Thanks in great part to my current obsession with family photos and lore, Hubby and I just watched the first segment of Ken Burns’ masterful documentary The Civil War.
At the end of part one, needless to say, we were both in tears.
Towards the end of the segment, they read aloud this letter by Sullivan Ballou, a 32-year-old soldier in the Union Army, to his 24-year-old wife. He was killed in the first battle of Bull Run, a week after writing this:
July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days-perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .
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 sufferings 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 . . .
Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And 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 grown 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 when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .
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 cheek, it shall be my breath, as 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 . . .
And my personal sidebar:
My Great-Great-Grandfather Arthur Parks was 16 years old in July of 1864 when he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 when he surrendered his arms with his commander, General Robert E. Lee – thus ending 4 years of war, with over 630,000 casualties.
This picture is of the Appomattox Court House with Union soldiers in 1865, from Wikipedia.
My family has a newspaper article from 1939, in which Arthur Parks was interviewed about his experiences in the war. In part, he says:
“The picket lines of the two armies were about a quarter of a mile apart. If the officer of the day of both armies was not around,or not too critical, we often talked to the men on the other side. We exchanged newspapers, candy, tobacco and trinkets when not under the observation of the superior officers. This was usually accomplished when a pre-determined “flag of truce” was hoisted by both sentries, who would leave their guns, come out and meet each other for a visit and exchange newspapers, tobacco, etc.”
About the surrender, he is quoted saying:
“In the morning riders drove through our camp, bearing the flag of truce, and the drummers began beating the long roll of truce and surrender, I knew the war was over, and that the North had gained the victory. We were then marched up, stacked our arms, and it was about three o’clock in the afternoon that I saw General Grant and General Lee riding down the street, and the conflict between the North and the South was at it’s end.”
He also said:
I can truthfully say that I bear malice towards no one, and a great relief went up from my heart when the war was declared at an end. It was just like a great neighborhood gathering, when old friends meet after many years.”
“While several of my cousins were killed in battle fighting for the cause of the Confederacy, and several others including my uncles were severely wounded, I never had the opportunity to fire a single shot at any Union soldier during my service in the Confederate army.”
This is my Great-Great-Grandfather from a newspaper clipping
And here he is with some of his great-grandchildren, including my mother (2nd from right)
He lost his right arm in 1924 when he was attacked by a savage hog. He lived to be just days short of 99 years old.