"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 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..."*
Who was the achingly lovesick author of this beautiful letter? Possibly Hemmingway, Fitzgerald or even Poe?
Your guesses, though flattering, were miles off. The above excerpts of the heart-wrenching love letter were penned on July 14, 1862 at Camp Clark, Washington D.C. by Sullivan Ballou; A Civil War soldier from Rhode Island. One week after the Union soldier poured his love and affection into the letter to his wife Sarah: Sullivan Ballou was killed in the Battle of Bull Run.
And the letter was never sent; found tucked within his belongings at the time his remains were retrieved.
As more and more Civil War documents are brought to light; thousands of records, held deep within the vaults of state archives, reveal the love letters from soldiers. Many of these men wrote from their hearts as they camped on blood-soaked battlefields. At a time in our history when the soldier's only communication to his wife and family was by pen and paper, the letters of Civil War soldiers allowed a private platform to describe the horrors of the war and to speak from the deepest of their souls.
The letters of Civil War soldiers, many of which are love letters to their wives or sweethearts, are beautifully preserved and readable on many of the state archives and university libraries. The Library of Virginia Tech's Special Collections offers a wonderful display of soldier's love letters from the battlefield.
History Happens Here, a magazine of the Missouri History Museum, began posting reprints of the James E. Love Papers: a Union soldier in St. Louis. James wrote letters to his fiance, Eliza Mary Wilson from 1861 until the end of the war. The magazine wittingly posts the letters in sequence, 150 years to the day after each letter was originally written, allowing subscribers to read them as if each were a chapter in a book, unfolding in front of them.
At a time when the art of writing love letters has grown old fashioned and antiquated, reading the beautifully written letters from young men ravaged by war, feels fresh and romantic. A fitting repose for those of us who love genealogy and long to imagine...just for a moment...the aching love and loneliness of our ancestors of the Civil War.
Read Sullivan Ballou's complete love letter to Sarah and dream your hearts away: 150 years after the prose was penned.
The love letters of the Civil War soldier; just in time for Valentines Day.
Keep searching for answers,