Ballou Balloon Burst?

12 09 2017

Horatio Rogers, Jr.

The entire Robert Grandchamp America’s Civil War magazine article, “‘O Sarah!’ Did Sullivan Ballou’s Famed Letter Come From Another’s Pen?” can be found right here.

Go here for a link to an interview with Mr. Grandchamp.

Caption to photo in America’s Civil War magazine:

Was It Rogers? Some suspect Horatio Rogers Jr., not Ballou, wrote the famous letter, perhaps as a way of eulogizing his dear friend. (The Robert Grandchamp Collection)



2 responses

12 09 2017
Bob Huddleston

What Burns left out were the stories that the Rebel troops mutilated Ballou’s body. When I first read of the mutilation of Sullivan Ballou I assumed it was Yankee propaganda.

Atrocity stories are old hat in war: they are often used to drum up support to protect society against the inhuman enemy. Indeed, false atrocity stories about the World War I Germans, exposed in the 1920s and 1930s, made the World War II generation suspicious of atrocities claimed by the allies. The early reports of the Holocaust were brushed aside as simply a repeat of similar stories from the Great War.

Making up atrocity stories, and reporting them to the assembled troops or to a Congressional committee is nothing new – during the First Gulf War a supposed nurse testified to Congress that the Iraqis had murdered babies in incubators. It came out later that the “nurse” was in reality the daughter of the ambassador and was no where near any alleged atrocities.

However, the desecration of Sullivan Ballou’s grave is well-authenticated.

When the Army of the Potomac occupied Manassas in 1862, a party of Rhode Islanders, led by Gov. Sprague, went out to recover the bodies of Col. Slocum, Maj. Ballou and the other Rhode Islanders killed at First Manassas. A private had been left behind as a hospital attendant and had buried both Slocum and Ballou. On March 21, 1862, he was able to identify the graves.

The party discovered that members of the 21st Georgia had opened Ballou’s grave, thinking that it was Slocum’s, and had burned the body. All the Rhode Islanders found were some ashes, bones and a few pieces of cloth. Slocum’s grave was located untouched and the two sets of remains were sent back to Rhode Island. What was left of Sullivan is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI under an elaborate obelisk with the quote, “I wait for You There, Come to Me and Lead Thither My Children.”

Virgil Carrington Jones devotes a chapter (“The Dead Behead Easily”) in _Gray Ghosts and Rebel Raiders_ to the search for the bodies of the 2nd RI men. In addition to beheading poor Sullivan, the Georgians buried others face down, interpreted as a sign of disrespect. In his notes, Jones quotes from the Committee to Investigate the War, without giving specific references. He goes on to state that when he was investigating the site (identified by a Manassas Park historian as being three tenths of a mile south of Sudley Church, a short distance east of the Sudley Road, just north of the Newman house.

But the point is well taken that one should be cautious about accepting atrocity stories based on what the victims had to say. Jones is a Virginia author, and writes from a pro-South viewpoint (he does include a quote from someone living near Sudley Church that it was done by Georgians – “no Virginian did it. Virginians wouldn’t do such a thing”

Grady McWhiney, in his _Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South_, talked about Confederates mutilating enemy bodies, cutting off heads, etc., and relates the mutilation to the Scotch Celtic background of the typical Southern soldier (p. 157-158). And Bell Wiley also mentions, in _Billy Yank_ (p.23), accounts of Confederate mutilation of the dead enemy.

However, a better source is a letter included in a catalog put out by Gettysburg rare book and artifact dealer, Len Rosa, War Between the States Memorabilia, catalog 44 [n.d., circa 1996]


136. MANASSAS JUNCTION, [VA.], NOV. 25TH, 1861: 4 pages in pencil written by James Kent Lewis, [Co. I, 16th Regiment North Carolina infantry, killed in action at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863] “I wrote you several times about the clothes you Sent me. They came all right. The boots suited exactly and if it hadn’t been for the woolen under clothes, I should have frozen before this. I was on the battleground a day or so ago and it presents one of the most horrible sights I ever saw. The dead Yankees who were buried there have nearly all been dug up by our men. Nearly all of them have a bone of some sort hung to his watch chain & they have sent home any number of skulls! Some of them took the rib bones for pipe stems. I saw one body deprived of its head and the limbs lying in a branch. The flesh seemed to be perfectly sound.

(Additional Sources: CSR and Pension Records of Sullivan and Sarah Ballou; Augusts Woodbury, The Second Rhode Island Regiment, Providence, 1875)


12 09 2017
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Bob. And if anyone’s interested, you can read all the JCCW atrocity testimony here (look in the right hand column under Resources), and other associated accounts by clicking “Atrocities” in the tag cloud.


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