While stumbling around the Internet, I came across the (apparently famous) American Civil War letter from Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah. The eloquence of this man’s words echoes across a century and half with such truth and poignancy that I had to share it.
As writers, we’re constantly trying to put ourselves in our characters’ shoes, to feel what they feel, think what they think. Whether you’re writing a fantasy, historical or romance, it’s hard to get a closer, more intimate view of the eve of a battle than this letter.
Not only is the language and cadence gorgeous, we can also glean real insights into both love and war. Here are the lines that flat out stopped me and made me wish I could write something half so moving:
...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.
...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.
...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.
...When my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
...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.
Wow. Just wow.
You can read the letter in its entirety here.