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, and lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more. I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not falter. I know how 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 my joys in this life to help maintain this government and to pay debt.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence can break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield.
The memories of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me and I feel most deeply grateful to God, and you, that I’ve enjoyed them for 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 see our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us. If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you nor that 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, how foolish I have sometimes been.
But, oh Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you in the brightest day and darkest night, always. Always. And when the soft breeze fans your check it shall be my breath, or the cool air 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.
This is part of a letter written by Sullivan Ballou, a major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, to his wife Sarah in Smithfield. It was featured in the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War. Ballou was killed a week later at the first battle of Bull Run. He was 32.
“As we reflect on the service of those who have sacrificed for our country, and particularly, today give thanks for the incredible tradition of continuing military service from Culver alumni,” LaPorte, Ind., Mayor Blair Milo said, “I believe this beautiful letter helps us to truly internalize the depth of dedication and sacrifice military veterans are prepared to give in order to serve this country.”
Milo, who was the guest speaker at Culver’s Gold Star Ceremony on May 23, currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve. She spent from 2004 to 2010 on active duty, including stints on the guided missile destroyer USS Mason, the Destroyer Squadron 50 staff in Manama, Bahrain, and the Chief of Naval Operations staff at the Pentagon.
She told those gathered in Memorial Chapel, like Sullivan Ballou, the men and women of Culver who have served “have mighty cables that bind us to our families and friends,” yet we understand the debt owed to those who have gone before us.
In this winter of anxiety, the need for Culver’s trademark values of leadership, excellence, and tradition extend beyond the limits of the battlefield.
While it is fitting to remember those who have served in a military uniform, “I am confident that if we had the opportunity to ask each of those who have served how they most like us to honor their service and sacrifice they would ask that we honor them by carrying on the mission to which they so nobly engaged.”
And service to country is not limited strictly to the military, she said. The streets of heaven are “too crowded” with men like Sullivan Ballou and those from Culver, but they are also filled with “angels who are our teachers, our police officers, our firemen, and our community volunteers,” Milo said. People who are willing to give all so the next generation will see greater opportunities “than they could dream of because that is the foundation of our country.
“In this winter of anxiety, the need for Culver’s trademark values of leadership, excellence, and tradition extend beyond the limits of the battlefield,” she added. “Just as our Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard need your service, so too do our classrooms, neighborhoods, and churches.
“Students, the lessons you learn here are critical as you discover what comes forward for not only your lives but future generations.”