“A Few Appropriate Remarks…”

151 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln delivered quite possibly the greatest speech in American history at the dedication ceremony for the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg. He had been asked only to provide “a few appropriate remarks” during the ceremony, delivering this masterpiece in the process:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

1LT Alonzo H. Cushing

I don’t think there’s any story more fitting for Veteran’s Day 2014 than that of First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing. Last week, President Obama finally bestowed upon 1LT Cushing the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Angle during Pickett’s Charge, 151 years, 4 months, and 3 days earlier. It is the longest wait for a Medal of Honor in history, and required a special act of Congress to make it happen. I’d like to try to explain in this post why this honor is so well-deserved.

1LT Alonzo H. Cushing.

1LT Alonzo H. Cushing. Photo from Wikipedia.

Cushing was born in Delafield, WI, January 19, 1841. When he was just 6 years old, his father died, prompting his mother to move him and his siblings to Fredonia, NY to be closer to her family. In 1857, he began his military career at the United States Military Academy, but he was not able to finish all his studies because of the outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861. That year, the senior class was graduated early (in order to provide a core group of young officers to the newly-expanding army) and the juniors were given accelerated military training, graduating in June of 1861. These dual classes of 1861 have caused numerous headaches for Civil War historians ever since. Cushing was part of that second, June 1861 graduating class.

He was given a commission in the artillery, and by all accounts, was a fantastic “up-and-coming” artillery officer. He was given honorary promotions (called “brevets“) on three separate occasions, eventually ending up with a brevet rank of Lt. Colonel. The problem with the artillery is that it was a fairly small branch in terms of personnel, so there were not a lot of opportunities for actual advancement. At the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, there were 120 generals present between the two armies. Only two of those generals (one on each side) was an artillery general. The place for people who wanted to get promoted was the infantry. So as good as he was, Cushing was stuck as a lowly lieutenant.

By the time of the Chancellorsville campaign in May of 1863, Cushing had been given a command of his own – Battery A of the 4th US Artillery – consisting of six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. He remained in command of the unit during the Gettysburg campaign, and it was during that time that he was given the brevet promotion to Lt. Colonel by Maj. General Hancock on July 1, 1863 – not on July 3 as is widely assumed. We’re not sure exactly what he did to earn that honor, but obviously it was impressive enough to warrant the praise of a corps commander. The best guess is that he helped coordinate the defense of the Cemetery Hill / Culp’s Hill line that evening.

Of course the action that he is famous for (and that led to his Medal of Honor) occurred on July 3, 1863 during the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg, best known as Pickett’s Charge.

Prior to Pickett’s infantry assault, a massive artillery barrage was planned by the Confederates with the goal of softening the Union defenses at a specific point where there was a small copse of trees. All the Confederate guns concentrated their fire on that easily-recognized target. Cushing’s Battery A, 4th US Artillery was positioned right at that spot and as a result, took a pounding for several hours that morning. By the end of the day, the unit had lost 1/3 of it’s men.

Cushing himself was wounded by a shell fragment that blew through his right shoulder. Despite the painful wound, he refused to leave his post to get medical attention. It wasn’t long before another piece of shrapnel tore across his abdomen and groin, and the young 1LT was said to have been holding his own intestines in with his hand. At that point, he must have known that there was nothing that the medicine of the day could do for him – he was probably going to die from that wound.

Cushing as depicted in the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Note his left hand clutching his abdomen. 

Cushing in the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Note his left hand clutching his abdomen. Painting from Wikipedia.

In the face of all of this, he stayed with his guns – vowing to fight it out or die trying. As he lost more and more blood, he became too weak to effectively give orders in the chaotic noise of the battle, or even to stand on his own. His First Sergeant, Frederick Fuger (who would earn his own Medal of Honor that day) held him up and relayed his orders to the men. As the Confederates approached the stone wall at the Angle, Cushing ordered that his last two working guns be moved forward to the wall. As he was giving the order to fire a double load of canister at the Confederates, a bullet entered his open mouth and went out the back of his head, killing him instantly. He was just 22 years old.

Obviously, 1LT Cushing performed his duties with great bravery and devotion at Gettysburg, and other men around him – including Sgt. Fuger and the infantry commander at the Angle, Brig. General Alexander Webb – were given Medals of Honor for their part in the defense of Cemetery Ridge that day. So why has Cushing been left out in the cold for over a century and a half? There are two main reasons for this, I think.

