By RAY CONIGLIO
Although I had heard about the Cushing family and their links to Civil War growing up in Fredonia, I never learned of the significance until recently. Three years ago I downloaded a free book on my IPad titled "Chancellorsville and Gettysburg" by Abner Doubleday written in 1882. Yes, the Abner Doubleday who was credited with inventing baseball, but also was a West Point graduate who was at many of the major Civil War battles.
Major General Doubleday was a Division Commander under General John Reynolds I Corps at Gettysburg. Gen. Reynolds was killed early in the battle on July 1 just as the fighting began. On the final day of the battle, July 3, MG Doubleday's Division was south of the "Copse of Trees" on Cemetery Ridge that Confederate General Robert E. Lee identified as focal point of what was to be called "Pickett's Charge." In Doubleday's book, I read three paragraphs that included a brief account of Lon Cushing's artillery battery and his final command to fire his final working cannon before being killed. It was interesting to know what happened to this young Union officer who hailed from my hometown.
My family had the good fortune to spend last Thanksgiving in Gettysburg. My wife Cindy and I took a ride around the battlefield. We started on Seminary Ridge where the battle began, then down Confederate Avenue where General Lee's forces were camped on the 2nd and 3rd days of battle. We crossed the Emmitsburg Road headed to the extreme southern end of Cemetery Ridge. Going north now we saw Big & Little Round Top, Devil's Den, The Wheatfield and The Peach Orchard. Following Hancock Ave we passed the Pennsylvania Memorial and soon after we found a plaque dedicated to Cushing's Union Battery. This was very exciting but our dinner was waiting and there was no time to further explore this very interesting find.
The next day we headed to the Park bookstore. There we found a copy of the book "Cushing of Gettysburg" by Kent Masterson Brown. We purchased the book along with a 150th year Civil War battle poster with three battles - Shiloh, Antietam and Gettysburg. The Gettysburg portion featured Cushing's Battery. Here is the story of Alonzo Cushing.
The Cushing family were Puritans who emigrated from England in 1638. The Smith family had links directly to "The Mayflower" that arrived in 1620. Lon's father Milton was the fourth child of Zattu and Rachel Cushing. Milton attended what is now Colgate University. Mary was educated in some of the finest Boston female schools. Her first cousins, Admiral Alfred Smith and Congressman Albert Smith, would become very influential in our nation's capital. The Puritans were very Protestant, clannish and as the first Americans, viewed themselves as an elite class in early America.
By the time of Lon's birth, many Roman Catholics from countries like Ireland and Germany began to arrive in large numbers. The Puritans were very suspicious of these new arrivals. By the 1850s, this movement turned into the American Party, better known as the "Know-Nothing" party. How this party succeeded at the Federal level would have implications for the Cushing family.
Lon's father had ventured out from Fredonia in search of work. Initially he went to Putnam, Ohio, in 1820 and got a job working for his mother's brother in the dry goods business. He married there in 1823 and had four children. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1833. Tuberculosis, or consumption as it was known then, was very contagious and killed many Americans in those days. It was particularly damaging to the Cushing family and now Milton was in the early stages of this dreaded disease. Milton then married Mary Smith in 1836.
In 1838 they moved to the Wisconsin Territory to seek a better life. Although they built a log cabin on 250 acres, life proved very difficult on the frontier. By April 1847 Milton had succumbed to tuberculosis. He had told Mary that upon his death she and their 5 children should return to Fredonia where the Cushing family would take good care of them. Although her family wanted them to come to Massachusetts, she honored her husband's request and went to live in Fredonia.
When the Cushings arrived in 1847 they found Fredonia a thriving village. Being close to Lake Erie and the Erie Canal were beneficial to the new village. At Main and Temple streets was the Barker Common. Lon's church, the First Baptist, along with Trinity Episcopal and the Presbyterian Church, all surrounded the Common.
The Fredonia Censor was at Main and Center streets. Mary settled on Green Street (back then Green Street began at East Main Street and followed the current Green Street to Eagle Street. Cushing began at Green and ended at Prospect Street.
To support herself she initially worked as a seamstress and then started a primary school. By doing this she could earn money and educate her children. Two important things happened for the Cushings in 1854. Lon and his younger brother Will had been enrolled in the Fredonia Academy and Francis Smith Edwards had been elected to the House of Representatives running on the Know-Nothing ticket. The Academy was located at Temple and Church streets. It had an excellent reputation and students from all over WNY and Canada attended this fine institution. Lon excelled there.
Between classes and homework, Lon worked at his cousin's Devillo White's grocery and drug store on East Main St. He was fast learning about hard work, discipline and academics. All qualities he would need for future opportunities. Having her youngest boys attend one of nation's military academies would satisfy Mary's goal of getting them a higher education. Although Will was a prankster and fairly rambunctious, he was a good student and looked up to and admired Lon.
Mary had asked Rep. Edwards to assist her in getting the boys appointments. She wrote her Smith cousin's in Washington asking for their assistance. Both were good friends with the General of Army, Winfield Scott. In December of 1856, the now lame-duck Rep. Edwards recommended Lon for an appointment to United States Military Academy. After a very anxious Christmas, word finally came in January 1857 that Lon had been accepted for an appointment to West Point. And that was not all Rep. Edwards did. Working with Commodore Joseph Smith, they secured an appointment for Will to attend the United States Naval Academy. Mary's wish had come true.
The Cushing brothers spent the winter and spring 1857 finishing their studies at the Fredonia Academy and saying good byes to their friends and family. In mid-June cousin George White drove the boys in his carriage to the NY & Erie Railroad station in Dunkirk. Riding along with them were Mary and their little sister Mary Isabel. They said their good byes and boarded the train heading east. The boys rode together all the way to Piermont, NY, just north of Yonkers. There Lon headed north to USMA and Will took the train south to Baltimore and the USNA.
Lon enjoyed life at the USMA. He learned about engineering, military tactics, etc. Classmates and good friends included Paddy O'Rorke, George "Little Dad" Woodruff, Charles Hazlett, Henry Noyes & Eugene Carter, James Lord, Samuel Ferris. One more famous classmate was George Custer who would graduate last in his class!! Lon returned to Fredonia for 1st time since he left in the summer of 1859. He enjoyed the time home and furthered his relationship with a young lady believed to be, but never confirmed, Julia Greenleaf.
Going into the 1860 academic year he was named Sergeant of the Corps. This made him the "commandant" of a table in the mess hall and he could keep his light on his room after dark. Things were going well for Lon at West Point. Each year he advanced his scholastic standing. But the winds of war were coming Lon's way. Some important events leading up to the War and the battles Cushing participated in are listed below:
Oct. 16, 1859 John Brown seizes the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, VA. Col. Robert E. Lee and his troops recaptured the arsenal.
Nov. 6, 1860 Lincoln wins the Presidential election
December 1860 South Carolina is the 1st State to secede.
March 1861 Will Cushing is dismissed from the Naval Academy for "pranks and poor scholarship". 2 months later he would join the USN
April 1861 - 20 Southern cadets resign from Lon's class. Leaving only 40 of the original 68 from 1857. Brother Howard Bass Cushing joins the Army, Battery B, 1st Illinois Light artillery.
April 12, 1861 The Confederates attack and seize Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. The Civil War officially begins.
May 1861 - Commodore Smith had summoned the oldest Cushing brother, Milton, to work for him in the Navy.
June 24, 1861 Lon graduates from the USMA. His class of cadets should have had one more year. But due to outbreak of hostilities the final year was shortened into a 6 week training period. He was now a 1st Lieutenant in the 4th US Artillery.
July 2, 1861 Lon Cushing arrives in Washington, DC to report for duty. He is assigned to Battery A of the 4th US Artillery.
July 21, 1861 -1st Bull Run (Manassas)
June 1862 Seven Days Battles
September 1862 Battle of Antietam
December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg
May 186 Battle of Chancellorsville
In early 1863 Lon returned to Fredonia for the first time in 3.5 years on furlough. It would be his last visit. He and his Mother would be overcome with tears of joy upon his arrival. Lon had always sent $20 a month to his Mom & sister so they could live comfortably in his absence. They had a very strong bond. He would spend time with his unidentified young lady friend again. After sometime there, he accompanied his Mom to Chelsea, MA to spend time with her relatives. It was then back to the Army of the Potomac.
His next engagement was the Battle of Chancellorsville in late May. This was another disappointing Union defeat. It would set the stage for Gen. Lee's decision to move into Pennsylvania looking for decisive victory to force the Union into peace. This strategy would lead to a monumental battle in the small town of Gettysburg.
At Gettysburg, Brevet Major Lon Cushing's Battery A of the 4th United States Artillery was under the brigade command of Gen. Alexander Webb. The overall commander of the 2nd Corps was Gen. John Gibbons of the famed "Iron Brigade". Gen. George Mead was the newly named General of the Army of the Potomac. He told Gibbons on 7/2/63 that Lee's infantry attack the next day would be directly at his 2nd Corps.
