Timeless Reminder: A Soldier’s Letter Home From the Civil War

Can you tell from the frequency of my posts that I have turned into an agoraphobic, due to the heat wave we are experiencing?  Temps are reaching 105 and heat indices are approaching 115.  I remain housebound and finally have some time to comment on some of my favorite things.

This past week marked the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the Civil War at Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia.

For those of you who are lucky enough to have married the love of your life, for those of you undying patriots and for those of you who are just plain old bleeding hearts, I present to you an extremely moving video.  It is from Ken Burns “The Civil War”, a dramatic and musical masterpiece in and of itself.

While the audio of the following clip is taken from “The Civil War,” the video are scenes from the movie “Glory:”

This excerpt is of a letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou, a Union soldier from Rhode Island.  The reading, by Paul Roebling,  is another amazing story, which is detailed in the Washington Post article linked below.  The accompanying music is titled “Ashokan Farewell” and was composed by Ken Ungar.   It is funereal, based on a Scottish lament.  Nevertheless, if I had my life to live over again and was able to pre-pick accompanying music,  to musically score the important events, this would be the song I would choose for my birth, marriage and death.  All of these three elements, the letter, the reading and the music, combine to result in a most hauntingly beautiful tale of patriotism, love of a soul mate and a lasting legacy left for the  children.

Enough said.  Have a listen and cry your heart out about an atrocious war that almost split apart our Union, not to mention the personal, destructive toll it wrought by its outright savagery.  Following is the the link for the fantastic Washington Post story, that inspired me to write this post,  on this heartbreaking letter:


Was Sullivan Ballou’s plaint more a love letter or more a statement of patriotism?  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Senseless wars (and is there a war that makes sense?)  undeniably annihilate every form of love.  If at any time you feel the need to fight, turn around, look at your family, listen to this agonizingly lamentable letter and magical music —- and then retreat.  To engage is to lose.  Rise above the rhetoric, even though the principles may be correct.  Our methods in battling for good causes must be re-evaluated and altered.  What good is a new bloodbath used to end a previous bloodbath??  No good at all.

So take a few minutes of solitude to listen to this piece of history accompanied by this spiritually moving score.  Its beauty and lasting impression has stayed with me for over twenty years.  For me, this small piece of “The Civil War” documentary has yet to lose its meaning and impact.



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2 Responses to “Timeless Reminder: A Soldier’s Letter Home From the Civil War”

  1. NatalieR Says:

    This is a poignant post. My keyboard is stained with tears both from knowing what love is and experiencing it in return while loving my country and its brilliant Constitution which is, I believe, taking a pummeling. I wonder if our nation as we knew it will survive. Part of that video was, Ken Burn’s immortal and inspiring documentary of our nation’s most divisive Civil War. I believe the shadow of its division follows us today and most probably will to the end of my days as we see the fruits of its dysfunction in Washington at this moment.

    The other part of this documentary and stated at the end “Glory” was of course taken from that film about the Massachusetts 54th regiment — a regiment of black freed slave soldiers who fought valiantly led by an abolitionist Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. A statute commemorating it exists as one climbs up the steps to the Massachusetts state house which I have seen many times. I enclose this link from Wiki at the bottom about the Massachusetts 54th.

    The roots of our nation’s split, I believe, centers around the two facets of this blog. One is the constant fight defining our Founders intent about states rights and the other is the virulent racism that cloaks itself in this fight.

    Our dramatic debt tragedy is symptom of all of this leading to the clash of two forces. There is much rancor which I believe centers around a conservative base and its never ending malevolence about race. Of this to me there can be NO doubt as one segment of a party holds all of us hostage because paying for the poor –, some but certainly not all of whom are black — rubs against the Republican mainly white man’s skin like a festering sore. It is the Civil War fought 150 years ago that is etched on our nation’s psyche and which has not ended proving that war was incompletely won leaving past generations, our own generation and those that follow to continue the fight begun so long ago.

    We do not know how this war we are waging will turn out. Will our nation survive or will it fall as other nations have torn by divisions it cannot rectify and which have existed for over 350 years?


  2. NatalieR Says:

    My reply was incomplete becasue part of the blog of course centers around the fact that war — ALL wars — are fought by real human beings whose love of family, each other and country provides the rationale for why we fight. In the end the wars and its dead will be forgotten but that which remains out of man’s violent anger is its opposite: love

    I post the documentary trailer entitled “Why We Fight” and why we are indoctrinated TO fight giving up family, hearth and home to do so. The Civil War saved a nation. The Vietnam War, Iraq I and II, Libya and millions of other bombs we have dropped on so many countries may sink it! Is this what our Founders had in mind?


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