Lexington lawyer Kent Masterson Brown has spent more time researching the life of Alonzo Cushing than the Civil War soldier lived.
Cushing, a Union artilleryman, received the Medal of Honor last month for his service at Gettysburg, where he died at age 22 on July 3, 1863.
Cushing had been fighting for 90 minutes, suffering wounds to his shoulder and groin, refusing to retire to the rear. A final shot to the head killed him instantly.
"I think he knew after he received the groin wound, he was looking for the end," Brown said.
He was wounded on a battlefield with 200,000 people and 60,000 horses and mules. At Gettysburg, 7,058 were killed, 33,264 wounded and 10,790 missing.
Brown became interested in Cushing in 1964, when his family visited the Gettysburg battle site and saw the cyclorama — a panoramic painting — of the battlefield action.
Brown was 15.
Brown's book on the soldier, Cushing of Gettysburg (University Press of Kentucky, $19.95), was published in 1993, 29 years after Brown, a Lexington attorney, encountered his first bit of information about Cushing.
Cushing was ordinary in many ways. His family struggled with poverty and illness, as tuberculosis was rampant and difficult to treat. Although he was given a spot at West Point, he was not the shining star of his class.
Nonetheless, Cushing was a steady student, unlike his brother Will, who was kicked out of Annapolis for pranks and bad grades, yet wound up an outstanding naval commander who sank the Confederate ironclad ship CSS Albemarle in October 1864.
Brown said he thinks that some of Lon Cushing's letters reflect his tendency to be the level-headed sibling who kept the wilder ones in line.
Cushing's mother, Mary, was widowed young but managed to keep her family together and even start a school, which provided the income she desperately needed.
"We think we all just swept across the continent," Brown said in an interview at his law office on North Broadway, opposite Transylvania University. "Life was extremely difficult, no matter who you were."
Cushing's class was rushed through its paces because of the Civil War, but it is notable for some of its other members: George Custer finished last in the class and would meet his demise at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876. Both Cushing and Custer are buried at West Point.
Cushing might have been an average guy in an extraordinary time, but he excelled as a letter writer. In 1977, Brown found a thick envelope filled with Cushing's letters at the bottom of a trunk at the Chautauqua County Historical Society in Westfield, N.Y.
Although Brown is an expert on Cushing, he is not one of the people who spearheaded the drive to get Cushing a Medal of Honor. Cushing's bravery was noted even by his contemporaries, and the Wisconsin native's case has been pressed since 1987. Congressional action was needed because of the length of time that had elapsed, Brown said.
Then-U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., objected to a medal for Cushing because no Confederate soldier had been honored, although they would be ineligible anyway. Webb retired in 2012, a Pentagon review confirmed Cushing's heroism, and Cushing's honor was placed into the 2014 defense authorization bill.
Hence, Cushing became a Medal of Honor winner, the second Union soldier so honored since 1915.
Although more than 3,400 soldiers, including 1,522 Civil War participants, have received the Medal of Honor, Cushing's story stands out because of the questions about why he fought on.
Brown thinks that Cushing knew he was grievously injured but decided to continue to fight. "That's what in retrospect is looked at. That's why they gave him this award."
The attorney will soon get a high-profile chance to tell Cushing's story again. Brown has been asked to be the keynote speaker at the celebration of the 151st anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, to be held Nov. 19 at the National Cemetery in Gettysburg.