An Officer and a Gentleman  

Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
 “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 Catton."




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.... When Lowell died, Custer wept….

The Boston Globe


Magnificient Yankee

Gentleman, soldier, strategist, Charles Russell Lowell became a symbol of idealism in action

By Michael Kenney  
“[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.”

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

Vivid biography details life, death of Civil War hero

Daniel Dyer

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.
Bundy begins her debut volume with young Lowell's funeral at the Harvard College Chapel. Present were all the literati of Boston - including celebrated Dante Club members James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose own son had distinguished himself in battle and suffered grievous wounds.
Young Lowell, only 29 at the time he fell, possessed "an irresistible magnetism," Bundy writes. It was a quality shared by fellow Union cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer, who reportedly wept when telling the story of Lowell's death.
The author uses Lowell's sacrifice to make disturbing observations and to ask difficult questions.
Lowell was ordered more than once to destroy the homes and crops of those merely suspected of being Southern sympathizers. He did so, believing he was shortening the war. But the devastation troubled many in and out of the military.
Bundy also records without much comment how frequently Harvard's young men charged off to enlist when war broke out - in stark contrast to today. She records, as well, that virtually all of Lowell's college friends came home wounded or in caskets.Her book has resonance when the meaning of "hero" has been diminished by misapplication (sports "heroes?") and overuse.If everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero, then what word remains for people such as Charles Russell Lowell? 

It's 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.

Customer Reviews

Outstanding Biography with multiple connections!, April 11, 2012
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The Nature of Sacrifice is far more than a well-written, well-researched biography of Charle R. Lowell, Jr. It is an amazing exploration of the spirit of the Civil War participants who sacrificed so much in this terrible struggle. Carol Bundy brings together some amazing regional connections and ties the whole tale together in a way that brings greater understanding of the struggle, of the personal tribulations endured by those men and women whose lives intersected socially and in the realm of action. She brings to life an amazing series of stories - of contemporaries who endured the hardships of this period in our history. Bundy explores the depths of sacrifice and the "good death" that is also explained in Gilpin-Faust's "This Republic of Suffering." In fact, I would recommend a close reading of both books as they complement one another so well. Bundy's research was so thorough and her writing so clean and eloquent that one comes to know the characters and to feel for their hardships. Somehow she conveys, in this great tragedy, a sense of victory ... an understanding that war can bring out the best and worst in us and leave us both saddened and somehow comforted as well to know that sacrifices MUST be remembered - that they who at the end of the day gave the last full measure of devotion in a cause did not die in vain. In this, our most horrible national conflict, Bundy seems to make us recognize the value of sacrifices made long ago, to make us see that the victory is not so much in the winning of a war, as in the surviving of the storm, the enduring with fortitude and valorous commitment to stand tall in the face of fear which makes the story of Lowell and his comrades so endearing and enduring. This work is not merely a biography, but rather a tale for all times full of the tragedy and triumph of humanity.

Well Told Story of a Brief yet Magnificent Life, February 5, 2011
By Scott Billigmeier (Northern Virginia) - See all my reviews
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It is safe to say that Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. is not a household name outside of New England and even then his memory is probably confined to those with a love of history and place. What a shame! As this book well tells, he packed a huge amount of living into his short life that ended on a Virginia Civil War battlefield before his 30th birthday. This is a very good read for anyone with more than a casual interest in the generation of young Harvard educated Boston Brahmins, like Lowell's brother-in-law Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who largely perished between 1861 and 1865. Those few who did survive, such as Col. Lowell's cousin, jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, were never the same afterwards. At nearly 500 pages this is not a short book - in fact many a shorter biography has been written about longer living and more accomplished individuals - but there is ample reward for staying the course. There are a few niggling errors such as when the author cites at least one place name (Reston, Virginia) that did not exist until long after the war was over but these are rare and inconsequential. It is readily apparent that she is focused on the terrain as it was; what is there now or what she calls it is mostly immaterial and shouldn't shake the reader's confidence in the author's overall command of the facts. I'm sure you'll enjoy this fine book as I did.

'a child of the(19)sixties living in the 1850s and not the Brahmin snob that I thought I would encounter., March 9, 2007

The Nature of Sacrifice: Charles Russell Lowell's Civil War

The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Rusell Lowell, Jr. 1835-1864, Carol Bundy, Farrer Strauss and Giroux, 560pp., endnotes, index, 2005, $35.00.

Within the first several chapters, this reader found Charlie Lowell a 'child of the(19)sixties living in the 1850s and not the Brahmin snob that he thought he would encounter.

