A Century-Old Abraham Lincoln Mystery May Finally Have an Answer


Sergeant Major
Oct 26, 2016
Just came across this today:


"In November of 1864, a woman named Lydia Bixby received a letter from President Abraham Lincoln. He had been told that she had lost five sons to the then-ongoing Civil War. A Massachusetts state official had, learning of her plight, passed along her story. His request eventually made it to the White House.

Though Bixby's original copy of the letter was quickly destroyed or lost, the state official had also shared the text with the Boston Evening Telegraph, which published it.

"I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement," the letter
noted, "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."

The brief, but eloquent missive struck a chord for many in the war-torn nation, and it has since become famous as
one of the best letters written in the history of the English language.

But it's also one of the most "
controversial" documents in Lincoln's large body of writings. Though the letter has other complications to its history — such as, for example, the fact that it wasn't true that Bixby had lost five sons, and despite her Boston address, her family said she was a Confederate sympathizer — the main point of contention has been whether or not Lincoln actually wrote it. Many historians have wondered whether perhaps it was written instead by his secretary, John Hay."

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)


1st Lieutenant
Mar 29, 2015
Melbourne Australia
the fact that it wasn't true that Bixby had lost five sons, and despite her Boston address, her family said she was a Confederate sympathizer
Two interesting features of the story ... the letter was most likely not written by Lincoln AND what gave rise to the letter was not true. I was more amazed by the latter than the former. Thanks for posting.
Mar 25, 2014

"But she had actually lost only two boys in the war. Of the three others, one had deserted to the enemy, another may have deserted, and the third was honorably discharged."

"She may have been hoping for money. In 1862 she claimed that one of her sons had been wounded at Antietam and asked for financial help to visit him in a Maryland hospital; Governor Andrew gave her forty dollars. War Department records contain no indication that any of Mrs. Bixby’s sons were wounded at Antietam. She also received money from the public after Schouler published an appeal in the Boston Traveller , in November 1864, for funds to assist families wishing to provide “good New England Thanksgiving dinners” to troops in the field. He made a special plea for “a poor but most worthy widow lady … who sent five sons into this war, all the children she had, every one of whom has fallen nobly in battle.” A few days later the Traveller reported that “a considerable amount of money was received for soldiers’ families, and some was sent especially for the lady to whom allusion was made. General Schouler visited her and left the money, and called yesterday to see that she had everything comfortable for Thanksgiving.”

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Feb 23, 2013
East Texas
I had never hear of this letter before nor have I seen Saving Private Ryan so this was a new one to me!
SO interesting to me on all accounts!
Like so many other Civil War-related things this used to be famous - enough so that it was even reproduced in English textbooks as examples of Lincoln's writing as well as his humanity. Naturally, since it all occurred "in the olden times" it's now out-of-fashion to recall such trivial things!


Feb 20, 2005
I'll join in the chorus that John Hay wrote it. Still, Lincoln signed it and so it is his letter.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)