Author: Sullivan Ballou

Sullivan Ballou, Lithograph, US Army Military History Institute

Major Sullivan Ballou (1829–61) served in the Second Rhode Island regiment of the Union army before dying from wounds sustained at the First Battle of Manassas. Ballou was born in Rhode Island and graduated from Brown University before becoming a lawyer. A strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Ballou was elected as a Republican to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1854 and later served as its Speaker. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ballou immediately resigned his seat and volunteered for the Rhode Island Infantry. Today, he is best remembered for the eloquent letter he wrote to his wife, Sarah, shortly before entering battle at Manassas, in which he declared, “If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready.”

Letter to Sarah

Sullivan Ballou

Examples of courage in the face of mortal danger and examples of willing self-sacrifice in the service of country are the subject of story, song, and legend. But rarely do we have a more moving and self-conscious account than the one presented in this letter by Major Sullivan Ballou (1829–61) of the Second Rhode Island regiment of the Union army to his wife, Sarah, early in the Civil War.