151 years later, Alonzo Cushing finally receives his Medal of Honor
First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, a 22-year old apple cheeked artillery officer who died heroically during the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg will receive the Medal of Honor for his valiant resistance at "The Angle" during Pickett's charge.
Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps for the Army of the Potomac. He was positioned a few yards from an innocuous clump of trees behind a low, stone wall on Cemetary Ridge - the focus of the entire Confederate attack. With 15,000 men bearing down on him and most of the Southern artillery targeting his position, Cushing calmly directed fire from his 6 guns straight into advancing men in gray. Firing deadly salvos of double cannister shot, the Southerners paid dearly for every yard they advanced toward "The Angle" - a spot on the ridge where the stone wall bent back 45 degrees.
Cushing had been wounded twice, including a serious wound in the stomach. One by one his guns were silenced until after loading and firing his last round of cannister, the young officer was struck in the mouth and died:Unable to hold the position when the infantry retreated, what was left of his battery was forced to retire.
Bruce Catton writes of the action:
For the next few minutes, this irregular rectangle of ground, a hundred yards deep by two or three hundred yards wide, was the bloody cockpit of the whole war, the place where men on foot with guns in their hands would arrive at a verdict.
Cushing played a pivotal role in the pivotal moment of the entire war. Pickett's charge was probably doomed from the outset, but Southern valor had retrieved many desperate situations and without the severely wounded Cushing continuing to direct his battery's fire, many more Southern soldiers may have made it to the Confederacy's "high water mark" and...who knows?
Cushing was one of 51,000 casualties of the battle. He was buried at his alma mater, West Point.
Morris Schaff wrote about Cushing in his 1907 book "The Spirit of Old West Point, 1858-1862."
"History will not let that smiling, splendid boy die in vain; long her dew will glisten over his record as the earthly morning dew glistens in the fields,” he wrote. “Fame loves the gentleman and the true-hearted, but her sweetheart is gallant youth."
Cushing was born in what is now Delafield, Wisconsin, and raised in Fredonia, New York. He graduated from West point in 1861.
Prior to Gettysburg, he participated in other major Civil War battles, including the Battle of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. He also trained volunteer troops in Washington and completed topographical work.
Cushing was one of four brothers to serve the Union during the Civil War.
Despite a marker erected to Cushing on Cemetery Ridge and a monument near his birthplace, the Medal of Honor eluded him. Descendants and Civil War buffs took up the cause in recent decades.
Congress granted a special exemption last December for Cushing to receive the award posthumously since recommendations normally have to be made within two years of the act of heroism and the medal awarded within three years. Cushing has endured a longer wait than any of the 3,468 recipients to receive the Medal of Honor.
Cushing’s Medal of Honor will be awarded on Sept. 15. Other honorees announced Tuesday include Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, who fought in the Vietnam War.
In a battle where gallantry and heroism was almost commonplace, Cushing's actions were lost for 151 years. It is a well-deserved honor for a hero whose performance under fire defined courage.