On 2nd day of the battle, 7/2/63, Cushing's battery saw plenty of action. The situation intensified around 6:00 PM. They were facing an infantry charge from the 2nd Georgia brigade directly at the middle of the 2nd Corps line on Cemetery Ridge. The battery poured fire into the point of Georgian's attack, helping to repulse the incursion as night fell. Earlier in the day Lon's classmates, Paddy O'Rorke & Charles Hazlett, were killed on Little Round Top within minutes of each other.
On the 3rd day, Lon's artillery battery was stationed just north of the "Copse of Trees" that Gen. Lee was referring to while planning his attack. It was some 50 yards behind low stonewall near where it angled 90 deg. That spot would later be called the "The Angle", the highwater mark of Pickett's charge. The Confederate artillery barrage with 150 cannons began at 1:00 PM. Their main objective was to decimate the Union artillery and particularly the artillery at the point of where the infantry attack was to focus. That was exactly where Cushing's battery was. Deafening sound, hot lead and steel filled the air. Death and destruction was everywhere along Cemetery Ridge. Cushing's battery was returning fire as best they could. One gun after another was disabled. Soon Cushing was hit by shrapnel in the right shoulder, then within a few seconds was wounded in the groin area. Blood poured from this wounds and Lon was terribly weakened and most likely went into shock. Despite these horrific wounds, he refused to go to the rear, he stood with his battery. When the barrage ended around 2:30, Cushing had only 2 cannons left of his original 6. With the Confederate's massing across the field, west of the Emmittsburg Rd., an infantry charge was expected at any time. Cushing conferred with General Webb, whose Pennsylvania brigade was also positioned there. They agreed it would be necessary to move his battery with the remaining 2 cannons to the wall, right at the "The Angle".
Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was now on the move. Lee's ANV had components from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi along with Virginians. Gen. James Longstreet's had command of the 1st Corps. Lee had chosen Gen. Pickett's was solid Virginia division to lead the attack. From Gen. A.P. Hill's 3rd Corps, elements of Gen. Richard Anderson's division would be attacking from the north and south of the "Copse of trees". Gen. Pettigrew would command the northern attack with Gen.'s Wilcox and Lang brigades attacking from south. Pickett's division was aimed the Union center, Gen.'s Kemper and Garnett brigades would lead the charge with Gen. Lewis Armistead's brigade right behind them. They performed a "left oblique" just past the Emmittsburg Rd. and headed in northeasterly direction, towards Cushing's battery. As the attack progressed Gen. Pettigrew's forces from the north were under tremendous fire from Gen. Alexander Hays' 3rd division, in particular the 8th Ohio under Lt. Col. Franklin Sawyer from the left flank. Gen.'s Wilcox and Lang's southern approach was blocked effectively by Gen. David Birney's 1st division. Col. McGilvery's vicious artillery barrage from Little Round Top was a large factor in stopping this advance.
Cushing was still in the battle more than an hour after being severely wounded. Though barely able to speak, he was giving orders through his loyal 1st Sgt. Frederick Fuger. Fuger, a German Catholic immigrant, had been with Lon through out the War. He, along with classmate Paddy O'Rorke, were the men that had changed Cushing's world view concerning the Catholic immigrants. Because of constant firing, the leather thumb stall used to block the vent during the loading of a cannon had disintegrated. In order to keep firing while another thumb stall was found, Cushing placed his thumb over the vent. While successful, the hot gases had burned his thumb to the bone. Despite all this pain, Cushing stayed at his post. Now firing deadly close range double canister into the onrushing Virginians, Lon had the last working cannon loaded again and ordered Sgt. Fuger to fire. As it bellowed with double canister, Cushing was shot just the below nose. Fuger, only 3 feet away, rushed to him and caught him before he hit ground. 1.5 hours after initially being wounded, Brevetted Major Alonzo Cushing died in Fuger's arms. Fuger ordered 2 comrades to take Cushing's body to the rear were the battery had made their camp. The battery's final operating cannon continued to fire, now with triple canister. Despite furious infantry and artillery fire, with Kemper and Garnett both dead, elements of Gen. Armistead's brigade managed to breach the stonewall at the "The Angle". This was the earlier described "high water mark" of the Confederate charge. Soon Col. Hall's 3rd Brigade and Gen. Harrow's 1st Brigade moved north to close the salient. Now being urged forward by Gen. Hancock, Webb's 2nd Brigade moved forward. Under this powerful surge, Armistead's brigade was stopped and began to retreat. Gen. Armstead was killed within a few yards of were Cushing fell. Armstead's best friend in Army before the Civil War, Gen. Hancock, was severely wounded in the leg nearly simultaneously to Armistead's death.
