The Lost Generation-The Tragic Deaths of Ramseur and Lowell
Library of Congress
The Lost Generation
To understand the magnitude of loss in human life that occurred during the Civil War, we must first look at the statistics and then look beyond to understand the human experience. To look beyond the statistics we will focus on Stephen Dodson Ramseur and Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. Both of these brave young men fought heroically until their fated ends at the Battle of Cedar Creek.
The number of deaths during the Civil War was staggering. Approximately 206,000 soldiers died in battle and 418,000 died from disease and other noncombatant causes. Over 620,000 deaths and over one million total casualties occurred during the Civil War for both the North and South. Each number reflects a life. The majority of these deaths were from one generation of Americans born between 1835-1845. This "Lost Generation" included men that were in their twenties and thirties while fighting in the Civil War. Stephen Dodson Ramseur and Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. are two men who are examples of the "Lost Generation." They both fought valiantly during their service in the Civil War until their fates were determined at the Battle of Cedar Creek.
West Point was the perfect training for the leader Ramseur was about to become. Before North Carolina seceded from the Union, he resigned his commission with the United States Army and headed to Mobile, Alabama the new Confederate capital to offer his services. During his four years he participated in some of the most important battles of war. After being seriously wounded at Malvern Hill when a bullet hit his arm he was appointed to brigadier general on November 1, 1862. He returned to his command in January 1863. At Chancellorsville Ramseur was wounded in the shin. He continued to lead with determination at Gettysburg, the Wilderness and was wounded again for the third time during the fierce fighting at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. Cold Harbor was another intense battle for the young commander. On June 4, 1863 Ramseur was promoted to rank of major general, the youngest West Pointer to achieve this rank at the age of 27.
A man very similar to Ramseur, but who fought for the Union was Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. Born on January 2, 1835 to Charles Russell Sr. and Anna Cabot Jackson. The Lowell and Jackson families connected through business and marriage had been major forces in New England. The families gained great wealth and became part of high society in Boston. Lowell's father Charles Russell Lowell, Sr. proved to be an inefficient manager of Lycoming Coal and declared bankruptcy in 1840. In reaction to her husband's inability to provide for the family, Anna Lowell decided to open a school.
This school is where young Lowell first received his education. When Lowell was nine, he attended Boston Latin School. After completing four years at the Latin School, Lowell went on to the English High School. After high school Lowell attended Harvard. During Lowell's four years at Harvard he remained in the top two positions in his class and at the July 1854 commencement Lowell gave the valedictory address.
Lowell's health continued to deteriorate and with his families insistence he went to Europe. After two years in Europe, Lowell made his way to Paris to visit a pathologist where Lowell was diagnosed as being in remission. Armed with the positive news about his health, Lowell returned to the States.
After being commissioned Colonel in the spring of 1863, the younger sister of his friend Rob Shaw, Effie, caught his eye. In a sequence of events that paralleled Ramseur's romance, there was an awakening, a whirlwind courtship and an engagement, with the wedding date to be set subject to military necessity. Josephine Shaw and Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. were married on October 31, 1863, (ironically only three days after Dod and Nellie marry), in Staten Island's Unitarian Chapel.
After the thirteen day rampage through the Valley, Sheridan was confident that the destruction of the Valley would provide no sustenance to Early's army. With the Confederate army unable to feed itself, Sheridan felt it would be unlikely for them to attempt an attack. Sheridan used Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, Virginia as his headquarters and placed his three corps along the northern banks of Cedar Creek. On October 15, 1864 Sheridan went to Washington D.C. for a strategy meeting to discuss the next move for the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan felt that he had victory in the Valley and was ready to move his army to Richmond to help put an end to the war.
While Sheridan's men were entrenched at Cedar Creek, the Confederate forces were not happy. Many of the men in Lt. General Jubal A. Early's army were from the Shenandoah Valley. Many of these Confederate soldier's personal property had been destroyed during the burning campaign that Sheridan unleashed in the Valley.
Leading up to the events of the battle of Cedar Creek, Ramseur received wonderful news. Through the use of the signal station at Signal Knob on the Massanutten Mountain, Ramseur found out that Nellie had given birth to their first child. Ramseur did not know if he had a son or a daughter as the message simply said, "The crisis is over and all is well." Ramseur wanted a furlough to get home to his wife and new child. He had hoped the upcoming battle would afford him the opportunity. On the morning of battle he was "…dressed with unusual care in full uniform, a flower in his lapel to honor his new child…" Lowell's wife Effie was also expecting their first child in November.
On October 17, 1864, Early ordered Major General John B. Gordon with some other men to hike to Signal Knob atop the Massanatten Mountain. Taking in the information of how the Federals were camped at Cedar Creek, Gordon, along with others formulated a plan to conduct a nighttime march on October 18, with a surprise attack against the Federal left on the morning of October 19.
Two men with promise and grace were exemplified at the battle of Cedar Creek. Their lives so different yet so paralleled. They both died two weeks short of their first wedding anniversary. Ramseur died just days after his daughter Mary was born. Lowell died weeks before his daughter Carlotta was born. These children are two examples of the many children who would never know their fathers.
On May 25, 1861 President Lincoln wrote a letter to the parents of a fallen soldier. This letter from Lincoln is a reflection for the lost generation of our great Civil War. It is also important to note that this letter was written in the very beginning of the war. Lincoln writes:
In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is
scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness
to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and
friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall.
Did You Know?
Did you know that Shenandoah County, Virginia, was originally named Dunmore County after Virginia's last royal governor? Once Dunmore departed Williamsburg with British forces, the county was renamed Shenandoah.