On Thursday, November 6, 2014, President Obama presented the family of Civil War infantryman Alonzo H. Cushing with the Medal of Honor.
Cushing defended a key ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is said that his valor helped to turn the tide of the Civil War. Cushing is credited with repelling 13,000 Confederate soldiers during Pickett’s Charge.
First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing was bleeding profusely from wounds to his abdomen and shoulder as thousands of Confederate infantrymen advanced on his artillery battery in the Battle of Gettysburg. At least one of his soldiers begged him to seek medical treatment, but he refused. He stayed on the battlefield another 90 minutes while under attack, ordering his men to keep firing their three-inch cannons right up until the moment that he was killed with a gunshot to the head.
The Union Army’s ability to stop that assault by at least 13,000 soldiers — known as Pickett’s Charge, after a Confederate general who led rebel troops taking part in it — is a key part of the Civil War’s most iconic battle. But the heroism of Cushing, 22, on July 3, 1863, was not honored with the nation’s highest award for combat valor, even though 63 other Union soldiers received the prestigious decoration.
Read the full story: Why a Civil War soldier will get the Medal of Honor — 151 years after his death
It is quite rare for the Medal of Honor to be awarded so long after death. In fact, to make the award possible required Congress grant an exemption to the statute of limitations.
Normally, the Medal of Honor is awarded — often posthumously — within a few years of the act that merits it. However, Congress granted an exemption in the case of Cushing, whose cause, as NPR’s S.V. Date reported in September, has been the subject of a three-decade campaign by a Wisconsin woman, Margaret Zerwekh, now in her 90s, who lives on what had been the Cushing family farm.
Read the full story: Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Hero Of Gettysburg, Awarded Medal Of Honor
In a statement issued by the White House when it first announced the award to Cushing, it said:
“Cushing was only two years out of West Point on that third day of the battle, in charge of an artillery battery in the Army of the Potomac. According to the White House announcement, Cushing was manning the only artillery piece in his unit that still worked. During the advance, he was wounded in the stomach as well as in the right shoulder. Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece, continuing to fire in the face of the enemy,’ the White House statement said. ‘With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand.”