We owe a large debt to all those who have gone before us, especilly those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the promise of America was kept alive for the next generation. It is part of the reason I am proud to have served and done my part to defend our great country.
I am the 13th Generation of a family that came to Massachusetts in 1635. Our first Ancestor, Walter, came to the colonies as an indentured servant having been sold into servitude by his family in England (a common practice back then and a way for the younger person to learn a trade) He was between 10-12 years old at the time and had to work 18 years to repay that servitude to become a " Freeman ", which allowed him to vote, own land and exercise all the rights of a free citizen had under the Crown in the colonies.
The many members of the family that followed from this humble start branched out across Massachusetts and what eventually became Rhode Island. The main group of my ancestors settled in the Blackstone Valley area of Cumberland and Woonsocket, which at one point were part of Massachusetts until the border line was moved north in the final demarcation of RI & MASS.
One of the things that was also a common practice back in that time of the late 1700s - early 1800 was that your family would make alliances to have your children marry into each other's families to ensure that the land & family wealth would stay with the family as opposed to having some interloper coming in, marry your daughter and take the family farm & fortune in the deal.
In that way, we have been able to trace my family's ancestry to three other families in that area - the Snow, White & Ballou families. My Mother was lucky enough to meet a woman back in 1964 who had the entire lineage of our family documented (long before you could do this online). My Mother hand typed out a copy of the record on a manual typewriter amounting to 110 pages of records.
The updated copy we now possess details of all the births, death & marriages in the 14 generations (my kids being the 14th generation) back to Walter in 1635.
One of our relatives is a gentleman named Major Sullivan Ballou. He died at First Battle of Bull Run 150 years ago this week.
Major Sullivan Ballou (March 28, 1829 – July 28, 1861) was a lawyer, politician, and officer in the United States Army. He is best remembered for the eloquent letter he wrote to his wife a week before he fought and was mortally wounded alongside his Rhode Island Volunteers in the First Battle of Bull Run.
Ballou married Sarah Hunt Shumway on October 15, 1855. They had two sons, Edgar and William. In his letter to his wife, Ballou attempted to crystallize the emotions he was feeling: worry, fear, guilt, sadness and, most importantly, the pull between his love for her and his sense of duty.
The letter was featured prominently in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, where it was paired with Jay Ungar's musical piece "Ashokan Farewell" and read by Paul Roebling. However, the documentary featured a shortened version of the letter, which did not contain many of Ballou's personal references to his family and his upbringing. It has been difficult to identify which of the several extant versions is closest to the one he actually sent, as the original seems not to have survived.
The following is an extended version:
July the 14th, 1861 Washington D.C.
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 you again, I feel impelled to write 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 upon 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 their 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.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you 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 irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
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 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 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 when 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 and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms 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 brightest day and in the darkest night—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 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 me, 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. 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.
The letter may never have been mailed; it was found in Ballou's trunk after he died. It was reclaimed and delivered to Ballou's widow by Governor William Sprague, either after Sprague had traveled to Virginia to reclaim the effects of dead Rhode Island soldiers, or from Camp Sprague in Washington, D.C