Abraham Lincoln Consoles Mrs. Lydia Bixby on the Loss of Five Sons
in the Civil War
"THIS DUST WAS ONCE THE MAN"
This dust was once the man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute, under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of these States.
This is one of the most quoted letters in
American history. It is a typical example of Lincoln's simple humility
yet timeless prose which tells so much about the author. As Viscount Bryce
says of this letter: "I do not know where the nobility of self-sacrifice
for a great cause, and of the consolation which the thought of a sacrifice
so made should bring, is set forth with such simple and pathetic beauty.
Deep must be the fountains from which there issues so pure a stream."
Mrs. Bixby first came to the attention of
President Lincoln when he was informed by the State Adjutant General,
William Schouler, that she has sent five sons into the Union armies,
and all five had been killed in action. Lincoln subsequently waited until
after the upcoming elections and then sat down and penned this letter
to Mrs. Bixby in his own hand.
According to Carl Sandburg, Lincoln in this
letter "performed a rite, managing language as though he might be
a ship captain at midnight by lantern light, dropping black roses into
the immemorial sea for mystic remembrance and consecration... Here was
a piece of the American Bible..."
"...how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine..."
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864
To Mrs. Bixby, Boston,
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,