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In 1990, Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The Civil War introduced the nation to a letter from a Union officer to his wife that expressed in deeply moving terms his love for her, his children, and his country. Just a month after Major Sullivan Ballou wrote the letter, in which he tells his wife, Sarah, of his conviction that he will die in battle but be reunited with her in the next world, he was fatally wounded at First Bull Run. In the past 27 years, copies of the letter have been found, but none is in Ballou’s handwriting. Is it possible that he didn’t write it? Author Robert Grandchamp raises that question, and Civil War experts Stephen Cushman and Shirley Samuels weigh in. Here are transcriptions of the famous letter and examples of letters to Sarah Ballou known to be in her husband’s handwriting. You be the judge.

Sullivan Ballou (USAHEC)

For our November 2017 feature article which delves deeper into the mystery behind the letter’s authorship, click here:

To read the full transcript of the famous July 14, 1861, letter from Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah:…allou-wife-sarah.htm ‎

To read the transcript of a second July 14 letter from Sullivan Ballou to Sarah:

To read a transcript of a July 10 letter from Sullivan Ballou to Sarah:…lou-sarah-ballou.htm ‎

To read the transcript of a July 19 letter from Sullivan Ballou to Sarah…lou-sarah-ballou.htm ‎

For more about the grisly fate of Sullivan Ballou’s remains: