Sunday Respite: ‘Arlington’

Remembering all those who have given so much so that we can be free. Best wishes to everyone for an enjoyable weekend with friends and family. Last year I discovered this song, and think it worthy of a repeat. I also give you a moving letter from Captain Ballou at the time of the civil war.

“Arlington” is sung from the viewpoint of a soldier, killed in battle and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It was inspired by United States Marine Corps Corporal Patrick Nixon, who died in battle in 2003.

The following is a letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah (née Shumway) at home in Rhode Island.  Ballou died a week later, at the First Battle of Bull Run.  He was 32.


JULY 14, 1861


Camp Clark, Washington

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 0 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?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

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 oftentimes 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 garish 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 thee, 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.


18 Responses to “Sunday Respite: ‘Arlington’”

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  3. My Article Read (5-30-2016) – Br Andrew's Muses Says:

    […] Sunday Respite: ‘Arlington’ […]


  4. My Article Read (5-27-2016) – My Daily Musing Says:

    […] Sunday Respite: ‘Arlington’ […]


  5. geeez2014 Says:

    That letter knocked me out….so beautifully written, so eloquent, so caring, showing SUCH AMAZING CHARACTER; this, a man who seems to have been raised in an orphanage, can have grown to such stature without his father!
    I wonder what happened to Sarah and I weep for her.
    Am posting this in a comment at my place right now. More should read this.
    The teenaged boys at the high school where I sub should all have to read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bunkerville Says:

      He willing laid down his life so in love with our government, so that we may enjoy our lives. What greater sacrifice. I too wonder if any information can be found regarding his widow and his two sons. Love comes in many forms.


      • geeez2014 Says:

        Well, my dear Bunkerville…look what a friend I’d sent the letter to today found! I know you’ll like to know WHAT HAPPENED TO SARAH AND HER BOYS! Fascinating! enjoy! This will haunt me, I’ll bet it’ll haunt you, too…in a very good way. I just can’t get over the grammar, the poetic beauty of his letter; this, a kid from an orphanage…who later attended Brown University and became a lawyer, and such an honorable man! WOW!
        I’m so glad you posted this, Bunk…thanks so much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bunkerville Says:

        Oh wow. Thanks so much for the research. It makes the letter even more poignant. I had no idea it was part of the program on the Civil war. You made my day. We know so much more. The sacrifice seems even more telling!


  6. Always On Watch Says:

    That letter — so poignant and so eloquent. And so solemn.


  7. petermc3 Says:

    Thanks for these Bunker.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Steve Dennis Says:

    What a wonderful tribute! The song was beautiful and that letter brought tears to my eyes. May God bless all those who fought and died in defense of this nation!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. StBernardnot Says:

    Brought a tear to this old Marines eye.
    ‘Nam 67-68-69

    Liked by 1 person

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