The Bixby letter has long been considered one of the finest examples of letter writing. This letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widowed mother thought to have lost five sons in fighting for the Union during the American Civil War, was written in November 1864 in response to a request from Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew.
Although it turned out that not all her sons had died, and the letter’s authorship has been questioned by some, the text itself has been widely praised as some of Lincoln’s finest writing (other oft-praised examples include the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address). Here is the complete text (paragraphed for ease of reading), and below is a facsimile of the original.
Executive Mansion, Washington, November 21, 1864.
Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Massachusetts:
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,
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the 16th President of the United States. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, and mostly self-educated, Lincoln is remembered for successfully leading the United States through the American Civil War.
You may wish to listen to The Battle Hymn of the Republic after you read the letter.