Officer and a Gentleman
Edwin M. Yoder Jr., August 7, 2005; BW03
“Carol Bundy's biography of her great-great-great-uncle,
Charles Russell Lowell, … ranks in quality with
the better pages of such masters as Shelby Foote and Bruce
yankee: Gentleman, soldier,
strategist, Charles Russell Lowell became a
symbol of idealism in action
Michael Kenney, April 24, 2005
“[The] theme of sacrifice to
redeem the nation from slavery is brilliantly explored
and movingly expounded in Carol Bundy’s notable biography
of Lowell, “The Nature of Sacrifice,” her first
book. [It] is not just a model of historical research, but
is also written with great style.”
Walter Russell Mead, September/October
|Bundy's careful and sensitive biography of this
little-known Civil War hero is a triumph, and announces the
arrival of an important new voice in American letters. Lowell,
first in his class at Harvard and hailed by men such as Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne as one of the brightest
lights of his generation, floundered through a difficult life
marked by family financial reversals and tuberculosis before
finding his vocation as a cavalry commander in northern Virginia.
Bundy's portrayal of her distant ancestor and the Boston milieu
that shaped him is gripping. Her reflections on war and its
effects on both sexes approach the sublime. Her ability to evoke
the mix of tragedy and grandeur that surrounded Lowell's promising
but abbreviated life shows a major talent at work. Most Lowells
may, as the old toast has it, speak only to Cabots, but Bundy's
Charles Russell Lowell speaks to us all.
"In her fine biography . . . Carol Bundy has rendered
a great service to general readers and Civil War scholars alike
by redeeming one of those enmarbled names and restoring the man—Charles
Russell Lowell, Jr. . . . Bundy does a superb job of conveying her
subject's struggles with the shadowy world of guerrilla warfare.
The boundaries between legitimate warfare and criminality were often
crossed by both sides. Fortunately, there is a wealth of primary
sources that enables Bundy to ably probe Lowell's side of these
encounters. The result is a worthwhile exploration of how one prominent
19th-century figure coped with a warfare that was veering towards
a totality that became depressingly familiar to later generations
. . . [A] skillfully written biography." —Richard
F. Miller, Civil War Book Review
"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 sharpshooter's 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
biography details life, death of Civil War hero
Daniel Dyer, April 10, 2005
|"James Russell Lowell - poet, essayist, professor
- was one of the unlikely heroes a couple of years ago in the
best-selling intellectual thriller "The Dante Club."
And now we learn in Carol Bundy's splendid new biography, "The
Nature of Sacrifice," that there was an actual hero in
the family, JRL's nephew Charles Russell Lowell, who died in
the Civil War battle of Cedar Creek...."
||"A stunning biography of a young man from one of America’s
most celebrated families who quickly rose to the rank of colonel
in the Union cavalry and died, at age 29 from wounds suffered
in a charge at Cedar Creek.
At the funeral of Charles Russell Lowell (1835-64), nephew of poet
James Russell Lowell, were some of the greatest names in American
letters: Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes (the cast of The Dante Club!).
Hawthorne would have been there, too, had he not died himself a
few months earlier. Bundy has examined an abundance of evidence
in her reconstruction of the life of this most remarkable fellow—family
letters and diaries, published histories of the Civil War (and its
individual encounters), biographies of key figures in the story.
She begins with Lowell’s death, then retreats to examine his
ancestry (on numerous branches of the family tree, a copy of which
would have been helpful), and then relates the short, mostly happy
life of her principal. Lowell did well in school (wining top honors
at both Boston Latin and Harvard) but then, like many other young
men, spun his wheels before finding traction in his military career.
Before the Civil War, he worked for a merchant, tried the iron business,
got involved in a grain deal. Them, in the mid-1850s, he showed
signs of tuberculosis. Fortunately, however, the disease went into
partial remission, enabling him to live a very active life - including
a lengthy tour of the Continent (he visited Italian museums with
Hawthorne) and a successful stint on the railroad business in Iowa.
Once the Civil War began Lowell and many of his Harvard coevals
enlisted to fight (most would be wounded or killed), and he discovered
his talents for leadership. His cavalry unit chased the notorious
Mosby, won some impressive encounters, earned the respect of the
military brass. When Lowell died, Custer wept.
Sometimes excessive in her praise of Lowell, the author nonetheless
has crafted an enduring and often lovely monument to his memory."
perhaps through individual lives that we can best understand the
social impact of the Civil War. As Louis Menand, in The Metaphysical
Club, explored the war's impact on Oliver Wendell Holmes, here first-time
author Bundy examines the life of another Boston Brahmin of the
time, and Bundy's is easily the best account we have of the life
of the brilliant, magnetic and tragic Charles Russell Lowell Jr.,
examining how he became a martyr for the cause of freedom. Born
into one of the poorer branches of the prominent Lowell clan on
January 2, 1835, valedictorian of his Harvard class, Lowell was
a youthful idealist, drawn to the cause of abolition. Accepting
a commission as captain in the 3rd (later 6th) U.S. Cavalry, the
once-tubercular Lowell immediately made a name for himself as a
reckless adventurer on the battlefield. Serving on the staff of
General McClellan, Lowell chomped at the bit as the copperhead commander
hesitated to wage necessary battles. Later on, Lowell helped found
the famous 54th Regiment of black volunteers, fought against Mosby's
insurgents following Gettysburg, and--as a part of Sheridan's forces--played
a key role in implementing Grant's Shenandoah Valley Campaign in
Virginia. In October 1864, aged 29 and by then a colonel, Lowell
was felled at the battle of Cedar Creek by a Confederate bullet.
Bundy does an excellent job of telling Lowell's tale and explaining
the ethic of selfless sacrifice out of which he emerged. This is
an admirable life of an admirable man.