Abraham Lincoln, John Hay, and the Bixby Letter

by Michael Burlingame

Most moviegoers are aware that Abraham Lincoln’s letter of condolence to Lydia Bixby, a widow who purportedly had lost five sons in the Civil War, looms large in Stephen Spielberg’s recent film, Saving Private Ryan. Dated November 21, 1864, the letter reads as follows: “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 words 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 alter of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln.

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