Abraham Lincoln’s letter of condolence to Mrs Bixby, who lost sons in the Civil War (1864)

Painting of Abraham Lincoln

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Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs Bixby

Revisited in the Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) April 23, 1965

Among the most famous letters in history was the one written near the end of the Civil War by President Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston.

The Governor of Massachusetts asked Lincoln to write it. Both men had been misinformed. Two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons had “died gloriously on the field of battle,” one was a prisoner of the Confederacy at the time the letter was written and later was honorably discharged.

One had deserted and went to sea to escape the penalty for desertion, while another was captured and went over to the enemy.

Regardless of these ironic developments, the letter shows the President’s commiseration for a grieving mother, and his mastery of the English language. In fact, at the time the letter was written, she probably still believed that all her sons had died in battle.

Brasenose College, Oxford University in England has for a long time displayed the letter as a model of pure English. 

The letter was sent to Adj. Gen. Schouler of Massachusetts, who delivered it on November 25 to Mrs. Bixby.

The five Bixby sons

Charles N. Bixby was killed on May 3, 1863, at Fredericksburg.

Henry Cromwell Bixby had been reported missing, and later reported as killed, but was taken prisoner and honorably discharged on December 19, 1864, or less than a month after Lincoln wrote his letter.

Edward Bixby went to sea after deserting from Company C, 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.

Oliver Cromwell Bixby was killed July 30, 1864, in the Crater fight at Petersburg, Virginia.

George Way Bixby deserted to the enemy at Salisbury, North Carolina, after he was captured.

A version of the handwritten Bixby letter, later released

Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby with bust length portrait of Lincoln

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“The cherished memory of the loved and lost”

President Lincoln’s letter of condolence was delivered to Lydia Bixby on November 25, 1864, and was republished in newspapers around the country. The text read as follows.

Executive Mansion
Washington, November 21, 1864

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.

Dear Madam,

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 to 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,

A. Lincoln.

Lincoln’s Bixby letter of condolence: A noble letter from the President

As published in the Cleveland Daily Leader (Cleveland, Ohio) November 28, 1864

Letter from the President to a Poor Widow who has Lost Five Sons by the War

BOSTON, November 25, 1864 — Mrs Bixby, the recipient of the following letter from President Lincoln, is a poor widow living in the Eleventh Ward of this city. Her sixth son, who was severely wounded in a recent battle, is now lying in the Readville Hospital.

Lincoln Bixby letter Cleveland Daily Leader Nov 28 1864

ALSO SEE: Abraham Lincoln quotes: Famous sayings from a wise leader

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