A love letter for the ages

headstone for Major Sullivan Ballou

July 29, 2011 · 8 comments

I’d like to share something that has really meant a lot to me.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first battle at Bull Run during the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest battle fought on American soil up to that point. One of the soldiers, Major Sullivan Ballou, sensed he would not survive the impending battle and wrote a love letter to his wife and two small sons. The letter is heartbreaking, romantic, and inspirational. I have a degree in American literature, and along the way I’ve read many books by our greatest authors, yet nothing I have ever read is as well-written as this young soldier’s letter. It is hard to read his letter without becoming emotional. His touching words still speak much to us today.

I sincerely hope you’ll be able to take a few minutes out of your busy day to listen to a reading of the letter on the video link provided below. The narrator is John Chancellor, the late NBC news anchor. His narration was part of the epic Ken Burns film, The Civil War.

Today, July 29th, is the actual date of the 150th anniversary that Major Sullivan Ballou died as a result of injuries suffered on the battlefield.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Dean February 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm

“Hello. My name is Dean. I am 57 years of age. I was asked to take a moment to comment on the words, and video re-garding “Major Sullivan Ballou”. I have held the short story version, dear to my heart, for many years.
I would like to make a comment, on the beauty, and the expression of love, loss and pain, I felt while watching this video, remembering the words of his letter, I memorized long ago. Words of a story, only I could feel. It”s a nice feeling to know, there are others out there who feel the same.”

Mike Stevens February 16, 2012 at 9:02 am

Hi Dean,nice to hear from you. I agree, the words of Major Ballou are unforgettable. He must have been a very thoughtful man, I’m sure his wife was heartbroken… I wonder whatever became of her.It sounds a little sappy, but the truth is, this letter makes me want to be a better husband. Interesting how a great leader can affect the lives of others many years later….

michelle spurlock July 30, 2011 at 2:35 am

Thank you for sharing. It is indeed beautiful and touching, yet I agree with another reader-while something like this is a rarity today, it was not so unusual for its time. Back in “the day” the written word was valued and pride taken in a well crafted piece. A generation or so ago, the “Reader’s Digest” version began creeping in, and the erosion of the written word has continued until today, with email and especially text messaging consisting of little more than phonetics and acronyms.
That is one of the reasons I subscribed to your blog, Mike-besides the relevancy to us as a fellow printer and Christian, you have mastered the art of a beautifully turned phrase.

mike stevens August 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Hi Michelle, I must have gotten too busy. Shame on me. I just re-read this comment of yours and I must say it means a lot to me. You have the gift of encouragement, and I have benefited from it here. Thank you for your kind words.

Thoughtful indeed…


Steve Young July 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm


One of my alltime favorite programs is Ken Burns’ Civil War. And this is probably one of the most moving stories told in the whole show. Although there are many that give it a run for the money.

Mr. & Mrs. Ballou are a fine part of our history now, not soon to be forgotten. The music in the background of the violin playing “Ashokan Farewell” while the narrator reads Ballou’s letter written to his wife still gives me goose bumps.

In spite of all of this country’s insanity, especially what goes on in DC right now, I am so proud to be an American. Sometimes even when we are fighting one another over our political differences.

Thanks Mike!

Steve Young

Mike Stevens July 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I admire the creative genius of Ken Burns and respect his work ethic. I just bought ‘The Civil War’ DVD set a few months ago, and have already watched it twice. It is a very thought-provoking documentary. Understanding the Civil War helps me understand our great country. Thanks for writing, Steve…


Gerry Engelhart July 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm


thank you


David July 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for sharing. That is one great letter. I may not always comment on your blogs but I always read them. I felt this one required a response.

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