Chuck Schumer Channels Major Sullivan Ballou

thMy 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.

200px-sullivan_ballouSchumer 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


12 Responses to Chuck Schumer Channels Major Sullivan Ballou

    1. Mr. Mussey your comment is totally out-of-line as to the intent of this story written by Ms. Groeling. There are just too many barnacles attached to your thinking processes to fully grasp the story she was telling.

  1. I agree with Guy wholeheartedly.

    Schumer characterizing Americans as “forward-looking, problem-solving, optimistic, patriotic and decent people” was definitely politically biased – biased against ISIS and other foreign groups that hate the USA.

    In order to be fair and unbiased toward these America-haters, Schumer should have characterized us Americans as “backward-looking, problem-making, unpatriotic and indecent people.”

    And what about Schumer encouraging Americans to study history? Outrageous!! The New York senator obviously is politically biased toward folks who believe studying history is a waste of time. Instead, Schumer should have called on ECW and other organizations that encourage the study of history to immediately cease their politically biased activities.

    1. Well-stated. Anybody who reads the post and think that it’s politically biased is looking at a different website.

  2. Hooah! I’m with Chris & the others on this. After Guy’s response, I read Meg’s post over several times and just don’t sense the bias there. Quoting Chuck Schumer and what he said does not make this politically biased. Civility– like the sense of patriotism and personal sacrifice that Ballou’s letter exudes– is a noble human virtue and a worthy American value. A value these days that sometimes seems lacking on both Right and Left. Collectively, I believe these are values that we all– as Schumer said “Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we’re immigrant or native-born [etc.]…” and, as Meg wrote, whether wearing “red baseball cap or a pink cat beanie” can, do and should aspire to.

  3. After reading everyone’s comments, I decided to re-read Ms. Groeling’s article to prove my point. After reading it several times, I sheepishly must agree that I was out of line. I violated a primary tenet of mine to never put in writing anything in anger or not thought out. I violated that belief and paid the price.
    Ms. Groeling, you’re article was indeed inspiring and I hope we can learn from the sentiments of Chuck Schumer and Sulivan Ballou. I most sincerely apologize.

    1. Mr. Mussey–I accept your elegant apology, although one was never needed. If you are ever in Central CA, please come by and join us for Porch Wars, where we sit on my front porch, drink stuff, smoke cigars and talk about war. It is a select little club, and we would love to welcome you!

  4. Meg thanks for article! I’m not sure what Chuck Schumacher was thinking but at Manassas we tell the story of Sullivan Ballou as a human side of soldiers who have premonitions of dying in battle. The soldiers after First Manassas/Bull Run Battle from both sides knew this was going to be a long bloody war. They didn’t know it was going to take four years but Schumer does!

    1. I did a lengthy chapter on what happened to his remains after 1st Bull Run in my book Aftermath of Battle. When I have given talks about the incident, there has been some sharp questioning from the Confederate folks. I try to put the entire thing in perspective, but sometimes I think I fail at my mission. If one sees an enemy soldier as another human, it becomes difficult to kill him. Part of the whole “war mentality,” I guess you might call it ,is the demonizing of the enemy. Sullivan Ballou was just in the nicer coffin.

      He was a very compelling man–very much a typical Yankee/self-made type. One more of the best and brightest gone in a terrible war–on both sides.

  5. Thanks for article Meg! Not sure what Schumer was thinking but at Manassas we interpet Sullivan Ballou as a soldiers premonition of death in the battle to come. The soldiers of both sides knew after First Manassas/Bull Run battle that it was going to be a long bloody war. They didn’t know it was going to last four years but maybe that’s what Schumer thinking!

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