Faces of Gettysburg – Courage

Sgt. Burlington Cunningham, Co. K, 19th Indiana, left, with Private William L. Bingamon, Co. D, 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry. From the collection of Mike Medhurst.

June 25, 2011

    Burlington Cunningham was nicknamed “Burl” by his comrades. He enlisted as a private in Company K, 19th Indiana Infantry on July 29, 1861. The 19th became a part of the famous Iron Brigade. At the Battle of Antietam, where the Iron Brigade helped earn the sobriquet they would carry through the war, Cunningham, who was wounded, rescued a color of his regiment from the field. His reward was promotion to corporal on September 25, 1862 and the honor of carrying the regiment’s national colors (a Union infantry regiment was authorized to carry a national and state color in action).

    On the morning of July 1 Cunningham and his regiment were advancing up the slope of Eastern McPherson’s Ridge, almost exactly where Tristram Campbell and Henry James would die several hours later. There were reports the enemy were directly in front on the other side of the slope. The colors of the 19th were furled and cased. A passing staff officer called out to Cunningham not to unfurl the flag, probably so that it did not draw fire upon the regiment before it was fully formed. But as the regiment moved from column to line of battle Cunningham decided to ignore the staff officer and asked his comrade in the color guard, Abe Buckles, to uncase the colors. Cunningham shook the flag free and immediately drew heavy fire from Confederates of General James Archer’s brigade on the western slope of the ridge. One bullet hit Cunningham in his side and he fell in farmer John Herbst’s wheat field, unconscious. Buckles picked up the flag and the battle swept on.

    Following the Iron Brigade’s defeat of Archer’s brigade, stretcher parties ignored Cunningham since they thought he was dead. But he was not. He woke up several hours after the morning action subsided and made his way to the rear for medical attention, probably at the Lutheran Seminary, which was the closest field hospital. But rather than remaining at the hospital, once his wound was bandaged Cunningham made his way back to his regiment, now positioned on the southwestern corner of Herbst Woods, and asked Abe Buckles to return the flag to him. We can only imagine the surprise of his comrades who believed Cunningham dead to see him walk back up and ask Abe Buckles to return the national color to him.

    Around 2:30 p.m. the Confederates of General James J. Pettigrew’s North Carolina brigade attacked the Iron Brigade and some of the most desperate fighting of the entire Battle of Gettysburg ensued. One of the early casualties in the 19th Indiana was Cunningham, who was hit again, this time a severe wound in the right leg.  Abe Buckles took the color for a second time that day but he too was wounded minutes later.

    Cunningham fell into Confederate hands temporarily when they overran his regiment’s initial position. After the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg he was evacuated to a hospital in Harrisburg to convalesce for the next five months. He met Private William L. Bingamon, of the 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry, while he was here and the two men had their photograph taken some time in November or December, after Cunningham’s promotion to sergeant on November 1, 1863.

    “Burl” was a tough nut and despite his three wounds in the war he served out his enlistment in the 19th, was discharged in July 1864, and returned home.  He eventually moved to Nebraska where he died in 1930.  

Scott Hartwig,
Supervisory Historian

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14 Responses to Faces of Gettysburg – Courage

  1. Phil Spaugy says:

    Great photo. Interesting that Sgt. Cunningham is wearing a shell jacket, instead of the frock coat or 4 button blouse that were issued to the 19th Indiana.

    I am researching the actions of the color guard of the 19th at Gettysburg, and would really like to find an image of Sgt. Maj. Asa Blanchard, who fell while holding the colors on July 1st.

    Regards,

    Phil Spaugy

  2. Scott Yarling says:

    The “Iron Brigade” earned it’s name at the Battle of South Mountain, when Little Mac, who was watching them advance up the mountain, commented that they fight “Like men of iron.”

  3. Cooper Wingert says:

    Did the account come from “Burl” himself?

    • The Staff says:

      Most of this was drawn from a postwar account by Henry C. Marsh, of the 19th, titled “The Nineteenth Indiana at Gettysburg: A Thrilling Story of a Great Regiment in a Great Battle, Deathless Glory of Its Color Bearers,” the original of which is located at the Indiana State Library. We have a copy at the GNMP Research Library. The owner of Burl’s photograph provided additional details.

      Scott

      • Phil Spaugy says:

        Scott,

        I have been looking for a image of Asa for quite some time but so far no luck at all. When and if I find one I will share.
        Its interesting to note that while Marsh states that Asa’s body was returned to Richmond Indiana “wrapped in the flag he so bravely bore” Asa was buried on July 12th in the Congressional cemetery in Washington DC on July 12th, 1863. Sadly on July 21st Asa’s brother Lucien died of the yellow fever while serving on board the USS Alabama off of Charleston SC. He was buried at sea.

        And as for the flag he was wrapped in…well that’s another story !

        I can’t begin to fathom the heartbreak his parents must have felt losing 2 sons oi 3 weeks.

        Going to be in Gettysburg to do a bit of battlefield tramping and will spent a good part of the visit going over the ground on which the 19th fought. From my research its apparent that Asa fell near the 151st PVI monument on East McPherson Ridge.

        http://19thindianaironbrigade.com/ – is a great website on the 19th.

    • Howard James Cunningham (Jim) says:

      Burlington Cunningham is my Great Grandfather. I believe I have the two canes he is using to support himself in the picture. I have the original promotion documents from Private to Corporal to Sargeant. I have a copy of an article Burlington wrote in about 1900 about the battle. I’d pass it on but I don’t know how to in this reply.

      • The Staff says:

        Jim,

        It is a pleasure to hear from you. Your comment is a reminder that the Civil War is not that distant an event. We would be delighted to read the article that Burlington wrote about the battle. My email is scott_hartwig@nps.gov, and mailing address is Gettysburg NMP, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100, Gettysburg, PA 17325.

        Very best regards,
        Scott Hartwig,
        Supervisory Historian

      • Phil Spaugy says:

        Jim,

        I am have been researching the actions of the color guard of the 19th at Gettysburg for quite some time and would love to see a copy of Burlingtons article. My email is pspaugy@aol.com

        Phil

  4. Deborah J.Brinker says:

    Thank you for a great article regarding my Great-Great Grandfather Burlington Cunningham. My grandfather and mother had a few “other words” for this man and I remember the stories.
    Thank you
    Deborah J.Brinker MN

    • The Staff says:

      Deborah,

      I get the impression from your comment that Burlington was a bit of a character. Glad that you enjoyed the article.

      Very best regards,
      Scott Hartwig,
      Supervisory Historian

  5. Sharon Murray says:

    So enjoyed your “Last March of the Iron Brigade” hike on July 1. Am a serious student of the Iron Brigade and Battery B, 4th US Artillery. How outnumbered were the Union troops on July 1 on the northern & western part of the field?

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