At the outset, officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. Although this was quickly changed, not many officers were given the award early on. Just as one example, the first Medals of Honor for actions at Gettysburg were awarded in 1864 – before the war was even over – but the first officer from the battle to receive the honor wasn’t until 1869 (with most of those coming much later in the 1890s).

Second – and this is quite shocking to us today – the Medal of Honor was generally not given posthumously in the early days. Odd as it sounds, if Cushing had survived the battle, he had a much better chance of immediate recognition.

Combined with the fact that as a young, fresh-out-of West Point officer, he had not been married, and had no children. So by the time that Medals of Honor for Civil War officers had become more common, there was no one left to fight for him. His story faded into the background, known mostly just to Gettysburg buffs and tour guides.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Margaret Zerwekh, a local historian from Delafield, WI, who started a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress over 40 years ago, 1LT Cushing has, at long last, been given recognition commensurate with his service.

The full text of 1LT Alonzo Cushing’s official Medal of Honor citation is below:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, United States Army.

First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing distinguished himself by acts of bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an artillery commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd, 1863 during the American Civil War.  

That morning, Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee began cannonading First Lieutenant Cushing’s position on Cemetery Ridge. Using field glasses, First Lieutenant Cushing directed fire for his own artillery battery. He refused to leave the battlefield after being struck in the shoulder by a shell fragment. As he continued to direct fire, he was struck again — this time suffering grievous damage to his abdomen.

Still refusing to abandon his command, he boldly stood tall in the face of Major General George E. Pickett’s charge and continued to direct devastating fire into oncoming forces. As the Confederate forces closed in, First Lieutenant Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun.

His gallant stand and fearless leadership inflicted severe casualties upon Confederate forces and opened wide gaps in their lines, directly impacting the Union force’s ability to repel Pickett’s charge. First Lieutenant Cushing’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac, and the United States Army.

An Accident

While I was looking through online newspaper archives last night, I accidentally stumbled onto an article about, well, an accident.

This story appeared in the Washington Post on February 20, 1953:

Two Anne Arundel County men were burned seriously yesterday when the gas tank of their auto caught fire after a collision on Ritchie Highway, just north of Glen Burnie.

Thomas Skillman, 31, of Harundale and Ernie W. Bermick, 40 of Severn leaped from the car with hair and clothing burning and rolled on the ground to smother the flames. Both were taken to a Baltimore hospital.

The Associated Press reported their car was struck from behind by an auto driven by Eric R. Blomquist, 31, of Takoma Park, who was charged with drunken and reckless driving.

The Thomas Skillman from the story is my grandfather. This accident occurred just a few months before my father was born.

Thomas Skillman (I)

Just a few days ago – September 8, 2014 – was the 350th anniversary of the founding of New York.

New Amsterdam as it appeared circa 1660. Painting from Wikipedia.

New Amsterdam as it appeared circa 1660. Painting from Wikipedia.

Originally a Dutch settlement called New Amsterdam, the town decided to give up without a fight in the face of an overwhelming English expedition commanded by Colonel Richard Nicholls consisting of four warships, including Nicholls’ flagship: the frigate Guinea. James, the Duke of York, with the permission of his brother King Charles II, decided to send the flotilla to take possession of the Dutch holdings in North America. At the time the two nations were jockeying for the title of most powerful naval force in the world. In fact, this event would touch off a larger war between them.

Governor Peter Stuyvesant is persuaded not to resist the English. Painting from Wikipedia.

Governor Peter Stuyvesant is persuaded not to resist the English. Painting from Wikipedia.

Once the settlement was taken, it was re-named New York at Colonel Nicholls’ suggestion in honor of the Duke himself.

Apart from being one of the pivotal moments in the colonial period, the creation of New York also means quite a bit to the Skillmans: it is the event that brought the first member of our family to the western hemisphere.

His name was Thomas Skillman. The stories about him are varied and at times somewhat sketchy, but I’d like to explore them a little bit here.

Born in Surrey, England in 1637, at some point he joined the army in time to participate in the 1664 expedition to North America. The traditional family story (backed up by most sources) is that he was serving as a musician, but I’ve also seen him referred to as “Doctor”, implying that he was a surgeon or physician instead, but I don’t find this likely.

Soon after the conquest, Colonel Nicholls became Governor Nicholls. Thomas must have felt some kind of connection or loyalty to Nicholls, because he did not return to England with the rest of the troops, instead choosing to settle on Long Island in a village called Newtown, which was in the area that is now known as the Elmhurst and Maspeth neighborhoods in Queens.

