Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Greatest Love Letter, Possibly, Ever

Last night, after our lovely dinner and a day out and about, Beloved and I watched the first episode of The Civil War. It is so brilliant... the way it moves from the national and international forces that brought the nation to war against itself, to the intimate portraits of individuals, prominent and obscure, who lived and loved with that great and horrific war as the backdrop to their lives.

The episode ended with the reading of this letter, to the haunting melody "Ashokan Farewell," while the camera showed image after image of couples, soldiers and wives or sweethearts. (Interestingly, the documentary also showed, at other moments, photos of young men who were visibly physically affectionate with one another, as in this wonderful short piece). I think it might just be the greatest love letter ever written.

July 14,1861
Camp Clark, Washington DC

Dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. And lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am 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 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.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them for so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes and future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and see our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us.

If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that 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, how foolish I have sometimes been!...

But, 0 Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night... always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air 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...

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the 1st Battle of Bull Run.


more cows than people said...

once a man made a radio show for me. he included a recording of this from the film of which you speak. is it any wonder i fell in love, deep, deep love with that man? is it any wonder he will always have a special place in my heart.

Cecilia said...

Oh... oh my... I wish, I wish I could write a letter like that.

Pax, C.

don't eat alone said...

It is a great letter. I have owned that video series for years and go back and watch it just for that segment.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing expression of the deepest of feelings.

Sometimes I look at my BP with tears in my eyes because I love her so very very much, that even the thought of spending our day apart is painful.

This man articulated that feeling.

(the cynic in me wonders how many young men could do the same today, given the sorry state of our educational system.)


Bill said...

Thankyou for that little video. Thankyou very much.

Jan said...

This letter is so beautiful. Thank you--I've never seen or heard of it before. Such love and reassurance for his beloved.

When I went to the first Shalem Intensive Residency this past January, two others went with me to nearby Gettysburg National Cemetary. We were supposed to be in silence, as was everyone else who remained at the retreat center. We mostly observed silence, and this must have contributed to our prayerful attitude as we toured the cemetary. Somehow, we felt the anguish of those in war, both soldiers and those at home. God brought us to a depth of pain never felt before, as we walked and drove--for those in the past and in the present. We felt God weeping.

Cecilia said...

Thanks to all for your responses... I am totally immersed in the Civil War doc now, and so moved by it...

Bill, I found the video through Madpriest's website. Isn't it just lovely? It made me weep.

Pax, C.

Jan said...

Cecilia, I keep thinking about this beautiful letter. I hope you don't mind that I copied it and emailed it to my children (aged 28-17), telling that I wish this kind of love for them. (The oldest two are in committed relationships). Thank you.