Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

June 28, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Cornelius Cusick, Civil War hero

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — People often ask how topics for this column come about. Sometimes it is a suggestion made by a reader or the author’s personal interest in a subject.  More often, however, the Historical Society is contacted by someone who has a question about Lockport or Niagara County history. Since the question has to be researched and answered, why not turn it into an article so that more people can learn about that topic? That is how today’s “Niagara Discoveries” came about.

In December 2013, a monument was dedicated in Lewiston to the Tuscarora Heroes who assisted the residents of that village to escape the British army and western Indians who were burning their homes and chasing them east along the Ridge Road. One of those who aided the fleeing throng of people was Nicholas Cusick, a chief of the Tuscarora Nation.

Cusick had fought in the American Revolution alongside General Lafayette and when the elderly general made his American tour in 1825, it was Nicholas Cusick he inquired after when their party reached the Tuscarora Reservation. The old chief climbed into Lafayette’s carriage and the two men reminisced about former times. Nicholas Cusick died in 1840 and is buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery on Upper Mountain Road.

At the time of his death, Cusick had several children and grandchildren living on the reservation. One of these grandchildren was 5-year-old Cornelius Cusick. Cornelius grew up practicing his Tuscarora culture and learning to speak eight different native languages. His father James was a friend to John J. Audubon, the ornithologist, George Catlin, famous for his paintings of Indians, and Henry Schoolcraft, the ethnologist. Young Cornelius absorbed all he learned like a sponge and as a young adult was considered an expert in Haudenosaunee culture.

In the summer of 1862, like so many other young men his age, Cornelius Cusick wanted to join the ranks of the Union Army to fight the Civil War. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 132nd New York Infantry. He was served for two years (from 1863 until 1865) in Newbern, N.C., where he led nighttime raiding parties on nearby Confederate positions and took many high ranking officers, as well as privates, prisoner. He participated in the battle of Bachelor’s Creek Bridge, where his regiment held the bridge against the advancing Confederate forces under General Pickett.

Cusick was honorably discharged on June 29, 1865. A year later he received a commission in the regular U.S. Army, 22nd Infantry, from President Andrew Johnson. For most of his career, he served at posts in the Western Territories of the United States. Ironically, most of the action he saw while at these western posts was against other Native American tribes, particularly the Sioux.

Cusick also served as an aide de camp at President U.S. Grant’s second inauguration. He retired from the regular army in 1892 with the rank of captain. A year later he served as an assistant director for archeology and ethnology at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Upon his retirement, Cusick returned to Niagara County and resided in Sanborn, near but not on the Tuscarora Reservation. When he died in 1904, he was buried with full military honors at the Fort Niagara Cemetery.     

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.