The greatest and bloodiest land battle ever fought on US soil was coming to an end with a decisive Union victory. A victory that would turn the tide of the Civil War and eventually preserve this great Union. The cost to both sides was enormous. Although the numbers vary somewhat, some 8,000 were killed, 28,000 wounded and over 10,000 missing. In addition to Paddy O'Rorke and Charles Hazlett, the battle had claimed several other of Cushing's classmates from West Point. "Little Dad" Woodruff, Ned Kirby, and Justin Dimick. His most famous classmate, Brevet Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, would lead the 7th Michigan cavalry counterattack stopping Gen. Jeb Stuart's attempt to flank the Union rear.
Soon after the battle Cushing's artillery battery returned to their camp for some much needed rest and a meal. Sgt. Fuger sat close to Lon's body, in minutes he fell fast sleep alongside it. Even after death, Fuger's loyalty to his commander was evident. Word of Cushing's death reached Washington quickly. Navy Lt. Milton Cushing immediately set out for Gettysburg to retrieve his brother's remains. When he arrived, Sgt. Fuger was still closely guarding the body. His remains were put in a wooden casket and was on a train to West Point shortly thereafter. Cushing had made it clear that he wanted to be buried at West Point. Days later, not knowing Milton had taken possession of Lon's remains, Navy Lt. Will Cushing arrived in Gettysburg. While the Army of the Potomac had moved on, he wrote of the sickening sight the battle had left in its aftermath. 1,000's of unburied dead men in the sweltering heat. Dead horses and cows everywhere. The 28,000 wounded in nearly every home, field and orchard for miles. The carnage of this great battle was everywhere. Already recognized for his bravery, Will Cushing would become the most famous naval hero of the War. On 10/27/64 he and his crew would guide a torpedo into the CSN ironclad Albemarle and sink it. This incredible act of bravery opened up the Roanoke River to the Union Navy. He married Katherine Forbes of Fredonia in 1870.
In the 7/6/63 edition of The New York Times front page account of the battle, Lon's heroism at Gettysburg was detailed. Lt. Alonzo Cushing was buried with full honors on 7/12/63 at West Point. Present were many of the academy's faculty and the great General of the Army, Winfield Scott. Milton was the only family member in attendance. In Stephen Vincent Benet famous poem of the Civil War, John Brown's Body, Cushing's tale was the entire final verse:
Cushing ran down the last of his guns to the battle-line.
The rest had been smashed to scrap by Lee's artillery fire.
He held his guts in his hand as the charge came to the wall.
And his gun spoke out for him once before he fell to the ground.
There continues to be an effort to get Cushing the Medal of Honor. This highest of military honors was not awarded posthumously in the Civil War. Recently efforts led by the Wisconsin congressional delegation are trying to get this honor for him. Amazingly this has not happened. Cushing and his family's Wisconsin roots are honored in several ways. There is an elementary school and a city park named in their honor in Delafield.
When visiting the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, you can find Lon Cushing everywhere. On plaques, memorials and head stones along Cemetery Ridge. He is in the bookstore on photos and in books. He is in the famous Cyclorama painting of Pickett's Charge.
Alonzo Cushing was at the most crucial spot of the most crucial battle in our history. His gallantry was critical to eventually reuniting the USA. He gave his life to preserve this great Union. This heroic Fredonia figure from our past is to be remembered and honored on this solemn American holiday.
Cushing of Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown. This is a fabulous book for any Fredonia or local resident interested in our history. Much of the information for article comes from this book.
The Gettysburg Campaign by Shelby Foote. Shelby Foote was the 20th Century's foremost author and historian on the Civil War. This book gives the behind the scenes account about Gen. Lee's plan and motives for the Gettysburg Campaign. He does reference Cushing several times, but says he is from Wisconsin!!!
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen Guelzo. A detailed account of the battle with great illustrations, maps and photos. Many Cushing references are in the details of 7/3/63.
I use the term "cannon" throughout this article for simplicity. Military historians most likely would use the technical terms of the day such as "ordinance rifle, parrot rifle, 6 pound gun, 12 pound Napoleon, etc.
Brevet is a temporary promotion used in war time or emergency situations. Once the conflict or emergency is complete, the officer returns to his original rank.
Thanks to my sister and brother in law, Cynthia and John Fitzgerald, for some the photos in this article.