Sullivan Ballou Letter Video Clip – “Honorable Manhood”

7 09 2008

Here’s that clip from the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War.  UPDATE: Sorry, the video portion has been removed, but at least we have the audio.

Note that the film used an abbreviated version of the letter.  The last line of the full letter appears on Ballou’s monument in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI.

Photo from this site.





Maj. Sullivan Ballou, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, to his Wife

6 09 2008

Camp Clark, Washington

July 14th, 1861

My Dear Sarah,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow.  Lest I shall not be able to write to you again, I feel impelled to write a few 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 on 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 the 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?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me ,many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death – and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of all those I loved and I could find none. A pure love of country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear Death” have called upon me and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me in 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 those chains, to the battlefield.

The memories of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come creeping over me, and I feel most grateful to God and you that I’ve enjoyed them so long.  And how 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 as 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 often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield you, and your children, from harm.  But I cannot.  I must watch you from the Spirit-land and hover near you, while you buffit the storm, 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 garrish days and darkest nights… 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 if 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 thee – 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, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.  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.

Sullivan

The original Sullivan Ballou letter to his wife is not extant.  Several versions of the letter exist.  The above relies on Robin Young’s For Love & Liberty: The Untold Story of Major Sullivan Ballou & His Famous Love Letter, which cites as its source for the letter the Rhode Island Historical Society.





Governor Sprague’s Arm Candy

15 11 2007

chasesprague2.jpgYesterday I received in the mail Kate Chase & William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage, by Peg A. Lamphier (2003).  In the summer of 1861 Sprague was Governor of Rhode Island, and as chief executive of the state he joined the 1st and 2nd RI infantry regiments in the field at Fist Bull Run. Sprague played a prominent role there, accompanying Barnard on the recon of the 19th, directing artillery and having a horse shot out from under him during the battle of the 21st.  He’s even depicted here in this Alfred Waud rendering of Burnside directing his troops (that’s Sprague on the white horse – click the thumbnail for a larger view):

 

burnsidesprague.jpg

But the most significant conquest for Sprague may just have been the winning of the hand of Kate, the daughter of Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.  Here’s a photo of her as a young girl, when she was better known to her dad’s poker buddies as Lolita: 

I’ll  have more to say about the book after I read it (it’s next on my list, as soon as I finish off this nearly unreadable biography of Slocum), but the long and short of it is that the marriage (the wedding was the social event of the season in 1863) did not canonchet.jpgend well.  Sprague was an unfaithful horn-dog from the get-go, and Kate apparently strayed with New York politico Roscoe Conkling, with whom she was caught red handed by a shotgun-toting Sprague at the 65 room family hacienda, Canonchet (at left via Rhode Island’s South County Museum).  Kate was granted a divorce in 1882, and died in relative obscurity and dire straits in Washington in 1899. Here’s a link to her New York Times obituary.  

Glancing through the book, I came across one of those damned threads again.  Kate’s divorce petition is included as Appendix A.  In it she includes a very long list of the individual women with whom Sprague had been unfaithful during the course of the marriage, beginning in its very first year.  One passage stands out:

…with one Fannie Adams, in March 1876, at Providence aforementioned, at the house of one Ann M. Ballou,  commonly called Maria Ballou, said house being a house of prostitution. 

ballou.jpgOf course, Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd RI (left) and his letter home on the eve of First Bull Run is one of the most popular stories of the battle, thanks in large part to Ken Burns.  As related here, Ballou was a cousin to Civil War general and later U. S. President James Garfield.  According to this site, by 1876 the Ballou family had been in Rhode Island for over 230 years, so I imagine there were Ballous aplenty in Providence.  Still, I have to wonder what was the relationship between the Martyred Major and Madame Maria.  I checked the index in Robin Young’s biography of Sullivan, but saw no reference to Ann or Maria.  We’ll see where this leads, if anywhere.  And just to get this back on the track of politician arm candy, I wonder if there is any link between Sullivan’s family and the Ballou (Cat) pictured below?  

catballou.jpg

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More Ohio Hmmmms

31 05 2007

In my last post I mentioned some of the apparent ties between prominent Ohio families and the possibility that these ties may have assisted some family members in attaining positions of authority.  While surfing the net in my typical aimless manner last night, I ran across a curious tidbit of which I was previously unaware.

