on July 2, 2013 - 9:31 PM
, updated July 3, 2013 at 11:52 AM
GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Scott Good knows his way around Gettysburg.
The 23-year-old graduate of Medaille College in Buffalo lives in Hanover, Pa., about 15 miles from the site of the Civil War’s most studied battle. He is a member of three Civil War re-enactor units. Several of his ancestors fought in the war, some on the Union side, some with “the Rebs.”
He’s combed through the archives at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum, taken visitors to pretty much every nook and cranny of the battlefield, and regaled them with tales of soldiers who made an imprint on the military campaign atop this hallowed ground.
Few of these soldiers amaze Good as much as a Union artillery commander who grew up in Fredonia, N.Y.
Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing and his Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, took the brunt of Pickett’s Charge 150 years ago this afternoon – and were instrumental in stopping it.
“Why he is my favorite is because of the wounds he suffered before he died and what he did,” Good said recently, while dressed in 61st Pennsylvania infantry blue and standing at “The Angle” on Cemetery Ridge. This is the spot where Cushing stood up to the best that the Army of Northern Virginia could muster on July 3, 1863, in an effort to pierce, then overrun, the Union Army of the Potomac line.
“He knew he was dead,” Good said, “but he still continued to fight.”
Cushing, 22 when he died, is such a hero that two communities proudly lay claim to him: Delafield, Wis., where he was born, and Fredonia, where he, his mother and four siblings moved after his father died when Cushing was 6.
His grandfather, Zattu Cushing, was the first settler in Fredonia, in 1805.
Cushing – who was enrolled at West Point at age 16 and graduated at the start of the Civil War – is considered a favorite son of the Chautauqua County village. A statue to honor him was erected in 2006 in Pioneer Cemetery, along Main Street, about 25 yards from his grandfather’s grave site.
Congress has considered a request from historians in Wisconsin in recent years to bestow the Medal of Honor posthumously on the young Cushing – an effort supported by their colleagues in the Southern Tier – but lawmakers have failed to give approval after a decade worth of pleas. One hurdle is that neither community is in contact with any living Cushing relatives.
“I think most people, when they know the story, would agree he’s deserving, but without there being family pushing for it and the right publicity, I don’t know that it will ever happen,” said Todd Langworthy, historian for the Town of Pomfret, which includes the Village of Fredonia.
Cushing had endeared himself to Union commanders and his soldiers before he set foot in Gettysburg, but he made his most heroic mark in the final hours of the historic battle.
A massive monument to the Army of Northern Virginia – one of about 1,400 that dot the nearly 6,000-acre Gettysburg military park – sits nearly a mile west of The Angle, along Seminary Ridge, a portion of the battlefield that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army captured on the first day of the three-day confrontation.
On the final day, Lee lined up the vast majority of his army on the ridge and began a massive, hourlong artillery bombardment of The Angle. His army then swept across the field between the two points, flanked by Union troops on the highlands atop Little Round Top, and Culp’s and Cemetery hills.
As they closed in on the Union line, the center of the formation took the shape of an arrow, its tip pointed directly at three artillery batteries, including Cushing’s and another commanded by Capt. Andrew Cowan from Auburn, N.Y., southwest of Syracuse.
Pickett’s Charge thundered toward the batteries, supported by Confederate cannon fire that already had weakened the Union line. But as the Rebels neared a post-and-rail fence along the Emmitsburg Road, Cushing, his men and other Union batteries trained their fire on them, cutting them to pieces with blasts of canister.
As the fighting raged, all but two of Cushing’s cannons were knocked out of service. He was encouraged to pull back but refused, after gaining permission from a nearby general to remain.
The fence slowed the rebels but did not stop them.
“When they got to the Emmitsburg Road, (Cushing) was already shot in the shoulder,” Good said last month, while standing near one of the Union commander’s cannons at The Angle.
“Then a shell fragment burst nearby, and it cut open his abdomen, and he was still alive and standing, holding in his guts. He couldn’t scream, so his sergeant major was the one yelling the orders for him as he stood here directing his battery fire. … (For several minutes), he held in his own guts while directing fire before he was finally killed” by a gunshot to the head.
“The amount of pain you would have to endure to do that is unbelievable.”
At roughly the same time, the leader of Pickett’s Charge, Lt. Gen. Lewis Armistead, was shot three times and stopped within about a dozen feet of Cushing’s artillery battery. He would die from his injuries two days later at a nearby farmstead.
Rebels took control of the battery for a very short time before Union reinforcements closed in on them from three sides.
The rout was on. Lee’s army retreated. The North had won Battle of Gettysburg.
“The soldiers knew what they had done,” said Thomas M. Grace, secretary of the Buffalo Civil War Roundtable. “They turned back the second largest assault of the entire war.”
Cushing and Armistead are depicted in a famed cyclorama painting that is part of the Gettysburg museum in the visitors center at the national military park. Armistead is seen mortally wounded and falling off a horse – he actually was on foot – as Cushing holds fast to one of his artillery pieces, the bottom of his crisp, white shirt bathed in a sickening yellowish color.
A monument to Cushing and his artillery battery sits at The Angle, along with some of the unit’s cannons, within a few yards of a small marker where Armistead was mortally wounded.
Still, there is no Medal of Honor.
Langworthy, the Pomfret historian, said he sought support for such an honor from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., about seven years ago, but neither advocated for the medal.
U.S. Army Secretary John M. McHugh, a Republican former congressman from outside Watertown, N.Y., recommended Cushing for one in 2010. Three years later, Congress has yet to approve the recommendation.
Nobody nominated Cushing for the medal within two years of his actions at Gettysburg, a requirement for the honor that Congress may waive.
On Memorial Day, Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., and Ron Kind, D-Wis., sought medal approval in a recently passed House defense bill, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Senate and president still must give their nod.
First Sgt. Frederick Fuger, Cushing’s second in command at Gettysburg, received the Medal of Honor in 1897.
Cushing’s mother, Mary, raised four sons and a daughter in Fredonia. All four boys served in the Civil War. One of them, naval war hero William Cushing, had two daughters who taught school in the village for many years. They died in the 1960s and never married or had children, Langworthy said.
He said Mary Cushing’s daughter moved to Missouri and had two children there, but nobody locally knows what became of them.
“Unfortunately, this medal is usually something that wants to be done pretty soon after something that’s happened, not 150 years later,” Langworthy said. “It’s kind of hard after the fact, because everyone forgets so much.”
Neither Delafield, Wis., nor Fredonia claimed this hero’s body. His funeral and burial took place at West Point, where Cushing had graduated two years earlier.
Gen. Winfield Scott, who, like Cushing’s Western New York grandfather, had fought in the War of 1812, attended the funeral service, and three years later was buried near the young artillery commander.
But it was Scott’s namesake, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who may have uttered the most famous words about Cushing after observing him at Gettysburg, where Hancock was second in command.
He called him, “The bravest man I ever saw.”