Monday, July 1, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg 150 -- July 1, 2013

Alonzo Cushing
Lewis Armistead
On 01-July-1863, advance units of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac stumbled into each other near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The battle which continued over the next three days became the largest engagement of the war and is considered by many historians to be a major turning point.

On 03-July-1863, Brevet Major Alonzo Cushing of Battery A, 4th US Artillery led his men in holding a critical position on Cemetery Ridge. At the same time, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA, who had been a Captain in the regular army before the war, led his brigade up the ridge as part of Pickett's Charge.

After being wounded three times and forced to hold his intestines in with his hands, Cushing refused a direct order to go to the rear.  His sergeant had to hold him up and repeat his commands.  Cushing died when a bullet passed through his head.

In 2002, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin nominated Cushing for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Army investigated his case and approved the nomination in 2010. Congress awarded the medal.

Lewis Armistead placed his hat on the tip of his saber and led his men up Cemetery Ridge toward the Union position known as the Angle.  Armistead and some of his men made it over the stone wall and he is said to have placed a hand on a Union cannon before he fell from his wounds.  Evacuated to the rear, he died a few days later in a Union hospital.

The spot where Cushing and Armistead died is called by some historians "the high water mark of the Confederacy." Their monuments stand close together on the battlefield.

I have never seen it mentioned in a film history book, but Armistead's feat in leading the charge and laying a hand on a Union cannon probably inspired the famous scene in DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation where Henry B Walthall as Colonel Ben Cameron leads his men across the battlefield, picks up the colors from a fallen man, and rams the staff down the barrel of a Union cannon before he collapses because of his wounds.

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