Washington, Nov. 21, 1864
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 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,
[As it turns out, this letter, made even more famous when read in the film Saving Private Ryan, may have been written by John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary. Further, only two of Mrs. Bixby’s five sons had died in battle. One was honorably discharged, one was dishonorably discharged, and another deserted or died in a prison camp. Not that losing three sons in whatever way isn’t horrible enough.]