Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Bixby Letter

This evening I was surfing my way through the several hundred TV channels that come my way if I take the Comcast modem out of the TV's cable intake circuit (I only subscribe to Comcast's cheapest package, so I use their cable but circumvent their filter), and I stumbled into a showing of "Saving Private Ryan." And there came the reading of Lincoln's "Bixby Letter."

I've heard it and read it before--many times. So, probably, have you. A close study of the history of the moment does not bear out the accuracy of its details. And yet it stands as one of the most powerful, most moving documents that has ever graced the English language.

When the reading was over, I turned off the TV and sat in the dark for a half hour or so, thinking, wondering--with tears running down my face. Where does such power, such grace, such magic come from?

As the Indian sending smoke signals said when he saw the mushroom cloud rising in the far distance over the desert of New Mexico, "Gee, I wish I'd said that!"

Here it is.

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