Looking and Listening for Eloquence

Michael Milburn in The Hedgehog Review:

For many viewers, the highlight of Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War is the reading of a poignant letter from a Union soldier to his wife a week before he is killed in the First Battle of Bull Run. “Sarah, my love for you is deathless,” Major Sullivan Ballou writes from his unit’s camp in Washington, DC. “It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence can break; and yet, my love of country comes over me like a strong wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains to the battlefield.” Concluding the series’ premiere episode in September 1990, the letter became the equivalent of a viral phenomenon in that pre-social media age: “Within minutes of the first night’s broadcast,” Burns said a year later, “the phone began ringing off the hook with calls from across the country, eager to find out about Sullivan Ballou….The calls would not stop all week—and they continue.” The letter still resonates today—Senator Chuck Schumer read an excerpt at Donald Trump’s inauguration—and in multiple articles turned up by a Google search, the word that recurs most frequently to praise it is “eloquent.”

More here.