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Letter to Mrs. Bixby - Abraham Lincoln

Letter to Mrs. Bixby
The history of this real letter is a storied one to say the least. It was printed in the Boston papers at the time and has been used in the movie Saving Private Ryan. In the autumn of 1864 Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew wrote to President Lincoln asking him to express condolences to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War.

The mother who received this letter, Lydia Bixby, is somewhat of a mystery herself. Later it was revealed that only two of Mrs. Bixby's five sons died in battle; Pvt. Oliver C. Bixby Jr., while serving with Company E of the 58th Massachusetts at Petersburg; and Sgt. Charles N. Bixby was killed while serving with Company D of the 20th Massachusetts near Fredericksburg.
  • Fun Fact
    This letter became very well known in 1998 after its use in the film Saving Private Ryan.

Letter to Mrs. Bixby of Boston

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

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 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

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

Note - The authorship of this letter is much debated and many scholars believe it was actually written John Hay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries.

President Lincoln wrote this letter expressing condolences to Mrs. Bixby, a widow who it was believed had lost five sons in the Civil War.

After Lincoln wrote this letter it was later learned that only two of Mrs. Bixby's five sons had actually died in battle. In fact, one of her sons had deserted the army, one was honorably discharged and it is unclear what happened to the other son.

Mrs. Bixby was believed to be a Confederate sympathizer and destroyed the original letter.

A reprint of the letter appeared in an eastern newspaper.

Letter written to Mrs. Bixby in Boston after all 5 of her sons were killed in battle. This is a scene from Saving Private Ryan.
Abe Lincoln History