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The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-64 Hardcover – March 24, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

This massive, scholarly work is a biography of a Boston Brahmin killed in the Civil War--Charles Russell Lowell Jr., whose death provoked much cogitation among those who had known him about the value of the sacrifice being made for the Union. What the book may provoke, one cannot say, but Bundy merits high praise for her thoroughness, relative readability in so scholarly a tome, and the admirable lack of psychobabble in her analysis of motives and relationships. Lowell's family's fortunes had already suffered a downturn when his father went bankrupt, and he had battled tuberculosis after graduation from Harvard. He stepped briskly forward, however, when the war broke out and served in the infantry, in staff assignments, and eventually as commander of a brigade of cavalry, at whose head he was killed at Cedar Creek, Virginia, in 1864. Meanwhile, he managed to marry a sister of Robert Gould Shaw's, and he left many memories behind. In Lowell's biography, Bundy also offers a group portrait of the era's Boston elite at war. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374120773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374120771
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #984,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

CAROL BUNDY was born in Washington, DC and graduated Yale in 1980 as a Scholar of the House specializing in nineteenth century American history and literature. She 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. The Nature of Sacrifice is her first book. It was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize, received an award from the Boston Authors Club and the American Association of State and Local History. She now lives with her two sons in Cambridge, Mass. and is currently completing a fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society where she is researching another book about the Civil War.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on July 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Morgan on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on October 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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