His military service continued, as he was one of 25 men sent to Esopus, NY to seek revenge against a group of Native Americans who had attacked a colonial settlement in the Hudson River Valley. Though he was offered a plot of land in that part of New York for his service, he seems to have refused it, and was discharged in 1668, even being awarded “14 oz. of plate for services at Albany under Captain Lewis.” No one seems to have any idea about what he did to earn this distinction.

Returning to Long Island, he married Sarah Pettit in 1669. Sarah was born in Boston, probably in 1634. There is some debate about who her father was, but it seems likely that he was Thomas Pettit, an early Huguenot immigrant to the Massachusetts colony. Regardless, the couple settled in Newtown and lived there the rest of their lives, and sadly we don’t know much more about their life – other than the fact that they had at least 4 children.

Thomas probably died in 1697. His property was left to his wife, who transferred a portion of it to their only son, Thomas Skillman (II). So far as we know, all the American Skillmans – three and a half centuries worth of them – are descended from these two men.

Isaac Thomas Skillman

Isaac Thomas Skillman

Isaac Thomas Skillman

On July 2, 2014 at 6:22pm (151 years to the minute after the fighting in The Wheatfield and The Peach Orchard at Gettysburg was raging) our second son, Isaac Thomas Skillman was born. He was 8 lbs., 3 oz. and 20.75 inches at birth.

Isaac is a name that my wife suggested, mainly because it means “laughter”. We’ve had a lot of that in our relationship, and we want our son’s name to remind us to keep the fun going with our young family.

Thomas is an old Skillman family name, and the tradition and history of that is very important to me. The first Skillman in this country was Thomas, and it’s been a popular name among the American Skillmans ever since. Most recently in our line, my late grandfather was named Thomas. Isaac and his older brother John are part of the 13th generation of Skillmans in the western hemisphere.

Chapelgate Tour of Gettysburg

Last weekend, my church held a men’s retreat in Gettysburg, PA. Once that location was chosen, my pastor brought me in to the planning process with the idea that I’d lead a tour of the battlefield as a free time option for the men who were attending. While I was really excited about that part, the experience turned out to be so much more.

Our speaker for the retreat, Drew Derreth, gave some fantastic insights on the struggles we face as men. In many ways, he led us in sort of an “anti-men’s retreat”. We focused not on how to be big manly, go-get-‘em men, but on how to acknowledge that none of us is really capable of being as strong as we’d like to be, and that we should embrace the path of weakness, humility, and grace.

Since the entire group would not be going on my tour, it was suggested that I give a quick “5 Minutes of Civil War History” talk at the beginning of each of Drew’s sessions, so that everyone would get a sense for the history that surrounded us in Gettysburg. I threw together some Keynote slides on three topics:

  1. What Brought the Armies to Gettysburg
  2. Major General Daniel E. Sickles
  3. Gettysburg Aftermath

The talks were well-received by the guys, and brought questions immediately after the sessions, so they worked as a nice ice-breaker for me with some of the guys I didn’t know at the church.

It was also super cool that one of the guys, Ken – a Civil War re-enactor – brought some of his artifacts along so there was some actual, tangible history in the room. That extra touch really brought it home in my opinion.

The tour took place on Saturday afternoon, and was scheduled as a 3-hour excursion during our free time. After a quick lunch at the always-awesome Tommy’s Pizza, we rolled out to the first day’s battlefield, and everyone got a hand-out with the list of stops and some maps for reference.

At the outset, I was a little nervous. This was the largest group I’d ever been with at Gettysburg, and the spotlight was entirely on me. I was the expert. But the tour went really well. It was an absolutely beautiful day, so the numerous photographers in the group had terrific conditions to capture the scenery and the monuments. Steve even got a great shot of the group at end of the tour:

Explaining the artillery barrage leading up to Pickett's Charge.

Explaining the artillery barrage leading up to Pickett’s Charge. Photo by Steve Dallwig

As much as I love being in Gettysburg and sharing the history surrounding that little town with other people, last weekend was about so much more than that. Even though I’ve been going to Chapelgate church services for several years with my wife, and have become really close with many of the staff members there, I haven’t really felt like I was part of the “community” until last weekend. We have a great group of men who really embraced me as one of their own, and I’m very thankful for that.

