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[Detail] Lincoln Centennial Association

Portraiture | Political Cartoons | Graphic Design | Allegory | Letters of Condolence | Art of Remembrance

Letters of Condolence

Different kinds of letters require different writing styles. A condolence letter—one written to comfort a person who is grieving a loss—has a very special purpose and audience and thus requires a special approach or writing style.

Writing a good condolence letter may be particularly challenging when writing to or about someone you do not know personally. Consider this excerpt from a condolence letter Lincoln wrote:

Executive Mansion
Washington, Nov 21, 1864

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass,

Dear Madame

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 in 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.

From “The Celebrated ‘Bixby’ Letter”

Read the remainder of the letter and answer these questions.

  • What bereavement had the person receiving this letter experienced?
  • Did the president know about Mrs. Bixby and her sons? How did this affect what he was able to say in his letter?
  • Overall, how effecive do you think this was as a letter of condolence?

Use the same questions to analyze the letter of condolence from Queen Victoria to Mary Todd Lincoln.