Craig Swain’s post yesterday here on fallen leaders at Cedar Creek jogged a memory. I knew I had seen a contemporary account of the death of Charles Russell Lowell, but couldn’t remember where. Lowell had an interesting position during the battle. He was a captain in the 6th U.S. Cavalry and colonel of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, both present at the battle, and in command of both regiments as the commander of the Reserve Brigade.
Today, I remembered where I had seen it. Charles A. Humphreys was the regimental chaplain for the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry from 1863 through the end of the war. As the chaplain, he frequently encountered the regimental commander, so one must expect a bit of bias. In his postwar history of the regiment, Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Humphreys chronicles Lowell’s passing.
“I have already told how my gallant Colonel, in this month’s campaign in which he was every day under fire, seemed to bear a charmed life, having had thirteen horses shot out from under him — one of them struck in seven places — and his clothes riddled with bullets. He had not himself been touched till the third charge in the Battle of Cedar Creek, when a spent ball for a moment took away his breath and afterwards left him voiceless. General Torbert urged that he be taken from the field. But Lowell whispered: “No! It is only my poor lung. I have not lost a drop of blood yet. I want to lead in the final charge.” So a little parapet of earth was thrown up to shield him from the bullets of the enemy, and he lay there motionless for two hours, having exacted a promise that he should be told when the charge was ordered. This came about three o’clock. Then, though too weak to mount his horse without assistance, he said, “I am well, now,” and allowed his faithful men to lift him into the saddle, and he rode to the front amid the cheers of his troops. Then his strength rose with the occasion, and though the death flush was on his cheeks he rode firm and erect as ever, and though he could only whisper his commands to his aids, [sic] all saw by the pointing of his sword that he meant Forward to victory or death.
“Just as they were in the thickest of the fight, Lowell — still leading on his men — was pierced by a bullet from shoulder to shoulder and fell into the arms of his aids [sic]. Yet even thus he would not check the vigor of the assault, but allowed himself to be carried forward in the track of his rapidly advancing brigade till he reached the village of Middletown and saw that the battle was won. Then he lay down upon his death-couch as calmly as to a night’s repose, and, though partially paralyzed, he remained for a time conscious, and gave minute directions about the business of his command, dictated some private messages of affection, and twice directed his surgeon to leave him to look to the wounds of other officers and of some wounded prisoners whose cries of pain he overheard, and then quietly and contentedly went to sleep and waked no more on earth.”
Obviously Humphreys uses a bit of poetic license in his account. From the nature of his final wound and other accounts of his fall, it seem far more likely that he was in the village or on its outskirts when he was shot.
Lowell was mourned across the Cavalry Corps. His division commander’s comments were contained in the previous post, and his corps commander, A.T.A. Torbert, commented in this excerpt from official report:
“In this general advance Colonel Lowell, Second Massachusetts Cavalry, commanding reserve Brigade, First Division, while charging at the head of his brigade, received a second wound, which proved to be mortal. Thus the service lost one of its most gallant and accomplished soldiers. He was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer, and his memory will never die in the command.”
Humphreys, Charles A. Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1918. Pages 179-181.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 43, Part 1, Page 434.
Photograph of Charles Russell Lowell in 1864, USAMHI.