Today in history: November 21

The Week

Nov. 20, 1864. President Lincoln reportedly wrote a letter of condolence to Lydia Bixby, who claimed to have lost five sons in the Civil War. Ironically, Mrs. Bixby herself was said to have supported the Confederacy, and records show that two — not five — of her sons died. Scholars have never been able to prove conclusively that Lincoln wrote the letter, which was portrayed in Saving Private Ryan. Many Lincoln experts believe he did, though others say his secretary John Hay was the author. In any case, here it is:

Executive Mansion,

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Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

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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,

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A. Lincoln

Nov. 20, 1973: President Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt, revealed the presence of an 18-minute gap in a White House tape recording related to Watergate

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Nov. 20, 1989: A bill banning smoking on most domestic flights was signed into law by President Bush.

Quote of the Day

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"The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency." — Theodore Roosevelt

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