December 23, 1862
Abraham Lincoln’s Famous Civil War Condolence Letter to Young Fanny McCullough About Death, Loss and Memory
By the end of 1862, the tragic immensity of the war’s carnage had settled into fact, and Lincoln had already written a number of painful letters of consolation. None, however, spoke more eloquently to the searing devastation of loss, and the haunting promise of solace, than the 166 words he penned to twenty-two year old Fanny McCullough here…
Lincoln begins by describing the nature of life. “In this sad world of ours,” he writes, “sorrow comes to all; and, to the young it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.” He then identifies how misery can distort a fundamental truth: that there is help, in time, for pain. “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.” The promise of relief, however, refers to a hope that is not fanciful but realistic. “The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before. . .”
This letter is remarkable, too, in that it is one of the only known references by Lincoln himself to the long-ago death of his mother in Lincoln's boyhood. Yet if he speaks here, with such certainty, of the “perfect relief” that is only possible with time, surely he smarts from the immediacy of his own bereavement: his beloved son Willie, earlier that year. That, and the terrible knowledge that as he lost his cherished son, so many other thousands of cherished sons, fathers and husbands had died as well - even just a week ago, at the bloodbath at Fredericksburg….
Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as President, 1 page, quarto, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., December 23, 1862. To Miss Fanny McCullough. With Free Franked autograph envelope. Used by permission of Shapell legacy partnership.