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Letter to Mrs. BixbyIn the autumn of 1864 Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew wrote to President Lincoln asking him to express condolences to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. Lincoln's letter to her was printed by the Boston Evening Transcript. Later it was revealed that only two of Mrs. Bixby's five sons died in battle (Charles and Oliver). Of the remainder, one deserted the army, one was honorably discharged, and another deserted or died a prisoner of war.
The authorship of the letter has been debated by scholars, some of whom believe it was written instead by John Hay, one of Lincoln's White House secretaries. The original letter was either destroyed by the newspaper editor after publication or by Mrs. Bixby, who may have been a Confederate sympathizer and disliked President Lincoln. Copies of an early forgery have been circulating for many years, causing some people to believe they have the original letter.
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.
Burlingame, Michael. "New Light on the Bixby Letter." Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter 1995.
Emerson, Jason. "America's Most Famous Letter." American Heritage, Vol. 57, No. 1, February/March 2006.
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