The following was a letter written to Lydia Bixby, a widow who sent five sons to fight in the Civil War. At the time, it was believed that all five had died in battle; it later turned out that only three were unaccounted for. The attribution of the letter is also contested. The words, though, speak for themselves, and their publishing under Lincoln's name has only served to heighten their impact. They are a reminder of what the war came to mean to Americans.
Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
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,