Irvin McDowell is today a tragic yet comic figure of nearly Shakespearian proportions.  This was even true during his lifetime.  Possibly the saddest reference to McDowell I think I have ever read was written by John Tidball, and can be found on page 378  of his biography.  After the war, Tidball was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and McDowell was in command of the Department of California.  On April 9, 1866, Tidball wrote to his sister:

I very seldom go to the city [San Francisco], but put in my time somehow by walking around looking at my horses and attending to my garden.  The McDowell’s are well.  They live at Point San Jose – half way between here and town.  I see them occasionally.  Although he tries the best he can, he yet does not appear to succeed better than he did in the east.  Children hoot Bull Run at him.  Citizens laugh at him, all because he strains too hard to be popular, and while he makes one doubtful friend, he creates a dozen enemies.

It’s ironic that Tidball is so empathetic to McDowell’s plight, given that much of McDowell’s legacy has been shaped by a physical description attributed to Tidball and quoted, cited, or plagiarized by just about every writer who has ever described McDowell (see page 203 of the above mentioned bio, and keep in mind that Tidball himself was by all accounts a tall, lean, good lookin’ fella):

He had it is true great physical powers, but his figure was not of a comely order.  He was of medium stature, but his body was long in proportion to his legs.  His head, although well formed and large enough, appeared small and bullet-shaped when attached to his fleshy figure by a neck short and thick.  His countenance, always florid from rugged health, was of the Holland type, and his legs although short were in other respects well proportioned to his general figure.  They were attached to his body by broad, rolling hips that worked up and down when he walked.  Notwithstanding all this seeming clumsiness, he was in the waltz, of which he was extremely fond, light of foot and tripped it off with sylph-like grace.  The virtue of temperance he carried to such an extreme that he eschewed not only the beverages that intoxicate but tea and coffee as well.  Yet while so abstemious as to drinking he set no bounds to his eating, for which his equatorial dimensions gave him great capacity.  He cultivated eating to a fine art, and was not only a gourmand, but a bon vivant, being as highly skilled in the preparation of recherché dishes as a Delmonico chef.  Intimately associated with his total abstemiousness in drinking was his abhorrence of tobacco in every shape and form.

Sorry about the long setup, but it was necessary to show how McDowell was generally regarded during his lifetime because that’s a big part of why I found this late night discovery so surprising.

James Abram Garfield, Ohioan, Republican, Civil War general, some say war department spy, U. S. senator, and 20th POTUS, fathered seven children.  The fifth child was born in 1870 and christened Irvin M. Garfield.  That is, Irvin McDowell Garfield.  Young Irvin attended his father’s alma mater Williams College in Massachusetts and had a long law career in Boston before his death in 1951.  I don’t think they ever served together during the war, so what’s the connection between Garfield and McDowell, other than their native state?  I don’t know yet.  I’ll work on it.  But it had to be some strong tie for a public figure like Garfield to elect to “saddle” his progeny with such a notorious label.

To give you some idea of how this style of “research” is akin to chaos, while finding this out I also learned a little about Garfield’s dark horse nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 1880.  He had gone to the national convention to support the nomination of fellow Ohioan John (brother of W. T.) Sherman.  Prior to that, Garfield had been chosen to fill a seat in the senate, a seat which was filled by John Sherman after Garfield won the presidential nomination.

And by the way, James Garfield was the son of Eliza Ballou Garfield, which makes him a cousin of the sentimental letter writer Sullivan Ballou, killed at First Bull Run.

As Myron Cope might say, “Yoi and Double Yoi!”








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