Born in 1835, immediately before his family slipped from high social standing and wealth and into the 'poor cousins' category, Charlie the grew up in the 'high'culture' of Boston of close-knit kinship relations and opportunities.

With Transcendentalists and Abolitionists as neighbors and relatives, with books and debate as a part of family dinner discourse, and with newspapers and current bestsellers as a part of the table top literature of the household, Charlie grew into an apparently aimless but articulate Harvard student. Slight in build and height, surpassed all, after giving the commencement day address at Harvard in 1856, he took a manual laborers job on the Boston wharfs.

He approached manual labor and business in general with the soul of a philosopher and philanthropist. He was a subversive idealist in the workplace, a worker with a social conscience, and a son who wished to succeed where his father failed. Charlie chose the iron industry as his place in the world. By 1860, after an interlude in Europe recovering from tuberculosis, he was managing an iron foundry, west of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Voting Republican in the presidential election, he watched the secession crisis from western Maryland. The attack on Massachusetts troops by a Baltimore mob in the spring of 1861 brought him into the ranks of the Union army as a cavalry captain.

By 1863, after seeing action on the Peninsula and serving on McClellan's staff during the Sharpsburg campaign, Charlie Lowell commanded the 2nd Massachusetts cavalry in what he considered a 'backwater' assignment, Mosby's Confederacy. It was difficult and distastefull duty for him but one at which he excelled. Lowell collected near missed throughout the war; on the Peninsula he shook out his bedroll from behind his saddle and minie balls dropped out. At Antietam, he discovered his horse to be winded and removed the saddle and found the beast hit several times under it. As a colonel of a brigade during the 1864 Shenandoah campaign, he participated and rationalized the destruction of civilian farmsteads. He finally received a wound from a ball that clipped his elbow, traveled up his sleeve,crossed his shoulder, traveled down and cut a small portion of his spine. He died within 24 hours; he was survived by his wife whom he married in 1863 and was seven months pregnant.

The nature of Charles Russell Lowell's sacrifice was multi-faceted: the happy bachelor who left a wife and child, the workplace manager with a heart for the workers, sleight twenty-somenthing who had become a leader of cavalrymen, and the intellectual who became a anti-guerrilla fighter.

This biography surprises in many ways. Charlie Lowell is put in the context of a family on economic decline, of a social conscience within the environment of the empheral ideas of Transcendentalism, and of a top achieving Harvard student who condemns the college's curriculum of constant mind-numbing rote memorization. In 1861, few would have picked Charlie Lowell become a successful leader of cavalrymen. Appreciated by McClellan, Stanton, and Mosby, Lowell became a hero. The nature of Lowell's sacrifice was the loss of a future earned by a man who believed that there are no problems, only solutions and seized his duty to find a way to succeed.

harrowing, powerful, biography, March 31, 2006
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Drawing her story from hundreds of family letters, Carol Bundy describes with vivid detail the life and death of Charles Russell Lowell. She is a fine writer, and this, her first book (amazingly), is a remarkable achievement. I found it totally absorbing. Yes, Bostonian readers especially will discover many familiar names, but Bundy's viewpoint is neither partisan nor provincial. I highly recommend this book as one of the best I've read in a long time. Just one caveat: it is very, very sad. 

Death Stains Cedar Creek, October 22, 2005
By Kevin Killian (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews

I first became interested in the career of Charles Russell Lowell Jr., when earlier this spring I saw the author, Carol Bundy, speak about him and read from her book on TV, on a fourm provided by the Public TV station Boston's WGBH. For this reader Boston visits always include at least a few hours spent curled up in front of a high-definition TV and turning on the public station, for it seems nowhere else in the country do the arts get such play. Nor the humanities, including the utterly humane biography that Bundy has written of a man she says is her great-great-great-great uncle I think. She was amazed when, after her grandmother died, among her trunks and effects out tumbled the clattering sword of Lowell, as well as his dress uniform, preserved through generations who had relished remembering him as their fallen hero.

As though honoring this family mandate, Bundy has done her level best to help preserve his memory for at least another generation. For on the one hand although Lowell was a forgotten soldier, dead before he was thirty, he fought with distinction at a number of pivotal sites in the War Between the States, at one point serving with "Mosby's Marauders." He was a curious chap, as Bundy relates. While his peers and elders were romantic dreamers-transcendentalists, really-who swore by the abolitionist movement and excused the barbarities of some of its activists as examples of ends justfying means, Lowell took the middle ground, sort of turning his nose up at the ideals in question, while cherishing a different set of ideals, by and large culled from a classical education and a tour of Europe on the grand scale. On this extended sojourn, the privilege of young gentlemen of the 19th century, Lowell became haunted by Michelangelo's painting of the three fates. Later on in the annals of art scholarship, ironically enough, it emerged that the painting was not by Michelangelo at all-not even close. But such is its power that it made Lowell sort of an ironist, and a fatalist too.

