My seventh graders were graphing proportional relationships in Room 3 of E. E. Brownell Middle School when President Trump was being inaugurated, so I missed it the first time. When I went to lunch, however, several people stopped me and told me that without reading Aftermath of Battle, they would not have known who Sullivan Ballou was. Now I was intrigued.
Finally someone said that someone–not sure who–had read part of a letter–maybe all?–from a Civil War guy–not sure which one, but the one in the book, pretty sure–at the Inaugural.
With all this info to guide me, I googled up “Ballou + Inauguration” and there it was! Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) did indeed read parts of Sullivan Ballou’s famous letter at Mr. Trump’s inaugural.
“We Americans have always been a forward-looking, problem-solving, optimistic, patriotic, and decent people,” Schumer explained. Then, drawing on Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Schumer said this:
Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we’re immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we’re all exceptional in our commonly held yet fierce devotion to our country and our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.
Schumer went on to say that we could gain strength from reading history, and from listening to the voices of average Americans. Sullivan Ballou was not necessarily an average American, but his words have been used before to illustrate the point that all people share certain attributes. Ken Burns used his words to remind us that the soldiers we read about were people before they were military, and that they loved their families, even if they must leave them. Senator Schumer used the same document, but chose different words.
Schumer stressed the love of country that Ballou, standing in for thousands of volunteer troops on both sides, also wrote about. Just one week before he died, Major Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island wrote, in part:
My Very Dear Wife:
Indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps to-morrow. 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 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, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle-field for any 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 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 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.
I think that it does not matter if you wear a red baseball cap or a pink cat beanie–when politics begins to sound like nothing more than noise, and the talking heads are screaming incessantly, it is soothing balm to jangled nerves to think back to another time of division in America and remember that we managed to come out of that, somehow. Let us look to history again for guidance as we wend our way through it this time.
The entire letter can be read at http://www.civil-war.net/pages/sullivan_ballou.asp