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Interpreting the Evidence

Condolence Letter Written by President Lincoln, 1864

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 - 1877)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil War

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Condolence Letter Written by President Lincoln, 1864 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Condolence letter written by President Abraham Lincoln, November 21, 1864 to Mrs. Lydia Bixby. The War Department had informed Lincoln that five of Bixby's sons had died in the Civil War, though only two had actually died in combat.
Historical Context
Few dispute the unique sincerity and determination of President Lincoln. His humble persona is illustrated by the list he made in 1858 of his personal accomplishments. His eloquence and dedication to the United States and freedom are evident in the letter written to a mother who lost five sons in the Civil War. In it, he consoles the mother with thoughts of “the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.” The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. testifies to the nation’s appreciation of his actions.
Essential Question
How does war impact a society?
Check for Understanding
Identify the purpose for this letter and evaluate the impact of the Civil War on the Bixby family.
Historical Challenges
Abraham Lincoln wrote this letter to Mrs. Bixby when it was believed that she lost five sons in the Civil War (only two actually died). In World War II, another American family really lost five sons when their ship was sunk by a torpedo. Who were the five brothers, when did they die, and what was the name of their ship?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Some historians believe that this letter may have been written by Lincoln's secretary, John Hay. Others think the letter may be a forgery. What are some clues experts might look for to find out if Abraham Lincoln actually wrote the letter?
Math: Abraham Lincoln died April 15, 1865. Approximately how many months before his death did he write this letter?
English Language Arts: Write a letter of condolence to someone you know who has recently had a bad experience.