Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sullivan Ballou, born March 28, 1829

Sullivan Ballou was the son of Hiram and Emeline (Bowen) Ballou, a distinguished Hugenot family in Smithfield, Rhode Island.   He lost both of his parents at a young age.  In spite of this, he attended boarding school at Phillips Academy  in Andover, Massachusetts. Following his graduation, he attended Brown University, and went on to study law in New York.

He was 32 years old when the Civil War began, and died 3 months later at the First Battle of Bull Run.

Providence, Rhode Island, 1850
Ballou was admitted to the Rhode Island bar and began to practice in 1853.  He was active in public service. Shortly after being admitted to the bar, he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, where he served as a clerk, and later as the speaker.

Ballou married Sarah Hart Shumway on October 15, 1855. They had two sons, Edgar and William.

He was a staunch Republican and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. Through that affiliation, he became acquainted with William Sprague, a wealthy mill owner who became Rhode Island's governor in 1860 at the ae of 29, the youngest state executive in the United States.When war broke out, Ballou immediately left what appeared to be a promising political career and volunteered for military service with the 2nd Rhode Island Infrantry. Due to his close ties to Governor Sprague, Ballou received a commission as major of the regiment.  In addition to his combat duties, he served as the Rhode Island militia's judge advocate.

He is remembered for the eloquent letter he wrote to his wife on July 14, 1861, a week before he fought.  It has been difficult to identify which of the several extant versions is closest to the one he actually wrote, as the original seems not to have survived.  The letter was found in Ballou's trunk after he died.  It was reclaimed and delivered to Ballou's widow by Rhode Island Governor William Sprague, who had accompanied the Rhode Island troops to Bull Run.

July the 14th, 1861
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.
2nd Rhode Island Infantry
The Rhode Island Infantry fought at the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.  Ballou and 93 of his men were mortally wounded there.  In an attempt to better direct his men, Ballou took a horse-mounted position in front of his regiment, when a 6-pounder solid shot from Confederate artillery tore off his right leg and simultaneously killed his horse, Jennie. The badly injured Major was then carried off the field and the remainder of his leg was amputated. 
First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861
Ballou died from his wound a week after that Union defeat and was buried in the yard of nearby Sudley Church. 
Sudley Church

After the battle the territory was occupied by Confederate forces. In March 1862, Governor Sprague and members of the Rhode Island infantry returned to Bull Run to retrieve the buried bodies of their comrades. According to local witnesses, a few weeks ealier, the corpses had been exhumed, decapitated, and desecrated by Confederate soldiers possibly belonging to the 21st Georgia regiment. They had dug up Colonel John Slocum, 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. His coffin had been thrown into the creek, only to be later used in another burial.

Sprague 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, promising he would return it to Ballou's wife.
Fearing an ambush by guerrillas, the officers elected to return to Washington. The corpses were loaded into the wagons. Ballou's casket was filled only with charred ash, bone, the blanket that contained his tufts of hair and the two recovered shirts. The charred ash and bone believed to be his remains were reburied in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island.
Ballou Gravesite

Ballou Graves
"I wait for you there.  Come to me and lead thither my children"

When he died, his wife was 24. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with her son, William, and never re-married. She died at age 80 in 1917. 
Sarah Shumway Ballou

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