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Lincoln and Loss

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Michael Mazzullo

on 20 August 2014

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Transcript of Lincoln and Loss

Facsimile of the document
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,
Doc 1: Lydia Bixby Letter
Questions of Authorship
Historians debate over the authenticity of this document; many attribute it to John Hay. Literary analysis shows that Lincoln's writings rarely used the term "beguile," while Hay used it over thirty times. Michael Burlingame has been a consistent defender of John Hay's pen on the Bixby Letter. However, the clean prose and lyrical style provide convincing parallels to the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Many consider the literary quality of the Bixby Letter to equal that of his two most famous speeches.

See Michael Burlingame: "New Light on the Bixby Letter", http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0016.107

All document transcriptions courtesy of House Divided Project, Dickinson College

This Prezi was created for "Understanding Lincoln," taught in conjunction with the Gilder Lehrman Institute
Mrs. Bixby: Fraud?
Scholarly Articles:
Burlingame, Michael. "New Light on the Bixby Letter." Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Society. Vol 17, Issue 1 (1995): pgs 59-71
Burlingame, Michael. "The Trouble With The Bixby Letter." American Heritage. Vol 50, Issue 4 (1999)
Emerson, Jason. "America’s Most Famous Letter." American Heritage. Vol 57, Issue 1 (2006)
Lincoln and Loss is an educational Prezi exploring Father Abraham's condolence letters in light of the Civil War
Lincoln and Loss
Saving Private Ryan: George C. Marshall Reads the Bixby Letter
John Hay: Real Author of the Letter?
Document 3: Letter to Fanny McCullough
Document 2: Letter to Ephraim and Phoebe Ellsworth
My Dear Sir and Madam.

In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed as in his fall. In size, in years, and in youthful appearance a boy only, his power to command men was surpassingly great. This power combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military, constituted in him, as seemed to me the best natural talent, in that department, I ever knew.

And yet he was singularly modest and deferential in social intercourse. My acquaintance with him began less than two years ago; yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages, and my engrossing engagements would permit. To me, he appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane or an intemperate word. What was conclusive of his good heart, he never forgot his parents. The honors he labored for so laudably, and in the sad end so gallantly gave his life, he meant for them, no less than for himself. In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early-fallen child.
May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power.

Sincerely your friend
in a common affliction.
A. Lincoln
New York-born Elmer E. Ellsworth had studied at Abraham Lincoln's law office in Springfield, Illinois and worked with him during the election campaign. When war broke out, Ellsworth returned to New York and helped raise a regiment , the 11th New York, called the "Fire Zouaves," from the city's firemen. Stationed in Washington in command of the 11th, on the morning of Friday, May 24, 1861 he had led a patrol across the river into Alexandria, Virginia where a large Confederate flag was flying from a hotel called the Marshall House. The 5 ' 6" twenty-four year old colonel retrieved the flag but was shot and killed by the hotel's proprietor, James W. Jackson, who was in turn killed by Private Francis Brownell. Lincoln wept on hearing the news and arranged for Ellsworth's body to lay in state at the White House. The letter written to Ellsworth's parents the next day demonstrates the depth of the president's shock at the event.
-John Osborne, House Divided Project
It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend, A. LINCOLN
Dec 23, 1862
May 25, 1861
Nov 21, 1864


Meg Thompson's Close Reading of the Ellsworth Letter
-House Divided Project and "Understanding Lincoln"
Context of the Letter: the End of 1862:
Battle of Fredericksberg, Dec 11-15, was a Confederate victory and especially bloody, with about 18,000 total casualties
Willie's birthday died in Feb of 1862. His birthday was Dec. 21, a couple days before Lincoln's writing
The end of the year: a time for reflection
Published on Jun 25, 2014
This close reading was completed as a part of a "Understanding Lincoln," a graduate course through the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History and Dickinson College
Courtesy of Megan Vangorder
Lincoln in Popular Media: The President's Weight of Words
Wordle of Lincoln's Three Documents
Michael Mazzullo
Created by: Michael Mazzullo
Full transcript