Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Harvard to Cedar Creek: The Storied Life of Charles Russell Lowell

Charles Russell Lowell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 2, 1835 the son of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., and his wife Anna Cabot Jackson Lowell.  He attended Harvard, graduating as valedictorian in the class of 1854.  Lowell was employed in various practical, menial jobs, learning to be a businessman,  between his graduation from Harvard and his being diagnosed with consumption in October 1856.  He spent 2 years in Europe (1856-1858) in an attempt to regain his health.  By the spring of 1861 when the civil war broke out Lowell was employed at the Mount Savage Iron Works in Cumberland, Maryland.  

Lowell traveled to Washington City in April 1861 seeking a commission in the Regular U. S. Army even though he had no background or experience in the military.  Seeking assistance from Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator he had never met, Lowell noted he: "could speak and write English, French, and Italian and read German and Spanish," and that he had once known "enough of mathematics to put him at the head of my class in Harvard".  He also claimed to be "a  tolerable  proficient with the small sword and the singlestick" and to be able to "ride a horse as far and bring him in as fresh as any other man."  In closing his note to Sumner Lowell wrote: " I am twenty-six years of age, and believe I possess more or less of that moral courage about taking responsibility which seems at present to be found only in Southern officers."    



                              CDV of Charles Russell Lowell circa 1863

Lowell was commissioned a Captain in the 3rd U. S. Cavalry (later the 6th U. S. Cavalry) in June 1861.  He was an aide-de-camp to General George B. McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam.  In 1863 Lowell helped recruit the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry  and was appointed Colonel of the regiment on May 10. He spent part of 1863 and 1864 engaged against Colonel John Singleton Mosby's Partisan Rangers in northern Virginia.   By the fall of 1864 Colonel Lowell commanded the Reserve Cavalry Corps in Brigadier General Wesley Merritt's First Division, Cavalry Corps of Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah.

Lowell Monument, Middletown, Virginia

On the morning of October 19, 1864 while leading his brigade at the Battle of Cedar Creek Lowell was struck by a bullet in the right breast.  Even though he was in great pain and probably had a collapsed right lung he would not allow himself to be removed from the field.  In the afternoon he insisted he be allowed to lead his brigade in a charge against the Confederates.  While leading his brigade in a charge that would help win the day for Union forces Lowell was struck by a second bullet that severed his spinal cord.  He was taken to a house adjacent to the Valley Pike in Middletown, Virginia where he died on October 20, 1864. 


Lowell's Headstone, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lowell's body was returned to Massachusetts where he was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery on October 28, 1864.  This unsung hero, who is all but forgotten today, was praised by Custer, Merritt and Sheridan for his action at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  He died in the service of his country, two weeks short of his 1st wedding anniversary (he was married to Robert Gould Shaw's younger sister Josephine) one month short of the birth of his daughter and three month short of his 30 birthday.

For further reading see:  The Nature of Sacrifice A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-1864, the Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell and California Sabres The 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry in the Civil War.


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