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Mrs Lydia Bixby

In the film Saving Private Ryan, General George Marshal, the American Chief of Staff for the Army, reads from a letter sent by President Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was thought to have lost all five of her sons fighting in the American Civil War.

Executive Mansion,
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 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,

A. Lincoln

Although living in the north, Mrs. Bixby was a Confederate sympathizer and destroyed the letter shortly after receiving it, however, not before the text was printed in her local newspaper.

It was also later discovered that only two of her five sons had died in battle. Of the other sons, one deserted, one was discharged honourably while it is unclear whether the third deserted or died as a POW.

An extract from the letter, The solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom adorns the memorial at the American Military Cemetery in Hawaii.

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