National Parks

Union Artillery Officer To Receive Medal Of Honor For Actions At Gettysburg

Today, 6 November, the White House will hold a ceremony to honor First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing with the Medal of Honor for his actions 151 years ago, during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

Cushing was born in Wisconsin in 1841 and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1861. He fought with the Army of the Potomac in a stunningly long list of engagements in northern Virgina from 1861-1863: the Manassas Campaign (including the First Battle of Bull Run), the Peninsular Campaign, the Siege of Yorktown, the Seven Days Battles, Rappahannock, and Thoroughfare Gap. Finally, he commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg.

On the third day of the battle, 3 July 1863, Battery A was deployed along Cemetery Ridge in the center of the Union lines. Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered an assault on the center of the line, to be led by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, though it would come to be known as Pickett’s Charge for Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett. Cushing’s battery was deployed near The Angle, where the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead made their farthest advance against Union positions, known as “the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.”

As Battery A directed fire against the enemy, Cushing was wounded twice by Confederate artillery fire. He continued to direct the battery against the enemy assault and refused to be evacuated to the rear. Cushing is reported to have said, “I’ll stay and fight it out, or die in the attempt.” First Sergeant Frederick Füger held Cushing upright so the officer could continue to give commands despite the wounds. As the enemy approached, Battery A continued to pour fire upon the enemy with its single remaining gun. Cushing was struck in the mouth with a bullet and died; he was 22 years old.

Füger assumed command and continued firing until no ammunition remained; the battery then defended with rifles and finally in hand-to-hand combat. The area around the Angle was briefly overrun by the Confederates before the enemy was beaten back and the Angle once again secured. Füger was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

This story is also one about the perseverance of a local historian. Margaret Zerwekh of Wisconsin has written and lobbied to honor Cushing for nearly a quarter century. Elected officials from Wisconsin took up this issue and after review of the relevant facts, an Act of Congress was passed to award the medal to Cushing. This is a fascinating story from start to finish, and certainly makes me want to pick up the biography of Cushing, Cushing of Gettysburg, written in 1993 by Kent Masterson Brown.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/us/politics/medal-of-honor-for-a-civil-war-hero-150-years-in-the-grave.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/12/us/12medal.html?_r=0

http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=123506

Artillery in the News: The Mystery of the Missing 18th Century Cannon

The Prodigal Son of artillery pieces has returned home.

This 257-year-old cannon took part in the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, only to be stolen in the 1960s from Saratoga National Historical Park. It was found in an art museum in Alabama.

This 257-year-old cannon took part in the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, only to be stolen in the 1960s from Saratoga National Historical Park. It was found in an art museum in Alabama.

The New York Times reported a few months ago the long, strange journey of a cannon from the American War of Independence. The six-pounder gun had long sat sleepily in Saratoga National Historical Park, which commemorates the Battles of Saratoga, September-October 1777. But the 555 pound cannon had somehow been purloined sometime in the 1960s. When it went missing, a substitute was brought to Saratoga from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio. About four years ago, a ranger overheard a visitor compare the substitute to one the visitor had seen in Alabama. After following up with this chance connection, National Park investigators discovered that the cannon in Alabama was most likely the one that had disappeared almost 50 years before from Saratoga.  The park’s curator, Christine Valosin, set out to prove the cannon’s authenticity and trace its path from 18th century England to 21st century Alabama.

General John Burgoyne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1766; now in the Frick Collection in New York City. The cannon was part of Gen. Burgoyne's army.

General John Burgoyne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1766; now in the Frick Collection in New York City. The cannon was part of Gen. Burgoyne’s army.

The cannon began on the side of the British; it was cast outside of London in 1756 during the Seven Years’ War. It was then transported to Canada in 1776 for service in the American War of Independence. The gun was in General John Burgoyne’s army, along with 17 other six-pounders, as it traveled from the province of Quebec to the Hudson River valley in what would become known as the Saratoga campaign. The American General Horatio Gates and the Continental Army defeated General Burgoyne and the British during engagements on 19 September and 7 October 1777; Gen. Burgoyne surrendered to Gen. Gates on 17 October, and this gun passed into the hands of the Americans.

General Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart, 1793-1794. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

General Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart, 1793-1794. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

After the war, it was used for coastal defense in New York during the War of 1812. In the early 20th century, the gun was moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn New York City, in order to commemorate the Battle of Long Island, fought on 27 August 1776. Then in 1934, a historian by the name of Thomas J. Hanrahan petitioned New York City to send the cannon to Saratoga; the request was ultimately successful. The gun was kept in a barn near the upstate battlefield until it disappeared sometime in the 1960s.

The trail gets murky here, given that thieves are less likely to document their activities scrupulously. The cannon was at an amusement park in Gloversville, NY, 40 miles away from Saratoga. Collectors in Connecticut and Florida handled it before it ended up at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art in Alabama in the 1970s, where it had remained until 2013. The cannon was returned to Saratoga National Historical Park and re-dedicated there in November 2013.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull (1821), which hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The painting prominently features a cannon on the right side, in the American camp.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull (1821), which hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The painting prominently features a cannon on the right side, in the American camp.

Addendum to the Foregoing

My first post (https://artilleryhistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/lets-start-things-off-with-a-bang/) is a video I took of historical re-enactors at Valley Forge. The re-enactors portray soldiers of the American Revolution from the Second Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line. (They also play the British as the 43rd Regiment of Foot). On Sunday, 16 February 2014, the Second Pennsylvania Regiment took to Valley Forge in order to help celebrate Presidents’ Day. There was a demonstration of an infantry platoon firing as a platoon and in sections. In the video below, the cannoneers demonstrate a crew drill on a three pounder light field artillery gun. According to the demonstrators, the gun would fire a three pound ball with one and a half pounds of powder. A well-trained crew could fire ten times per minute–once every six seconds. The crew would push the gun and advance alongside the infantry during attacks.

You can find out more about the Second Pennsylvania Regiment at http://www.243regiment.com/.