Medal of Honor Winner Given His Due in Lockport
Civil War Hero Remembered 150 years after his brave deed
As thick smoke choked the air and snakes and animals fell from trees onto the burning deck of a Union gunboat, a 22-year-old sailor from Lockport fought desperately to free his fleet’s flagship as it came under withering fire in a bayou in Mississippi.
The Union sailor, Michael Huskey, would be awarded the Medal of Honor - the nation’s highest medal for wartime valor - for his heroics that day, but ironically would never receive the award, dying late in the Civil War of dysentery. Adding insult to injury, Huskey’s body would never come home, and over time his heroics were all but completely forgotten.
Those once all-but-forgotten heroics are what prompted more than 100 local civic leaders and residents to gather at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Lockport last week, providing the closest thing Huskey could receive to a Christian burial: a grave marker, identifying him as a Medal of Honor recipient, placed next to his parents’ resting places in the Irish Catholic burial ground.
Niagara County Historian Catherine Emerson and County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow have been leading a spirited campaign for the past two years to bring Huskey’s Medal home, but regulations preclude the Department of the Navy from giving the award to anyone other than a living relative. While Emerson believes she has located such a relative, so far that individual has not been supportive of the effort.
That inability to bring Huskey’s Medal home is what led Jagow to help organize Sept. 19’s funeral-like graveside service at St. Patrick’s, where Huskey’s grave marker, donated by the Medal of Honor Historical Society, was formally dedicated.
"Michael was a hero, and we owe him a debt," Jagow explained. "We know far too little about this man, but we know he made immense sacrifices for the Union-and for future generations of Americans. We owed him a dignified memorial."
A solemn Supervisor Marc Smith, R-Lockport, described Huskey’s heroics for the dozens of residents and dignitaries, including numerous members of the American Legion, the Navy Marine Club, and the Marine Corps League.
"Navy Fireman Michael Huskey volunteered to put out fires on the deck of the barge Ivy," Smith told the men and women gathered around a white tent on the cemetery grounds. "He was facing enemy snipers, falling trees, snakes and animals. God bless him and others like him that helped make our country free."
The Ivy was the flagship of a flotilla sent into Steele’s Bayou in Mississippi, moving up an incredibly narrow river that was barely wider than the ironclad ships themselves. Huskey was a sailor onboard the USS Carondelet, another ironclad in the formation, where he tended the ship’s boiler.
The specifics of Huskey’s actions that day are largely lost to time, though they earned him the Medal. What is known is that the March 1863 battle occurred just weeks after the Union’s decisive defeat at Fredericksburg, Va., and just weeks before General Ulysses S. Grant would lay siege to the important Confederate city of Vicksburg, Miss., a dozen or so miles to the south.
The loss of Vicksburg, which would fall to the Union the day after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s decisive defeat at Gettysburg, would deal a critical blow to the Southern Cause.
"This was a nearly forgotten battle in the lead-up to a decisive moment in our nation’s history," Jagow explained. "But it bears noting that this young man from Lockport helped make the America we live in today possible."
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
SEP 24, 2013