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,
SOURCE: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 8, p. 116-7, which also contains the following annotation: “Boston Transcript, November 25, 1864. The purported facsimiles of this letter have long been adjudged to be forgeries, but there is no reason to question the authenticity of the text of the letter which appeared in the Transcript and other contemporary sources. Controversy over the claim that John Hay composed this letter has somewhat abated, with the claim remaining unproved. Lincoln was in error as to Mrs. Bixby's five sons because her case had been inaccurately presented to him by the Adjutant General's Office. Later investigations have revealed that only two sons were killed: Sergeant Charles N. Bixby, Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, killed May 3, 1863, and Private Oliver C. Bixby, Fifty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry, killed July 30, 1864. Private George W. (A.?) Way (Bixby), Fifty-sixth Massachusetts Infantry, who had enlisted under an assumed name, was captured July 30, 1864. Imprisoned first at Richmond and later at Salisbury, North Carolina, George Way was reported (1) to have deserted to the enemy and (2) to have died in prison at Salisbury. Neither of these reports has been established beyond doubt. Corporal Henry C. Bixby, Thirty-second Massachusetts Infantry, was honorably discharged at Boston on December 17, 1864. Private Edward (Arthur Edward) Bixby, First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, deserted May 28 or 29, 1862. The most complete single source of information among the several books and pamphlets, as well as the numerous articles on the subject, is F. Lauriston Bullard, Abraham Lincoln and the Widow Bixby (1946).”