William Murray

Captain William H. Murray

Captain William H. Murray

Near the grave of William Goldsborough, lies a junior officer from the 1st MD battalion who was killed on the eastern slopes of Culp’s Hill on July 3, 1863 – Capt. William H. Murray.

Murray was a well-respected man among the Confederate Marylanders. An original member of the old 1st MD Infantry regiment, he stuck around in Virginia when that unit disbanded – unable either for fear of being caught, or out of a sense of duty to the Confederacy, to return home to Maryland. It was Capt. Murray who got together enough men to form the first company of what was to become a brand new Maryland regiment, but only ended up as the 1st MD battalion (as they couldn’t get together enough men to form a full regiment). His company became Company A in the new battalion, and he was elected Captain of it. This also made him the senior Captain in the battalion, and every account I’ve read talks about what a fine soldier he was – William Goldsborough writes glowingly about him in his book.

At Gettysburg, he is still the commander of Co. A, but on the morning of July 3, he has been elevated to second-in-command after Lt. Col. Herbert’s wounding the night before. When asked to lead his men in a very ill-advised assault up Culp’s Hill, he goes along the line, shaking hands with every man saying “Goodbye, it is not likely that we shall meet again.” Even General Steuart thought the attack was a suicide mission, but Capt. Murray followed his orders and did his duty. He was soon shot down, mortally wounded near the Union breastworks. Before noon that day, the 24-year old Captain would lie dead on the field.

His grave is located in the Confederate Hill section of Loudon Park Cemetery, very prominently marked by a tall obelisk:

Location of William H. Murray's gravesite.

Location of William H. Murray’s gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

William H. Murray's Monument.

William H. Murray’s Monument. Photo by the author.

Detail on the front of William H. Murray's Monument.

Detail on the front of William H. Murray’s Monument. Photo by the author.

 

Cambridge Cemetery

Late last week, I ended up taking a trip over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland with my boss (whom we affectionately call “The Dude”) and in the process, we got the chance to visit Cambridge Cemetery in Cambridge, MD together. There’s some really cool Civil War history in that cemetery that matches up well with the research that I’ve been doing recently.

Colonel James Wallace

Colonel James Wallace

The grave that I went there to find is that of Col. James Wallace, the commander of the 1st MD Eastern Shore. This regiment was raised by Col. Wallace as a home guard unit, but ended up being pressed into service at Gettysburg since the Confederates had invaded the north. Not all the men in the 1st MD:ES saw it that way though, and at least one company resigned over that issue before they left the State of Maryland.

The bulk of the unit made it to Gettysburg where it was attached to Brig. Gen. Henry Lockwood’s independent brigade. Col. Wallace led the men in the counter-attack at Culp’s Hill on July 3, and it was these men who fired on the 1st MD (later 2nd MD) battalion CSA – a unit that contained many of their friends and neighbors, and in at least one instance, relatives. These Union men got the better of their Confederate counterparts; taking only 25 casualties out of the 532 men present for duty.

Col. Wallace was an interesting character himself. He grew up as a member of a prominent family in Dorchester county, going on to study law at Dickinson College. He got involved in State politics as a member of the American party (better known as the “Know-Nothings” – a mainly anti-immigrant political movement). Wallace was opposed to secession, but was also pro-slavery – mainly because he was a slave-owner himself. In fact, he would resign from the army in December of 1863 over the issue of black men being armed for the war effort.

His grave is located near the entrance to the cemetery on the appropriately-named Cemetery Ave. My boss located it immediately:

Location of James Wallace's gravesite.

Location of James Wallace’s gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

James Wallace's Monument.

James Wallace’s Monument. Photo by the author.

Nearby, there’s another grave of historical significance in the context of the Civil War: that of Maryland Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.

Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.

Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks.

Like Col. Wallace, Gov. Hicks was born in Dorchester county, and became involved with the Know-Nothing Party. Serving as Governor from 1858-1862, he was in office for the start of the Civil War. While it may seem like a contradictory position to us, Gov. Hicks was both pro-slavery and anti-secession. He felt that if there was to be a Civil War, Maryland as a border state may become the main theater of battle, and he wanted to avoid bringing that conflict to his native State. This led him to attempt to forge a neutral path for Maryland.

He avoided calling the legislature into session for several months, and in that time many of the pro-secession members were jailed. When he finally did begin the session, he did so in the pro-union town of Frederick, MD, far from it’s normal place in the pro-southern capital of Annapolis.

