November 21, 1864: Letter to Mrs. Bixby

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 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 altar of Freedom.

 

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

 

A. LINCOLN.

 

It is a magnificent letter and repeats themes from the Gettysburg address and looks forward to the Second Inaugural.  Alas, the letter demonstrates how frequently ill advised it is to rely on government records.  Two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons died fighting for the Union, another died as either a deserter or a prisoner of war and another deserted and survived the war.  The final son was honorably discharged from the Army.  (This is not that unusual.  One of my friends, when it came time for him to retire from the Marines, had quite a time convincing the Pentagon that he had not died fighting in Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968.) Mrs. Bixby did not find the letter of comfort apparently.  According to a granddaughter, Mrs. Bixby was secretly in sympathy with the Confederacy and had little good to say of Mr. Lincoln.  She probably destroyed the letter soon after it was delivered to her on November 24, 1864, as the original letter, which was published at the time, promptly vanished from history.

 

Lincoln, although he signed the letter, may not have written it.  Theodore Roosevelt had a copy of it in his office and greatly admired it.  A witness indicated that at one point his Secretary of State John Hay, who had been one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, stated that he had written the letter, which would not have been an unusual procedure, although Lincoln wrote quite a bit of his own correspondence as President.  The question remains open, although on balance I think the authorship of the letter by Hay, mimicking Lincoln’s thoughts and style, probably has the stronger case than Lincoln’s own authorship. Having said all of that, I assume that Lincoln’s heart did go out to Mrs.  Bixby.  He had seen two of his own sons die, and friends and relatives of his had fallen in the War.  He was a frequent visitor to Union hospitals around Washington to visit the Union wounded and knew well the immense human cost of the War that now, mercifully, was drawing to a close.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSc5eYPidNg

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5 Comments

  1. Losing a son is heartbreaking.
    .
    ” (This is not that unusual. One of my friends, when it came time for him to retire from the Marines, had quite a time convincing the Pentagon that he had not died fighting in Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968.)”
    .
    “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated” George Bernard Shaw on being told he had died.

  2. “Lincoln, although he signed the letter, may not have written it.”

    Lincoln took such a personal interest in individual people and their needs that this letter is very much like something he would write. I have always thought his background in poverty was an incredible gift to his presidency–no sense of entitlement & no “god” complex.”

  3. I always think of Lincoln as being like Obama; they had and have goals and neither cared enough for the misery they caused, to change course. We have a overeaching USG thanks to Lincoln and it is being enlarged by Obama. Both shared the same dream I am afraid and we all are going to pay the price of the dreams of two “royal” men. I say “royal” about Lincoln because it takes that type of person to start an unecessary war. Observe the “royal” attitude of George Bush, who wanted to “big things”, and did.

  4. “I always think of Lincoln as being like Obama; they had and have goals and neither cared enough for the misery they caused, to change course. We have a overeaching USG thanks to Lincoln and it is being enlarged by Obama. Both shared the same dream I am afraid and we all are going to pay the price of the dreams of two “royal” men. I say “royal” about Lincoln because it takes that type of person to start an unecessary war.”

    1. Lincoln did not start the war; a group of Southerners did when they fired on a federal fort.

    2. Yes, Lincoln & his military agents did some things that were outside the bounds of the US Constitution. However, Osama “misspelled on purpose” is working to destroy our national sovereignty; Lincoln was fighting to maintain it.

    3. Lincoln is not responsible for the decade upon decade of socialist policies that future courts/politicians implemented after his death.

    4. To claim that Lincoln operated from the same Socialist ideology as Osama is ludicrous. A major problem that Lincoln had with slavery was that those who owned slaves were benefitting fully from the forced work of the slaves. He said repeatedly that it was immoral to not allow people the benefit of their own labors.

  5. “…an unnecessary war ” to free all men and deliver all unalienable rights guaranteed under the Ninth Amendment already ratified is constituting our nation. What are you talking about????

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