The Nature of Sacrifice: Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-1864

Book: The Nature of Sacrifice

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

“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.”   —Edwin Yoder, Washington Post

Rarely in Union narratives do you find so compelling and romantic a tale on which to hang a bit of history. I saw a biography of Charlie Lowell as a chance to tell the story of the Civil War from the point of view of the children of the Transcendentalists. They believed that the world advances by “impossibilities achieved.” The American experiment in democracy was one, the abolition of slavery another. Steeped in idealism, these young men yearned for practical applications. New England has never recovered from their loss.

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 . . . Bundy has examined an abundance of evidence in her reconstruction of the life of this most remarkable fellow. . . [This is] an enduring and often lovely monument to his memory.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“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. 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

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 . . . 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.”  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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] 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.”  —Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

“In her fine biography, The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., Carol Bundy has rendered a great service to general readers and Civil War scholars alike … The Nature of Sacrifice is a skillfully written biography. … and Carol Bundy has made a valuable contribution to both Civil War history and American biography.
—Richard Miller, Civil War Book Review

Recent Posts

Then and Now

This afternoon I was researching a talk I have to give next week. I was reading about the pre-emancipation efforts by Northern businessmen to force Lincoln’s hand on the issue. As opposed to their more moralistic counterparts, men like John Murray Forbes and Amos Adams Lawrence focused on the practical, almost commonsense reasons for emancipation which were largely that free black laborers would contribute more to the nation in terms of production and consumption than they would as slaves: essentially a free labor argument. These were men who cared little for the slave, were often pejorative about those they met. Their real concern was their fear of the Slave Power in national politics and their sense that the institution of slavery undermined the free market system. And yet their money and enterprise was focused on proving the ability and the worth of slaves to survive and prosper outside of bondage at a time when most Americans doubted that possibility.

This evening the phone rang as I was listening to the debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. The voice was that of a southern Afro-American woman phoning for a political solicitation. We danced around initially with me a little reluctant to get drawn into a phone conversation when I wanted to listen to the debate which was scratchy and substantive and exciting. But then she mentioned that pledges would be tripled. So I agreed to give some money. Soon she was calling me “Miss Carol” and we were upping my pledge by a symbolic $2.50 for the 25 seats needed to win in the House of Representatives. As we said goodbye she reminded me to vote as my vote was as important as my contribution.

Three days before I had stood in Mount Auburn Cemetery as the reconstituted Company A of the 54th Regiment laid a wreath at the restored memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. I had drunk a glass of wine with two re-enactors whose ancestor had served as enlisted men in the original 54th regiment. He had survived. Mine, an officer, had not. But the rise of the black Americans from slavery to full citizenship, begun more than 150 years ago as a mix of ideals, pragmatism and the most basic self-interest, is still part of our on-going history and the young volunteer who phoned me tonight brought it to life vividly.

A Southern woman of color, embracing both the flavor and heritage of the South as she spoke to me, a white northern woman, calling me respectfully, and deferentially, Miss Carol.  At the same time she was manning the phones, raising money and urging me to exercise my fundamental right to vote all in the interest of protecting her political interests.

Gotta love it!

  1. Slavish Shore: The Odyssey of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. Leave a reply
  2. Psychology Goes to the Movies: The Manchurian Candidate Leave a reply
  3. Inglorious Warfare: Fighting the Gray Ghost Leave a reply
  4. Opinionator Leave a reply
  5. The Purchase By Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862 Leave a reply
  6. New England Biography Seminar Leave a reply
  7. Lowell Park, Dixon, Illinois: Centennary Celebration Leave a reply
  8. Author Interview: Sunrise Radio WUML Leave a reply
  9. Lincoln Prize Leave a reply