letterDid you know? Legend has it that on Nov. 21, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln wrote a condolence letter to a mother who had lost five sons in the Civil War. The depicted image is nothing but a copy rendered of Lincoln’s infamous letter to widow and mother of five men, Lydia Bixby, whose sons allegedly died while fighting for the Union in the Civil War. This letter holds an air of mystery around it as the original letter signed by Lincoln has never been found, and some historians debate Lincoln even wrote the letter himself. The letter grew in fame and notoriety when a copy of it was published just four days after it was supposedly transcribed by the president. On Nov. 25, 1864 a copy of the letter was published in the Boston Evening Transcript.

At that time, it was common for copies of presidential messages to be published and sold as souvenirs, so it would make sense Lincoln’s letter was in the Boston Evening Transcript. However, some historians seem to think the letter was actually written by Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. The mystery of the legitimacy of the letter grew when scholars discovered Mrs. Bixby actually only seemed to lose three sons during the Civil War, the other one was honorably discharged and the second was dishonorably thrown out of the Army. While the loss of three sons is still unimaginable, the letter claiming the loss of all five has thrown it into the unknown facts of history. Perhaps a report came in wrong and Lincoln truly believed she had lost five of her children or maybe during the grief surrounding the country at the time Lincoln wanted to offer up condolences to the nation and thought Mrs. Bixby’s story was the best to address, having his secretary help.   

Whatever the truth behind the letter is, it has only grown in infamy in the modern day as it was quoted in the famous movie Saving Private Ryan by the character Gen. George C. Marshall who was played by Harve Presnell. The movie tells the story of Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his men as the go behind enemy lines to find Private Ryan. Ryan’s three brothers have been killed in combat. The soldiers set out hoping to save Ryan’s mother from the same fate as Mrs. Bixby. While the Lincoln letter’s origins are unclear, the words contained within it still inspire compassion for U.S. soldiers and their families to this day.