Every war has seen mothers who have seen their sons march off to fight, never to return.  This Mother’s Day, we take a solemn look back at one poignant example.

In November 1864 a letter was sent to a widow living in Boston named Mrs Lydia Bixby. The brief, message, allegedly penned by Abraham Lincoln himself, attempted to comfort and thank Mrs Bixby for the making the biggest sacrifice a mother could make, her sons. It was published in a number of pro-Union publications, and is widely considered as one of that president’s finest pieces of writing. It can be found within our collection of Historic Newspapers.

“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”

http://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/civil-war-soldiers-1861-1865">Meet the Civil War soliders

Lydia Bixby had sent her five sons to fight in the Union Army, and for each had received a letter informing her that he not be coming home. It is certain that two of her sons were killed in action, but the fate of the other three Bixby boys is unclear.

Arthur Edward Bixby was the first of Lydia’s sons to go off to war. Our new Civil War Soldiers 1861-1865 records show that he served as a Private in Company C of the Massachusetts 1st Heavy Artillery and joined in 1861.

Lydia claimed that he had joined the army underage and without her consent and a discharge order was sent. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived Arthur was missing, recorded as Absent Without Official Leave. His fate is a mystery.

Next was Sgt Charles N. Bixby, listed in the records as serving with Company D of the 20th Massachusetts. He also joined up in 1861, shortly after Arthur and was killed in 1863 in Virginia, probably in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.

George A. Bixby was the third of Lydia’s sons to join the fighting. In the September of 1861 he joined the 25th Massachusetts and served as a Corporal in Company H before being captured and sent to a confederate prisoner camp in 1864.

Meet the Civil War prisoners

He vanished without a trace while in captivity. Confederate POW camps were notoriously dangerous it’s likely he died a prisoner.

The remaining two Bixby brothers, Henry C. Bixby and Oliver C. Bixby were also listed as killed.

Henry was a Corporal in Company K of the 32nd Massachusetts and Oliver was a private in Company E of the 58th.

Oliver was killed in 1864 near Petersburg, and Henry was listed as killed at Gettysburg in 1863.

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Both the War department and Mrs. Bixby were misinformed. Charles and Oliver both died in battle whereas Arthur, George and Henry could all have been alive at the time Lincoln’s letter was written.

Henry didn’t die at Gettysburg. He left the army with an honorable discharged in 1864, and what he did afterwards remains unclear. Arthur certainly deserted the army and George was captured by the Confederacy, although their eventual fates are shrouded in mystery.

This Mother’s Day, we remember and reflect on the incredible costs paid by mothers in wartime.

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