Bundy brings the War alive as Shelby Foote did, though from the union side of course. The sights and sounds of the battlefield waft over the reader who dares finish this exhsuaring biography all the way through, not only the sounds of glory but the rotting flesh of the dead and the mad faces of the survivors. Like Shakespeare, Lowell begs the question. No wonder his funeral was attended by so many notables, still spooked by him, for none could follow the oddments and the contours of his soul. Today his distinguished descendant has widened the field of inquiry, allowing us to see the lineaments of a brief life with tantalizing hesitance.

Well written but too many factual errors, September 23, 2005
By J. A. Morgan (Lovettsville, VA) - See all my reviews

Ms. Bundy paints an exceptionally fine picture of the Boston cultural and political scene in the pre-war years. She clearly knows the Lowell family's story (she's a descendent) and she also is a good writer.

However, when she gets away from that and into the details of the war, she falls very short. Her information on Ball's Bluff, for example, contains several errors. Capt. Caspar Crowninshield did not command the 20th Massachusetts and was not the only officer from that regiment to make it back from Ball's Bluff.

On three occasions, she describes California governor Leland Stanford as a "copperhead" or a southern sympathizer though Stanford helped found the Republican party in California and was an ardent Unionist.

She notes Sen. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts as Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, though Wilson was not even a member of that committee.

She treats the tactic of fighting cavalry dismounted almost as if it were invented by Col. Lowell instead of being an old and well-known dragoon technique.

There are numerous other small mistakes like that which some fact-checking or a little more research would have let her avoid. I give the book three stars instead of two only because it is very well written and because the mistakes she makes are not central to the story she is trying to tell about Lowell. They are very jarring, however, and the reader should be prepared for them.

When young men died for a purpose, August 8, 2005
By E. Grazda (NY,NY usa) - See all my reviews
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Excellent bio and history of young Bostonian who had a vision of things that needed changing (slavery). Great details of day to day fighting in the Civil War. Especially interesting to Boston/Cambridge residents, some great local history.

Wonderful bio of an obscure Civil War figure, July 19, 2005

The field of Civil War biography is a growth industry. Especially on the Confederate side, generals and even junior soldiers are written about constantly, and some of the more senior or famous soldiers have had several books written about them in recent years. This latter group includes Sherman, Sheridan, Grant, and (of course) Custer among the Yankees, and Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet among the Confederates. Many Confederate soldiers are written about also, including such household names as Alexander P. Stewart, Benjamin F. Cheatham, and John Bell Hood. By contrast, few if any of the junior Union army generals have had biographies written about them. One of the few books in this line in recent years is My Brave Boys, a study of Edward Cross and his New Hampshire volunteers. It's an excellent book, and the present volume, The Nature of Sacrifice, is worthy of standing on the shelf right along side it.

The subject of the Nature of Sacrifice is Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., the son of a failed businessman who graduated from Harvard first in his class, worked in business and travelled Europe, and joined the regular Union Army in 1861 as a lieutenant in the cavalry and rose to the rank of colonel in the next three years. He was promoted to brigadier general after his death.

The course of his career over the three years between the start of the Civil War and his death comprises the last two thirds of this book, while the first third covers his early life. Much time is spent inspecting his thoughts, feelings, philosophies and intents. When the Civil War started, his joining the Union Army and subsequent career are detailed at length. In the first two years of the war he saw action at Antietam, where he served as an aide to General McClellan. He then went North to raise a cavalry regiment in his home state of Massachusetts, led it back south the next year, chased guerillas for much of a year, then participated in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. He was killed in the last battle of that campaign, Cedar Creek, and was instrumental in the Union victory there.

Lowell is a fascinating character. He was a fierce, devoted abolitionist, an aesthetic character who was Robert Gould Shaw's (Matthew Broderick in the movie Glory) brother-in-law, a man who could have gotten out of service in the war and instead embraced it repeatedly. He was universally well-regarded by the time of his death, receiving accolades from characters as diverse as George Armstrong Custer and Wesley Merritt (who detested one another, but agreed in their regard for Lowell). His men started out grumbling about his disciplinarian ways, but wound up loving him.

This is an excellent book, written by a relative who's never written a book before. It's well-written, informative, and frankly fills a gap in Civil War biography that I wouldn't have anticipated being filled in a long time, perhaps never. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (in case it wasn't obvious already) and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War.


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