Cunningham, Albert J.
Place of Birth: Leeds
Date of enlistment: 20 January 1873
Age given at enlistment: 34
Location on 25 June 1876: Powder River Depot
Was he born in Leeds, or is that all blarney?
- Albert Joseph Cunningham claimed to have born in Leeds, England although, as one document suggests, he may well have been a son of the Emerald Isle.
- His first enlistment took place on Christmas Eve, 1866, in Baltimore, Maryland, and was approved by veteran Indian fighter, Captain George Washington Howland, 3rd Cavalry. Cunningham said he was age 29, previously employed as a draper, and described as having blue eyes, dark hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 5″ tall. He was assigned to Company D, 7th Cavalry, which he joined at Fort Riley, Kansas, on 22 January 1867. During the next twelve months he was on detached service at Fort Wallace and at Fort Larned with the peace commission escort. Was discharged at Chester, South Carolina on 24 December 1871.
- Cunningham was re-enlisted in Chester on 20 January 1872 by his old company commander Captain Thomas Weir. He participated on Northern Boundary Commission escort duty in both 1873 and 1874, although during the earlier year he reported sick on at least three occasions, which included ‘primary syphilis,’ ‘lacerated wound to upper lip and forehead with slight fracture to right bone’ and ‘constitutional syphilis.’ He was promoted to corporal on 1 August 1874.
- Albert Cunningham remained at the Powder River Depot from 15 June 1876 to guard the wagon train and consequently did not take part in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Subsequently discharged at Fort Rice on 20 January 1877 as a “Corpl Character Capable & Faithful.” On the same day he was re-enlisted by Lt. Edwin Eckerson* as a corporal in the same company. Promotion to sergeant followed on 1 March 1877. Took part in the Nez Perce Campaign including the Snake Creek fight on 30 September. On detached service at Fargo, Dakota Territory, from July to November 1878. Was called as a witness in the general court martial of Captain Thomas French held at Fort Abraham Lincoln in January 1879. Was discharged for disability at Fort Yates, 10 October 1879, on a surgeon’s certificate (chronic rheumatism contracted in the line of duty: degree of disability 1/2).
- Sources include Men With Custer, pp. 87-88 and Military Register, pp. 75-76.
- Geoff Topliss, takes up the story:
- Until now the soldier from Leeds, England, has always been listed as one of the Seventh’s many men who simply vanish from history at the end of their military service. One source states that Cunningham resided in Washington, D.C. after he left the army. Recent research reveals that if he intended heading for the capital, he never made it, nor did he have the time to claim the military pension he would have been eligible for.
- The records of the US Federal Mortality Schedules (1850-1885) show that an Albert J. Cunningham, a soldier of the United States Army, died aged 40, at Richfield, Hennepin, Minnesota, in February 1880, of ‘general debility (Insane).’ There was only one Albert J. Cunningham in the U.S Army in the late 1870s to 1880 period, and this must be the soldier of the Seventh Cavalry. The record also states that Cunningham had been a patient for three months (i.e. since November 1879, the month after his discharge at Fort Abraham Lincoln) and that his illness had been contracted in Dakota [Territory].
- The entry in the Federal Mortality Schedules also reveals that Cunningham stated that both he and his parents were born in Ireland,** which probably explains why no reference to an Albert J. Cunningham born in Leeds, England exists. One explanation may be that Cunningham was born in Ireland but moved to Yorkshire at an early age and thought of Leeds as where he came from, as opposed to where he was born.
- Editor’s Note (**): While no town or county was given Cunningham is predominately a Northern Ireland surname, especially in Co. Down, and on whatever side of the Irish Sea the sergeant in Company D originated, he almost certainly was born within the present-day borders of the United Kingdom.
- Note (*): Lt Edwin Philip Eckerson (1850-1885), was dismissed from the service effective 30 June 1838 for “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” – essentially being ‘drunk and disorderly.’ He died from malaria in Hays City, Kansas on 17 August 1885, leaving a widow and two young children, and was buried in Mount Allen Cemetery.
Headstone of Lt. Edwin P. Eckerson, Mount Allen Cemetery, Hays, Kansas. A Kit and Morgan Benson photograph.