LOCKPORT – Michael Huskey, the Civil War Medal of Honor winner who grew up in Lockport, is buried as an unknown, but a ceremony Thursday evening in St. Patrick’s Cemetery sought to make sure he’ll never be forgotten.
Huskey, the Navy officer who was approved for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, never received it. He died of dysentery the following year in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital and is believed to be buried in a mass grave there.
Thursday, after four years of research and effort, local officials placed a special marker in the Catholic parish cemetery on Glenwood Avenue. The granite marker, supplied by the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, rests beside the five-foot-high stone marking the final resting place of his parents, Michael and Julia Huskey.
With bagpipes, taps and three volleys of rifle fire included, Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said it was “a ceremony that took almost 150 years to take place, but certainly tonight, we’re doing the right thing.”
County Historian Catherine L. Emerson pursued the Huskey story, following up old leads and unearthing much new information. She learned that Huskey was born in Ireland but immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and settled in Lockport. He died at age 23.
He joined the Navy for a three-year hitch early in the Civil War and was assigned to the USS Carondelet, an ironclad gunboat that, according to Emerson, “saw more action than any other naval vessel until World War II, and 99 percent of the time, Michael Huskey was aboard.”
A fireman first class, Huskey was responsible for keeping the coal-fired engines running.
In March 1863, during the battle of Steele’s Bayou, Miss., Huskey earned his Medal of Honor during what was really a military fiasco: an effort to push a flotilla of gunboats through a stream only two feet wider than the boats themselves. The bayou was overhung with semitropical foliage, and Confederate infantry on the banks rained rifle fire on the ships.
Town of Lockport Supervisor Marc R. Smith said Huskey “volunteered to put out fires on the deck of the USS Ivy, with animals and snakes dropping from trees onto the deck.”
The Ivy was the flagship of the flotilla, which was finally rescued by Union troops. Huskey’s citation lacks specifics on exactly what he did to qualify for the Medal of Honor, but it says he fought “gallantly.”
Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker saluted Emerson, her staff and Deputy County Clerk Wendy Roberson for fighting to win recognition for Huskey. “It would have been easy for them to walk away. Nobody knows Michael Huskey here,” Tucker noted.
In order to claim Huskey’s medal, a proven descendant must sign paperwork. Emerson thinks she found a woman in Ellenville who is a descendant of Huskey’s brother, but the woman won’t respond to requests for help.
“I thought he was like a shadow, and if I didn’t reach up and grab hold of him, he would recede forever,” Emerson said. “We rescued Michael Huskey from the mists of history.”