"Charles Russell Lowell [was] killed at Cedar Creek
two weeks short of his first wedding anniversary, one month
short of the birth of his child, and less than three months
before his thirtieth birthday. This was a man who in the Shenandoah
Valley campaign had had thirteen horses shot from under him,
a man whom, in three and a half years of battle, no bullet
had touched. And so when the spent minié bullet hit
him high in the chest, knocking him from his horse and reducing
his voice to a whisper, he had refused to leave the field.
At the summons to attack, he had been strapped back into his
saddle, and with sword drawn he had led the charge, his red
officer's sash making him an irresistible target for the rebel
sharpshooters on the rooftops of Middletown . . . News of
his death traveled fast. General George Custer, his fellow
brigade leader, cried. General Wesley Merritt, his division
commander, mumbled that he would give up his command if only
Lowell were there to receive it. General Philip H. Sheridan,
who owed to Lowell the rescue of his reputation on that day,
said, 'He was the perfection of a man and soldier.'"
—from the Introduction to The Nature of Sacrifice
in Union narratives do you find so compelling and romantic
a tale on which to hang a bit of history. I saw a biography
of Charlie Lowell as a chance to tell the story of the Civil
War from the point of view of the children of the Transcendentalists.
Steeped in idealism, these young men yearned for practical
applications, Lowell most of all. He believed that the world
advances by “impossibilities achieved.” The American
experiment in democracy was one; the abolition of slavery
would be another.