eight bodies, including Tower's.

Strangely, all of the men were found buried face down and barefooted, together with an unexploded shell, considered a blatant sign of disrespect by all present.

The corpses were loaded into the wagons. Slocum's and Tower's remains had been placed in pine coffins, each marked with the appropriate name and date of disinterment.

So according to witness testimony, when Major Ballou's corpse was exhumed, it was decapitated, and desecrated.

His body was never recovered. In place of his body, charred ash and bone believed to be his remains were reburied in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.

It's true, Major Sullivan Ballou's casket was filled only with charred ash, bone, the blanket that contained his tufts of hair and the two recovered shirts.

On the afternoon of March 28, the bodies of Slocum, Ballou and Tower arrived in New York City.

The 71st New York State Militia escorted the hearses through Manhattan and down Broadway to the Astor House, where the coffins lay in state.

To watch the procession, onlookers crowded windows and balconies, and even the rooftop of Barnum's Museum.

Four days later, on a gray and stormy March 31st, the remains of the three soldiers were reburied in Providence.

Business was suspended, streets were draped in mourning and flags flew at half-mast. A huge military procession of over 34 military units made their way down to Swan Point Cemetery.

There, volleys of musketry were delivered amid the clap of thunder and tolling of bells. The three sons of Rhode Island had finally been properly laid to rest.

Governor Sprague, outraged by what had happened to Major Ballou, addressed the U.S. Congress' Committee on the Conduct of the War on April 1st, 1862.

He reported, in detail, the horrible findings of the expedition.

The committee launched an official inquiry into the matter, with the chief aim of the investigation being to resolve "whether the Indian savages have been employed by the rebels, in their military service, against the Government of the United States, and how such warfare has been conducted by said savages."

Yes, the Indians became the scapegoats. Imagine that.
In accordance with the normal way of looking at things at the time, it was held that no white man would do such a thing.

The theory was that somehow Indians in the employ of the Confederacy committed the deeds. This of course was a frank reflection of white 19th-century Americans.

After all, they surmised, without concrete evidence to prove otherwise, Indians could have done it.

Trying to pin the blame on the Indians in the area didn't work out very well because the story was picked up and sensationalized by Northern newspapers such as The New York Times and the Providence Daily Journal.

Because of the pressure put on the Congressional Committee's investigation of a true accounting of what took place, the investigation unearthed further testimony of grave desecration.
A local Manassas woman, Mrs. Pierce Butler, testified that she had witnessed several instances of unidentified Confederates exhuming bodies with the intention of boiling off the remaining skin and removing the bones as relics.

Mrs. Butler even claimed to have heard one soldier of New Orleans' Washington Artillery boast as he carried off a dug-up skull that he intended to "drink a brandy punch out of it the day he was married."

On April 30th, the committee officially concluded that soldiers of the Confederate Army had indeed performed such actions after the First Battle of Bull Run.

While the actual truth in the case may never be known, it is indisputable that Major Ballou's body was desecrated, and that Confederate soldiers likely did the deed hoping that they were actually abusing the corpse of a Union unit commander.

The 21st Georgia was singled out and blamed, but who knows for sure.

The 2nd Rhode Island honored its dead commander when it constructed one of the forts that protected Washington and named it Fort Slocum.

Today, the location is known as Fort Slocum Park, near Kansas Avenue in the northeast section of the District of Columbia -- and like other places it is probably pretty unlikely that there are even a few who visit the park knowing of the history behind its name.

Many more people, or at least those who saw the Ken Burns Civil War series on PBS televison stations in the 1990s, do know about Major Sullivan Ballou because of the famous letter attributed to him that has been reprinted numerous times.

That the remains of the man who supposedly penned the sad missive were treated in such a crude manner after his death presents an unbelievable irony and symbolizes the tragedy and horror of any war.

Sullivan Ballou died at age 32, leaving behind a wife, Sarah, two children and a letter written to his spouse that would make him famous 130 years later.

The letter may never have been mailed. Fact is, it was found in among Major Ballou's belongings in his trunk after he died.

It was reclaimed and delivered to Major Ballou's widow by Governor Sprague, either after he had traveled to Virginia to reclaim the effects of dead Rhode Island soldiers, or from Camp Sprague in Washington, D.C.

His widow, Sarah, never remarried. She later moved to New Jersey to live with her son, William. She died at age 80 in 1917, and is buried next to her husband as she wanted.

This was compiled from multiple resources.

Tom Correa


  1. I don't know about you but if I got shot in the leg I would rather bleed out and die than have the leg amputated. Because if I had to go to the bathroom or something on one leg, I'm just gonna look funny. Not that there's a problem with amputees but still. A bullet in the leg and the leg is amputated and the man dies. Bummer, dude.

  2. Nice article as always, Tom.


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