The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-64


Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., led a brief, intense life. Born in 1835 to a Boston family that for more than a century was a guiding force in the history of New England, Lowell died in 1864 at the battle of Cedar Creek, mortally wounded during the crucial Union victory there.

The Nature of Sacrifice offers a lively history of abolitionist Boston and of Lowell’s remarkable family there; his grandfathers were each larger-than-life figures who represented quintessential Yankee ...

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Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., led a brief, intense life. Born in 1835 to a Boston family that for more than a century was a guiding force in the history of New England, Lowell died in 1864 at the battle of Cedar Creek, mortally wounded during the crucial Union victory there.

The Nature of Sacrifice offers a lively history of abolitionist Boston and of Lowell’s remarkable family there; his grandfathers were each larger-than-life figures who represented quintessential Yankee elements of business brilliance and spiritual energy. Lowells were at the heart of the American Anti-Slavery Society; Louis Kossuth came to call at the Lowells’ house; Longfellow and Emerson were family friends. But the unexpected bankruptcy of Charlie’s father altered the family’s fortunes, and before the son was out of Harvard, he had determined to redeem the family name.

After a bout with tuberculosis and a recuperative stay in Europe, Lowell turned to the business of making money. Soon after his return he went out West, involving himself in the vital new industry of railroading, until his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War.

The rich tapestry of Bundy’s narrative shows the many threads that made this war such a climactic experience for Charlie Lowell, whose family and circle had, after all, been instrumental in fashioning it into a war against slavery. And Bundy masterfully demonstrates how Lowell was transformed as he served on General McClellan’s staff, helped to form the fabled Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment of black volunteers (led by his cousin Robert Gould Shaw), fought Colonel Mosby’s guerrillas, and implemented Grant’s ruthless strategy in Virginia. Lowell’s years as a rising Union cavalry officer were shadowed by the battlefield deaths of his brother, cousins, and many friends. What were they dying for, and was the sacrifice worth it? For Lowell and his friends, a new concept of self-sacrifice evolved as they faced the horrors of war, and Lowell, who championed this principle in life, became in death his generation’s symbol of American idealism in action.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this clear-eyed, unsentimental biography Carol Bundy introduces us to a genuine Civil War hero, Charles Russell Lowell. The transformation of an idealistic Harvard student into a brave, intelligent and tough cavalry officer is a riveting story, and Bundy writes extremely well. Her description of a cavalry charge conveys the experience better than any Civil War film, and her portrait of Boston society in the mid-nineteenth century is just as finely etched. This book is not just for Civil War buffs." --Frances Fitzgerald

"Carol Bundy's book, which I read with great interest and great pleasure, offers rich insight into a young man at war. It shows compellingly how the experience of military life and of combat changed him and his relationships to those around him. I also very much appreciated Bundy's vivid portrait of the impact of the Civil War on a northern community." --Drew Gilpin Faust, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

"The Nature of Sacrifice is a beautifully rendered portrait of a remarkable young man who became a still more remarkable soldier in the crucible of the American Civil War. It is also a timely reminder of the real cost of combat in any era and marks the debut of a first-class biographer." --Geoffrey C. Ward, author of Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Edwin M. Yoder, Jr.
Our Civil War literature is rich and addictive but too often satisfied with the depiction of schematic maneuvers and stick-figure warriors. No such conventionality mars Carol Bundy's biography of her great-great-great-uncle, Charles Russell Lowell, a Union cavalryman who was killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va., in October 1864. It ranks in quality with the better pages of such masters as Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton.
— The Washington Post
Foreign Affairs
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.
Library Journal
Between 1861 and 1865, hundreds of thousands of Northern men volunteered to fight in the Civil War and died in the bloody struggle. Why they went, how their contemporaries viewed them, how their attitude evolved as the war became one of emancipation and utilized a scorched-earth policy, and what impact their deaths had upon their families and communities are questions that continue to interest modern readers. This book addresses such questions as it examines the life of Charles Russell Lowell Jr., a Boston aristocrat and abolitionist, Harvard valedictorian, and businessman who became a Civil War soldier and commander. This readable and well-researched book, the author's first, offers much on the social and cultural life of Boston as well as Lowell's battlefield experiences in many of the war's most significant eastern battles. Smaller and more general collections may find that works on better-known leaders, such as Russell Duncan's Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, would satisfy more users. Recommended for large history collections.-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A stunning biography of a young man from one of American'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 of 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 (winning 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. Then, 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 in 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 forleadership. 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. (80 b&w illustrations; 1 map, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374120771
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/13/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 1,517,994
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Bundy, a writer for film in the United States and Britain, became interested in her great-great-great Uncle Charles Russell Lowell when his worn saddle bags, rusted sword, and spurs turned up after her grandmother's death in 1983. She lives with her two sons in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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