Notes on the Bixby Letter

Notes on the Bixby Letter

Abraham Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby is one of the most controversial documents in the Lincoln canon.  Although no original is known to exist, the letter was written on November 21, 1864, and delivered to Mrs. Bixby on November 24 by William Schouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts.  The text of the letter was published in the Boston Transcript on November 25, 1864.

Facsimile of Bixby Letter


                                                                                  Executive Mansion,
                                                                                    Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.

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


Later reproductions of the letter seem to have been made from tracings of Lincoln handwriting in other documents, and the reproductions were sold and distributed widely.

For more information, see Jason Emerson, "America's Most Famous Letter," American Heritage 57 (February/March 2006); Michael Burlingame, "New Light on the Bixby Letter," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 16 (Winter 1995): 59-72; F. Lauriston Bullard, Abraham Lincoln and the Widow Bixby (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1946).