For Love and Liberty: The Untold Civil War Story of Major Sullivan Ballou and His Famous Love Letter

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9781560258964: For Love and Liberty: The Untold Civil War Story of Major Sullivan Ballou and His Famous Love Letter

In the fall of 1990, the Civil War recaptured our imagination by way of an ambitious, nine-episode documentary that appeared on public television. Today, the millions of Americans who tuned in probably only remember one moment from it: "The Letter." Read as the music soared at the end of the first episode, the letter from unsung Rhode Island soldier Sullivan Ballou to his wife on the eve of battle — and likely death — brought a nation of viewers to tears for its eloquence and passion.

This is Ballou's story. At the age of thirty-four, less than ten years after meeting the love of his life, Sarah Shumway, Ballou left his law practice and budding political career, his wife and two young sons, to take a commission as a major in the Union Army. He served in the army for almost two months but was struck down at the First Battle of Manassas-Bull Run.

Undoubtedly the most moving Civil War tale since Cold Mountain, For Love and Liberty brings the war to life with startling detail, depicting the heroism of its soldiers, but also the courage of the families they left behind.

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About the Author:

Robin Young was educated at California State University at Fullerton and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She taught public policy in the graduate program at California State University at Long Beach for ten years and has lectured widely on topics ranging from genealogical research to the Civil War. At the age of 27 she was elected mayor of La Habra, California, making her the youngest mayor in U.S. history. She lives in southern California.

From Publishers Weekly:

If you watched Ken Burns's Civil War documentary, you probably remember the touching narration of a letter Sullivan Ballou, an officer in a Rhode Island regiment, wrote to his wife on the eve of the war's first major conflict. Young tries to tell this couple's story, but is only fitfully successful. Although early sections do shed some light on Sullivan's life before the war, there simply isn't enough information about the Ballous to sustain an 800-plus-page book. Young winds up quoting the famous letter twice in its entirety, and the narrative thread is frequently overwhelmed by her rehashing of the slavery debate and early days of the Civil War. She also buries the Ballous under pages of historical minutiae detailing everything from rifle-loading techniques to contemporary household advice. A huge chunk in the middle does actually provide an exhaustive account of the Battle of Bull Run, but again, Young so often pulls back for the big picture that it becomes difficult to keep track of Sullivan and his ultimately fatal injuries on the battlefield. There's a moving story about families torn apart by war in here, but finding it is an exercise in frustration. (Feb.)
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