Greetings, New Readers

28 07 2011

Yesterday, I received an email from a reporter for Kevin Levin had given her my name as someone to talk to regarding Maj. Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island, who died 150 years ago today, of wounds received at Bull Run a week earlier. She wanted to talk about Ballou and his famous letter in particular, and about the battle in general. I said fine and a phone conversation followed.

I briefly recounted Ballou’s story, and also recommended she contact Robin Young, author of a biography of Ballou. The whole conversation lasted maybe 15-20 minutes. The reporter also asked for permission to use certain images from Bull Runnings, all of which were my own photos, and I obliged.

The article appeared today, though I am not quoted in it (Kevin and Robin are). There is a photo gallery attached to the article, and a few of my photos are included. Those photos are linked to Bull Runnings as well. As a result, I’ve received about three times as many hits as usual today.

If you have stumbled upon Bull Runnings via a link on, welcome. Browse a while. There’s lots of Bull Run stuff to see – check out the Bull Run Resources section for primary data like after action reports, letters, diaries, memoirs and newspaper articles written by participants. And of particular interest, this post with the audio of Ballou’s letter from the Ken Burns documentary, and this post that includes the photos in the gallery. Come back often: there are always new things happening here, 150 years ago.

About these ads



9 responses

29 07 2011
Bob Huddleston

After listening to the Ken Burns reading of the letter all those years ago, I started running down the story. It was interesting to find that the original letter doesn’t exist — probably, IIRC, the one we use today came from GAR meetings, But there are some good parts in ti that are too close to not have been composed by Ballou: he was an orphan so the bit about his children growing up without him concerned him.

Then I discovered his body was mutilated by the Rebels. That initially struck me as Union propaganda until I found numerous other references, from Southern sources, to Confederate mutilation of dead Yankees.

29 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer


Those were two things I discussed with the reporter. They didn’t make it into the article.

29 07 2011
Dick Stanley

What, Ken Burns used a letter of doubtful provenance as the real thing? I’m not shocked but I am surprised. And what is this “mutilation” you’re talking about, Harry?

29 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

I wouldn’t say the letter’s provenance is “doubtful”. It was quoted and copied widely in the later 1860’s, and is reproduced on Ballou’s memorial. The original has not been located. But it’s fairly frimly established that the letter was placed in Ballou’s camp chest prior to McDowell’s army’s advance into Virginia, and delivered along with all his posessions to his wife after his death.

As for the “mutlilation”, perhaps that’s too strong a word. Ballou’s body was dug up, possibly by the 21st GA, beheaded, burned, and tossed in and around Bull Run. Why would a regiment that was not involved in the battle itself act in such a way? Hard to say. It’s possible they blamed the 2nd RI for the heavy casualties suffered by the 8th GA, and they mistook Ballou for his colonel, Slocum, who was buried nearby.

OK, maybe “mutliation” is not too strong a word. Go here for more:

29 07 2011
Dick Stanley

Thanks for the explanation, Harry, and the link.

Easy enough to believe, given the hatred of the enemy on both sides, that a grave and remains would be desecrated, even if the proof that it was Ballou’s is dubious—the identification of two shirts and two anonymous witnesses, one of them righteously certain that only someone from Georgia could do such a thing.

Probably made for useful wartime propaganda, though.

30 07 2011
Chris Evans

The mutilation tale is also discussed in a very good chapter in the truly excellent book by Virgil Carrington Jones- ‘Gray Ghost and Rebel Raiders':

29 07 2011
Jim Miller

Harry, I’ve been meaing to ask you about “Confederate Atrocities” on the dead at Bull Run for quite some time. In my transcriptions of newspaper articles I have come up with a handful of articles siting such instances, but up till now I had just chalked it up to Northern propoganda/ Mind you I haven’t done a lot of reading regarding Bull Run (I find that I’ve become a student of the Western Theater). Here are the links to the articles on Civil War Notebook:

31 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer


Thanks for the links. My intitial response to the many Union reports of Rebel atrocities – and vice-versa – was to take them with a grain of salt, but I’m more open-minded now. Consider this fella:

Which is all the more concerning when you read this account:

As for corpse mutilation, consider this private letter:

30 07 2011
Dick Stanley

Interesting links, Jim, all of which seem to be piggybacking on the Ballou tale, which obviously enjoyed wide circulation.

Although Harry’s history net link says it was based on the assertions of two children (re the beheading and the identification of the Georgia unit) and a Union officer who identified two shirts as belonging to Ballou. Since the corpse was burned, there was no other evidence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,156 other followers

%d bloggers like this: