October 28, 1864
No nation, of course, can view its young men with indifference: the nurse of Krishna, when she looked in the infant’s mouth, beheld whole kingdoms; so each nation sees in its young men the means of fulfilling its wishes.
--Charles Russell Lowell, Commencement Day Oration, 1854
Colonel Charles Russell Lowell died on October 19 in the Shenandoah Valley, at the Battle of Cedar Creek, which ended in a decisive and long-awaited victory that President Lincoln needed to protect his re-election, only two weeks away. The North, so weary of war, was poised for a choice: electing the Copperhead Democrat, ex-Major General George B. McClellan, and suing for peace, or continuing the war under Abraham Lincoln. In this mood of uncertainty and division the city of Boston found a hero. Newspaper editorial headlines trumpeted Noble Death and Lament for a True Knight as the reporters indulged in an orgy of grief extolling Lowell’s excellent ancestry, brilliant mind, military skills, and heroic death. In the suffering of his family, Bostonians recognized the pains and horror of war: of fourteen cousins who had gone to fight, now the last and best was dead. Mourning this man so universally admired, they found a unity beyond political differences. The same qualities that had made Lowell’s men believe him invulnerable had convinced many in Massachusetts that he would survive the war. Some had even begun to imagine his post-war career: running their railroad, or seeking political office, or (for the idealists) rebuilding the recovered nation.
“Never ... within your knowledge or mine has such a funeral as this been seen,” wrote Caroline Healey Dall (social reformer and in 1865, co-founder of the American Social Science Association) who arrived early in the damp morning of October 28 to help decorate the Harvard College chapel. She and other bonneted women carrying baskets of floral cuttings scurried across the Harvard Yard, weaving around black-robed scholars. Inside Harvard’s new Appleton Chapel, the women decorated the chancel, the reading desk, and the pulpit with sprays of pine boughs and fern fronds, trailing vines of variegated ivies and myrtle, blasts of chrysanthemums—both the button ‘Soleil d’Or’ and the giant ‘Emperor of China.’
For the altar, cartloads of flowers had been sent into town from the greenhouses of various gentlemen horticulturalists in Waltham, Roxbury, and Brookline: orchids, camelias, miniature orange and lemon, scented geraniums, pelargoniums, Cape jasmine. The altar soon disappeared under a profusion of blossoms. Beside the pulpit hung the American flag, representing both “the stars of Heaven in their field of blue” and the “bloody stripes of this cruel war.” Mourners entering the chapel were immediately struck not only by the drama of the floral displays but also by the scent. The entire chapel was heavy with the fragrance of hothouse flowers and pine boughs.
An observant eye would have spotted many of Boston’s most famous figures. Longfellow’s great white mane, Emerson’s hawk-like profile, James Russell Lowell’s ginger curls, the elfin Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Also a bevy of small, plump, tousle-haired, bespectacled professors, among them the owl-eyed aesthete Charles Eliot Norton and the deeply charismatic Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz with his squat wealthy wife and lovely daughters.
The lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts and most of the governor’s staff arrived from Boston, flushed with self-importance. The governor himself was in Washington, but his hand was evident in this display of state power. A mass of state officials drew like magnets a variety of men, young and old: cronies, members of the Bird Club, Radical Republicans like Dr. Samuel G.Howe, Frank Sanborn, Thomas W. Higginson who had all conspired with John Brown. The leonine head of the belligerent Senator Charles Sumner towered over the others. It was with his help that Lowell had received his commission in the Regular Army. Others appeared; members of the Governor’s war cabinet, valuable for their moderation and their impeccable social credentials, untainted by liberal politics: the elegant Colonel Henry Lee and Lowell’s Latin School friends Albert G. Browne and John Quincy Adams, Jr.
Some who came pointedly avoided this group: splendidly got up members of Boston’s Cotton Aristocracy; among them Appletons, Bootts, Lawrences, and the John Amory Lowells. These all loathed the Radical Republicans as fanatics and social inferiors. Yet to some degree they had all been co-opted into the war effort. Particularly splendid would have been the industrialist and philanthropist Amos A. Lawrence. His wealth now spread well beyond textiles; nevertheless, he continued to represent the quintessence of Cotton over Conscience, the partnership between the slave owners of the South and the textile magnates of New England. Paradoxically, Lawrence had underwritten the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, Lowell’s regiment, just as Lawrence bankrolled Yankee emigration into Kansas, even supplying weapons.
Another official party adding weight and pomp to the occasion, the Overseers of Harvard University and the Members of the Harvard Corporation, dressed in ceremonial robes and broad collars, serious sober men standing together, inscrutable, recognizing no one, appearing almost oblivious of their surroundings: literally, pillars of the community, reminders of an authority older than the nation and the Commonwealth, when the college, like the Province, had bowed to the clerical mandate.
Rumbling up in a large but worn carriage came a man Lowell had greatly admired and to whom he had owed much. John Murray Forbes, a diminutive, bald, dynamo of enterprise made rich by the China trade. More than any figure present, Forbes had pushed forward the Massachusetts war effort drawing into action Boston’s wealth and its radical political leaders. In this he had attempted to find ‘safe’ places for his favorites. Nonetheless his son had become a prisoner of war five months previously; and now, Lowell had died, Forbes’ greatest personal loss of the war. A crowd of young people accompanied him—his own children with their friends and spouses, fresh faced girls, boys with hair wetted down. All had idolized Lowell; all now wept for him.
One would have seen clumps of Lowell’s former classmates and friends. Some on crutches, some maimed, others gaunt and frail. Quite a few, like the “Boy General” Major-General Francis C. Barlow, had been, like Lowell, acolytes of Emerson. Barlow’s military talents had exceeded Lowell’s, and his collapse, just months before, was not from war but from the sudden death of his wife. The emaciated Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Lowell’s cousin, had been mustered out of service in July after three years of grueling duty in the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry. These two were regarded and greeted with admiration by all, with envy by some, with shame by others. Classmates--now businessmen, lawyers, and merchants, members of the Somerset Club, married to the daughters of Boston’s elite--they had profited in the war economy and were now poised to become, mainstays of Boston civic life. The old acquaintances greeted one another stiffly. Their speech feel into embarrassed pleasantries or, worse, silence, their grief commingled with guilt.
One would have seen a swath of cousins, almost exclusively female--a sea of Jackson faces; long, grave, handsome and reassuring on a man but severe and plain on the women; and Lowell girls, with small heart-shaped faces culminating in sharp, pointed chins. Their men either were dead or were standing with the institutions they represented, the university or the state. Lowell’s great-uncle Dr. James Jackson, the last of the famous three Jackson brothers, was there, his white head bobbing above the crowd, his kindly face clouded by old age. Shepherding him was Lizzie Putnam, his favorite grandchild, carrying her own private grief for another dead soldier, James Savage. As one of Boston’s pre-eminent physicians, Dr. Jackson, now ninety, had been present at the birth of many of the people gathered there. Now his sweet face wore a look of confusion, as if instinctively understanding the deeper currents: had he come for a birth or a death?
A stone’s throw away, the coffin waited on the Quincy Street edge of the Harvard Yard, in front of a small gingerbread house, the Lowell residence. The Independent Corps of Cadets massed outside. Shortly before noon their commanding officer raised his sword and at noon sharp, with military precision, gave the signal. The band on the chapel steps struck up Pleyel’s Hymn. The cadets started their procession. Stragglers made a last dash for the now-overflowing pews. At noon sharp, the Independent Corps of Cadets stepped out. With military precision, the pallbearers raised the coffin onto their shoulders and carried it down the steps of Mrs. Lowell’s porch, through the now-driving rain diagonally along the familiar college paths, under the elms and up the steps of the chapel. As the coffin crossed the threshold, the band ceased. In silence the soldiers and pallbearers made their way among the mourners.
As the coffin passed, the congregation rose row by row. Although it was only a short walk, the pallbearers were breathing hard, especially Henry Lee Higginson, Lowell’s oldest and most devoted friend. Wounded in the spine at Aldie the year before, Higginson was now out of the war, his back was permanently weakened. In the silence, he stumbled. As his sword struck a pew, the sharp thud and ring sent a jolt and murmur through the congregation. The other pall-bearers were officers of Lowell’s regiment, notably Lowell’s adjutant Lieutenant Henry E.Alvord, an abolitionist, into whose arms Lowell had fallen from his horse. It was he who had brought Lowell’s body back to Massachusetts from the Shenandoah Valley.
The cadets in their gleaming dress uniforms led the way to the altar and turned to form a line across the width of the choir, a half-ring around the coffin. The pallbearers, having put down their burden, joined them. Only then could the congregation recognize the sixth pallbearer. Dressed in civilian clothes, John Chandler Bancroft stood with, but apart from, the military ceremony. Son of the great American historian and Democratic diplomat George Bancroft, scion of the powerful Dwight family clan, Johnny Bancroft, an artist, had not joined the Union cause, having found a substitute, an immigrant, to take his place. It was expressive of the power of Lowell’s friendships that Bancroft had found the courage to honor the request that he serve as a pallbearer.
On the communion table, where the pall bearers had placed it, lay the regulation army coffin, flag-draped and wreathed in flowers. On it were Lowell’s sword, the hilt worn, the scabbard battered; his cap, dirty, torn, dull, shabby; and his campaign-soiled gauntlets.
The elderly Reverend Dr. James Walker, former president of Harvard, rose and declaimed: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! … From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back.” These familiar words had been used often in the past three years. The congregation knew them by heart. Even so, they listened as if hearing them for the first time. “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and ... in their death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep.”
The amiable, stone-deaf old man who had watched the youthful Lowell (and all the Harvard war dead) in their college years paused to catch his breath. Then, as he continued the lamentation of King David, his voice rasped. It was too loud, too insistent as he concluded, “How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan ... thy love to me was wonderful ... How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.”
The congregation sat like stones, watching the old man before them, his own head bowed. And then, with a shuffle of feet and the swish of robes, Reverend Cyrus Augustus Bartol came forward and the Reverend Walker resumed his seat.
Bartol had been Lowell’s grandfather’s assistant at the West Church in Boston for twenty-five years, inheriting the pulpit on the old man’s death only two years before. A Transcendentalist of Italian origin (Bartol was shortened from Bartoldi), he was an enthusiast. In his own church the previous Sunday, he had preached a fiery sermon entitled The Purchase by Blood: A Tribute to Brigadier-General Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. He had begun by saying that “blood has in it a certain price or power to purchase. Any thing in the world is worth what you can buy with it; and blood is incomparable treasure, by this rule. So I claim to-day the blood nowhere more copious or pure than has marked your lintels and these church-doors.” Then, he declared, “Blood, shed in testimony to any truth or principle, is the chief riches of mankind. It is not money, or what we commonly mean by value…” and on he went, weighing and gauging what had been bought and paid for, discussing various forms of species, referring at a certain point to the “Almighty Dealer” and calling at the end for “more blood, if more for our great purchase be required!”
The family generally agreed that Reverend Bartol had gone too far. They had never much liked him. In fact, Charles Russell Lowell himself had on numerous occasions ridiculed the man. In the rush toward great and divine truths, this eager and ambitious preacher strove for an originality that succeeded only in introducing elements of the absurd. For this occasion, he confined himself to offering a prayer for the country, for the parish, for the college “with its proud expectation baffled.”
And then the Reverend George Putnam rose to give the address. Minister of a church in Roxbury, Putnam was a Unitarian and a conservative. He provided a manly, compassionate, thoughtful but businesslike ministry, and for the past twenty years he had done all he could to suppress the slavery controversy. “Religion and practical goodness are one and the same thing,” Putnam believed, and he was filled with practical goodness, or at least a pragmatic goodness. His son, Lowell’s Harvard classmate, had married Lowell’s sister Harriet, so Lowell’s death was a personal loss for Putnam. As he reached the pulpit he paused momentarily, running his hand over his face, and then he began. He paid tribute to Lowell’s breeding, his good blood, his good education, his popularity, his genius, his great promise, and to his decision, upon the start of the war, to throw all this aside.
Some things Putnam could not possibly say. Yet, because most of the older people present knew at least a few of them, he felt compelled to bow to this unspoken knowledge. Putnam paused, allowing minds to wander and recall that illness, insanity, and wrecked fortunes had cut deeply into the Lowell family. They had known the sort of failure that destroys, but, like an answer to a prayer, this son had come and gracefully taken up the burden of rescuing his family. It was bad enough that at twenty-two he had fallen prey to seemingly terminal tuberculosis. Fighting his way back to health, taking up his burden afresh, Lowell had seemed only to improve with adversity. And now this.
When Putnam resumed, he spoke of the war, cataloguing those whom “the present sojourner into God’s eternal embrace” had outlived: his younger brother, James Jackson Lowell, whose body lay behind enemy lines beneath a tree near a farm in Virginia; his cousin William Lowell Putnam, whose guts had been shot away in the fiasco of Ball’s Bluff; another cousin, Cabot Jackson Russel, and a brother-in-law, Robert Gould Shaw, both buried in a mass grave at Fort Wagner; and two more cousins, Warren Dutton Russell, killed at Second Bull Run; and Sumner Paine, who fell at Gettysburg. Putnam, recognizing the bonds of childhood, also mentioned Lowell’s close friends, Stephen Perkins, James Savage, Richard Goodwin, Paul Revere, William Sedgwick, and Wilder Dwight. On and on the list went, mercilessly.
To this host now came Charles Russell Lowell, killed at Cedar Creek two weeks short of his first wedding anniversary, one month short of the birth of his first child and less than three months before his thirtieth birthday. This was a man who in the Shenandoah Valley campaign alone 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. When he was shot the second time, the bullet passed from shoulder to shoulder, severing his spinal cord. Thus he had received his fatal wounds.
News of his death traveled fast. General George Custer, his fellow brigade leader, cried. Wesley Merritt, his division commander, mumbled that he would give up his command if only Lowell were there to receive it. General Philip Sheridan, who owed to Lowell the rescue of his reputation on that day, said, “He was the perfection of a man and a soldier.” He went on in his report to insist that if Lowell had lived he would have commanded all his cavalry.
Instead, Lowell’s body was brought by train back to Boston, leaving behind the battlefields of the war-ravaged Shenandoah Valley and the strange and difficult alliances that he, a “Black Republican,” had forged with his fellow officers, most of them West Point Democrats; leaving behind the rough and varied group of men he had patched together and drilled into his regiment, the Second Massachusetts Cavalry; leaving behind the Regular troops of the Reserve Brigade whom he had been proud to command; leaving behind his most formidable foe, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the Gray Ghost. Leaving all this behind, his body returned to its beginnings: to Quincy Street, his parents’ home; to Harvard, his alma mater; to the West Church, his grandfather’s pulpit; to Boston, to family, to friends; to Mount Auburn Cemetery, final resting place of his forbears.
And he was returned to those who loved him best. A group of faces clustered in the illustrious crowd: his mother, Anna Cabot Jackson Lowell, worn from years of overwork, as she grimly faced the adversity from which she would never recover, the death of her oldest, last living, and, truth be told, favorite son; his father, Charles Russell Lowell, Sr., pale from ill-health, already begun on the slow crumbling death of grief for his namesake who he had believed would redeem his own failed life; his pregnant wife, Josephine Shaw Lowell, who “bore it like a hero’s wife, staggered at first, she soon recovered her composure;” his tubercular sister Harriet, who had been his favorite; and then the aunts and grandmothers and female cousins who made up his extended family and lived on into the next century brotherless and husbandless. The women had taken him to school, nursed him through childhood diseases, bragged about his college successes and, once the war came, provided the boxes of food and clothing and letters, the clucking and worrying and pampering that was every soldier’s due. Only his older sister Anna was not there. As a nurse in Washington, with the wards overflowing with casualties, she could not be spared. Anna marked his passing with a visit to Custer to hear from him of her brother’s last days.
Reverend Putnam concluded his remarks by speaking of
This mighty mother of us all, our country, [which] she steeps her soil in her children’s most precious blood. She tears her brightest jewels from her own forehead, and flings them in the dust. She sends daily her swift messengers of grief and desolation from heart to heart, and from house to house, throughout her borders. She does all this; but she does it not in cruelty, but in love, that she may preserve her own glorious life, her own imperial sovereignty, and her benignant power to bless her children, and fold them under her brooding wings, to nourish and keep them, as she only can, in freedom, in honor, and in peace. And thus she pays the stupendous debt she owes to her afflicted people.
To many in the congregation, it seemed that the good Reverend had read their minds. Gathered to commemorate the life of Charles Russell Lowell were men who represented almost all positions on the political map, men who could influence the votes of countless others. They had put aside their arguments to unite in grief and respect. But in a week’s time they would go to the polls to vote either for continued war, for more of the same stumbling costly leadership that had been provided by the rough, hedging, Abraham Lincoln. Or they could vote for peace, for an end to madness, an end to the folly of good men dying for slaves, for the fine words, and arrogant assurance of George McClellan.
Turning towards the coffin with outstretched arms, Reverend Putnam asked: “Are we paying too heavy a price for our country’s freedom?”
What had been the price? A generation of men, a generation of mothers now sonless, sisters brotherless, wives husbandless, children fatherless. And now, today, Lowell. Lowell had been different. He had had a curious power over people. Certainly his charm, his naturally jubilant spirit, his wit had been attractive. His photographic memory and impressive intellect had inspired, awed and impressed. He was much trusted for his fairness, for his moral anchor. But Lowell’s power over people was such that he “drew their wills to him, as a lodestone attracts iron.” He possessed an irresistible magnetism. And yet Lowell himself remained an enigma, known only in parts, rarely speaking of himself. Indeed he had a peculiar impersonality. One friend described it as “the impersonality of genius.”
Turning back to face the mourners, Reverend Putnam concluded, “here if ever we might be permitted to say so, but here, beside these precious remains, our full hearts answer—no—not too much—not too much.”
Then as if it had caught a voice of triumph from his magnificent exorctium the choir burst out like trumpets: “The Lord hath triumphed, triumphed, gloriously triumphed, gloriously the horse andhis rider hast he thrown into the sea.” The song of Moses, the song of praise, the song of victory. And that, of course, was the point. Lowell had fallen at the head of his men, he had fallen leading the charge, but the battle had been won. Without Lowell’s decisive leadership there would have been no army left for Sheridan to rally after he had made his famous ride from Winchester. The battle had been won. The battle of Cedar Creek had decided the Shenandoah Campaign. It had ruined the Confederate Cavalry. It had given Lincoln the victory he needed for re-election. Triumph, even in death.
The blessing was spoken. The guard re-formed its escort. The drum beat sounded, and the congregation rose again as the body passed for the last time among them. Out into the pouring rain the coffin was carried. The congregation followed. The rain continued to fall. The wind blew it at a harsh slant and swept what was left of the yellow leaves from the trees and drove them swirling to the ground. As the coffin was loaded onto a cart, the grandees and political figures peeled away. Most of the congregation hurried out of the harsh weather. Only the most intimate of family and friends now followed the coffin, led by the Cadets on the long march from the chapel, out of the village of Cambridge and west along Brattle Street. It was a walk Lowell had made countless times, but he always stopped at Elmwood, the Lowell family house. Now the procession passed the house and continued on down the road to Mount Auburn Cemetery, where Lowell would join his grandfather and his cousin. As the band played the “Dead March” from Handel’s Saul, the coffin was lowered, a prayer offered. Clumps of dirt were thrown in. Charles Russell Lowell was consigned to the hearts and memories of those who had known him.
 Bowditch Henry I., “Brief memoranda of our martyr soldiers who fell during the great rebellion of the 19th century,” Nathaniel Bowditch memorial collection, 1851-1886, MHS.
. Caroline H. Dall to Lizzie, 10.29.64, James Russell Lowell Papers, MHS. Other sources for the description of the funeral are: Elizabeth Cabot Putnam to Ella Lowell Lyman, 10.28.1864, P-J-LFP, MHS; Edward W. Emerson, Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell, captain Sixth United States Cavalry, colonel Second Massachusetts Cavalry, brigadier-general United States Volunteers, (Boston, New York, Houghton, Mifflin, 1907,) 370; HMB, 435-436.
. II Samuel 1:19, 22-24. Reads in full: “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.”
. Cyrus A. Bartol, The Purchase of Blood: a sermon preached in the West Church, (Boston: J. Wilson & son, 1864), 1, 5, 21. His text was Psalms 72:14: “He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight,” King David’s pray for Solomon.
 George Putnam, An address spoken in the College Chapel, Cambridge, October 28th 1864, at the funeral of Brig.-Gen. Charles Russell Lowell, who fell at the battle of Cedar creek, October 19th 1864, (Cambridge: Welch, Bigelow, 1864).
 Philip H. Sheridan quoted in Bliss Perry, Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, (Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921) 232.
 Charles Russell Lowell, Sr. to Anna Lowell, 11.1.64, L-PFP, 2:.213.
 Putnam, 13.
 Caroline H. Dall to Lizzie, 10.29.64, James Russell Lowell Papers, MHS. Actual text reads: “…painful misgivings as to the price we are paying for our country’s salvation, and whether it is not paying too much.” Putnam, 15.
 unattributed quotes in John Mills Peirce, “Charles Russell Lowell” in HMB, 298.
 Caroline H. Dall to Lizzie, 10.29.64, James Russell Lowell Papers, MHS. Actual text reads: “But no, not too much! Think it not! If ever we might be permitted to think it, it would be here and now.” Putnam,15.
. Caroline H. Dall to Lizzie, 10.29.64, James Russell Lowell Papers, MHS. Exodus 15:1; the song of Moses after Pharaoh and his army are swallowed up in the sea.
 Mrs. William G. Farlow, “Quincy Street in the Fifties,” in Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, (Cambridge: The Society, 1926) 18:38.