On 21 November 1864 Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have written to a Mrs. Lydia Bixby, offering his appreciation and sympathy on the deaths of her five sons in the Union cause.
In his book One hundred and one famous poems (Chicago 1916) R.J. Cook stated that the original letter was at Brasenose College, and the College has been receiving requests to see it for over a hundred years. Unfortunately the story is one of the more persistent Oxford myths. The letter is not at Brasenose, nor is it in the Bodleian Library, another location often given for it.
The inclusion of the letter in the film Saving Private Ryan led to a renewal of interest in it. It is now generally accepted that only two of Mrs. Bixby's five sons died in battle.
Washington, Nov 21.1864
To Mrs Bixby, Boston, Mass,
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 [or shoulst] 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 beautiful blunder: the true story of Lincoln's letter to Mrs Lydia A Bixby by William E Barton [Indianapolis, The Bobbs-Merrill company 1926]
Abraham Lincoln and the Widow Bixby by F. Lauriston Bullard [Rutgers University Press of New Brunswick 1946]