After his term was up, Gov. Hicks was appointed to fill the vacant seat in the U.S. Senate left by the death of James Pearce, and went on to become a strong ally of President Lincoln – even going so far as to endorse his re-election in 1864.

His gravesite is located just to the east of Col. Wallace’s, and is marked by a large statue of him placed there by the State of Maryland in 1868. It’s very hard to miss:

Location of Thomas Holliday Hicks' gravesite.

Location of Thomas Holliday Hicks’ gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

Thomas Holiday Hicks' Monument.

Thomas Holliday Hicks’ Monument. Photo by the author.

Detail of the plaque on Gov. Hick's monument.

Detail of the plaque on Gov. Hicks’ monument. Photo by the author.

I can’t help but think that these two men were at least close associates, if not friends; though I haven’t found any evidence of a relationship. Colonel Wallace was from a prominent family with political connections. Both men grew up in the same area, and with similar political beliefs. The Colonel’s commission that Wallace received was given by Governor Hicks, too – and those were generally not given out based on military merit so much as on who you knew in the State capital.

Even if they weren’t close friends, these two men worked together to try and keep Maryland out of trouble and in a peaceful state in the opening days of the Civil War. Misguided as their politics may have been, they deserve to be remembered for their place in our history.

William Goldsborough

Major William W. Goldsborough

Major William W. Goldsborough

Returning to Loudon Park Cemetery, today we look at the grave of the man who took over command of the 1st MD Battalion (which later became the 2nd MD) when Lt. Col. James Herbert was wounded on July 2 at Gettysburg: Maj. William Goldsborough.

Born in Frederick county, he worked for a time as a printer in Baltimore before heading south to join up with the Confederacy when the war started. His brother Charles made the opposite decision, serving with the 5th MD as an Assistant Surgeon. They would meet a few times during the war, but not at Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, Maj. Goldsborough was second-in-command of the 2nd MD during the attack on Culp’s Hill. When Lt. Col. Herbert went down with his serious wounds, Maj. Goldsborough took over and led the unit in the fighting on July 3 until he too was wounded – shot through his left lung. When the Confederates were pushed back, Maj. Goldsborough became a prisoner, as well.

After recovering from his wound, he was held in the prisons at Ft. McHenry and Ft. Delaware. In late 1864, he was transferred to Morris Island where he became one of the Immortal 600. He would remain in Union prisons for the rest of the war.

After the war, he wrote a book about the wartime service of the Maryland Line. As you might imagine, the 2nd MD at Gettysburg gets some coverage there.

His grave is located in the Confederate Hill section, just about in the middle along the southwest border of the section:

Location of William W. Goldsborough's gravesite.

Location of William W. Goldsborough’s gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

William W. Goldsborough's Original headstone. The effects of time have worn hard.

William W. Goldsborough’s Original headstone. The effects of time have worn hard. Photo by the author.

A newer, much more legible stone is in-place, though; as it is for most of the graves on Confederate Hill.

A newer, much more legible stone is in-place, though; as it is for most of the graves on Confederate Hill. Photo by the author.

James Rigby

Captain James H. Rigby

Captain James H. Rigby

Continuing in Loudon Park National Cemetery, we come to the grave of our first Civil War artillerist: Capt. James H. Rigby.

Capt. Rigby commanded Battery A of the 1st MD Light Artillery. At Gettysburg, Rigby’s battery was part of the Fourth Volunteer Brigade in the Artillery Reserve, and his six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles were posted on Powers’ Hill, firing in support of the Union operations on nearby Culp’s Hill on July 2 and 3.

This was not exactly a front-line posting, and the unit’s casualty figures reflect that. The battery brought 106 men to Gettysburg, and did not report any losses in the action.

Over the last few years, Powers’ Hill has been cleared to return the ground to the look it had in 1863, and some new property has been acquired in that area by the park, but I still don’t think most visitors are aware of the monuments up there. The hill is not included on the auto tour route – not even as a drive-by – so for now, the contributions of these men will go largely unknown by the general public.

Capt. Rigby’s grave is located in the southern part of the cemetery, under a large, old tree. It’s easily recognizable from a distance:

Location of James H. Rigby's gravesite.

Location of James H. Rigby’s gravesite. Map by Apple Maps.

James H. Rigby's Monument.

James H. Rigby’s Monument. Photo by the author.

The Front of James H. Rigby's Monument.

The Front of James H. Rigby’s Monument. Photo by the author.

The Rear of James H. Rigby's Monument.

The Rear of James H. Rigby’s Monument. Photo by the author.