Ballou’s Civil War Letter and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

The Civil War has interested me since I was in elementary school. I remember being on vacation in Ocean City one summer and meeting a girl from Virginia while swimming in the pool. I remember telling her she had lost the war. She laughed, not in the least offended. Of course, when I lived in South Carolina for 14 years I was older and hopefully wiser. I knew I was in “enemy” territory and dare not say such a thing.

My sister gets the Washington Post and last week there was an article about a letter sent by a soldier, Sullivan Ballou to his wife before the Battle of Bull Run, which has its 150 anniversary this week. Here is the text of the letter. What heart filled writing of a husband to his wife. He was killed in the battle. You may be familiar with the letter if you watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the Civil War. Here is the audio of the reading of the letter from the documentary.

Such power in that letter. We have really lost the art of writing letters, haven’t we? We often phone or Skype those who live far away or else email, text, Twitter or Facebook. And yet a letter is something so wonderful. You can go back and read it again and again. I’m sure you have some letter sent to you that you have kept, and reread because it was special. A friend in high school sent me a letter after my dad died. It was short and so encouraging that I kept it in my Bible and often went back to it.

I don’t have a letter from my dad. We do have letters from mom, which are special as she has trouble writing now. I did have some letters that my uncle Charlie wrote to my dad while he was in the service right after World War II ended, I believe. One of my aunts who stilled lived on the farm had those letters and gave them to me a number of years ago. They had old stamps on the envelopes that she thought I might want to add to my collection. I never took the stamps off the envelopes because I knew those letters were more valuable than the stamps. His letters were simple, explaining what he was doing, asking about his brothers working on the farm. Newsy, upbeat. He even made mention of a certain girl that he ended up marrying. When he died, I remembered the letters. I thought his wife and children would appreciate them much more than I did and so I found them and the day of the funeral gave them to my aunt.

The year I got cancer we were celebrating Christmas at my sister’s house and I wanted to make sure I had a letter for those there that morning. I wanted to let each of them know how much I loved them so I got some special paper and since my handwriting is atrocious I used the computer to make a special letter. They really appreciated them.

I think I better finish here because as I was writing this, I thought of someone who I want to write. Anyone come to your mind, who would appreciate a letter from you?

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3 Responses to Ballou’s Civil War Letter and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

  1. Diane H says:

    was it me you wrote?

  2. Tim says:

    Hmm… Letter writing truly is a beautiful thing…

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