1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing – One Step Closer to the Medal of Honor

The 1862 Army Medal of Honor

The 1862 Army Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor has been awarded 1527 times for service in the Civil War, including 63 for service at Gettysburg. The recipients have included such well-known participants of the battle as Major General Daniel Sickles, commander of the III Corps, and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, defender of Little Round Top who was made even more famous by the 1993 movie, Gettysburg.

The medal is awarded to those who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” It has been argued that some such medals were awarded for political reasons (e.g., Sickles’) or for frivolous reasons like retrieving the enemy’s battle flag from the deserted battlefield.

But in those earlier years of the award, the Medal of Honor was generally not awarded posthumously. That is, ironically, you had to survive to get it! Some logically argued that, if anything, the soldier was more deserving of recognition if he gave his life in the process — so the policy was changed. But, in the interim, many valiant heroes of the Civil War were denied recognition with the nation’s highest military honor.

One of them was 1st Lt. Alonzo Hersford Cushing, commander of Battery A of the 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg. Now comes word from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin (Cushing’s place of birth) that 1st Lt. Cushing has been recommended for the Medal of Honor.

Cushing’s battery was positioned at “The Angle”, the focal point of “Pickett’s Charge” on July 3rd, 1863. He was wounded two times by shell fragments, including one which blew a gaping hole in his abdomen. But he survived for a time, refusing to leave the field or delegate his command. Literally holding his intestines in with one hand, according to eyewitnesses, he continued to command his battery against the oncoming waves of Confederates. With Cushing too badly wounded to be heard over the din of battle, his 1st Sgt, Frederick Fuger, began relaying his commands to the battery. Some time later, a third bullet mercifully hit Cushing in the mouth and killed him.

Cushing’s death disqualified him at the time for the Medal of Honor, but, in what some say was a tribute to Cushing’s actions, the medal was awarded to 1st Sgt. Fuger.

1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing

1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing

Now, finally, Cushing is poised to be recognized by his country for his heroism. 146.5 years late is better than nothing! Senator Feingold’s recommendation was joined by that of John M. McHugh, Secretary of the Army. It now goes to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and then to the floor where it expected to be passed by a Special Act of Congress.

In recent years, a posthumous Medal of Honor was been traditionally presented to the next of kin at the White House by the President of the United States “in the name of Congress” (which is why it is sometimes erroneously called the Congressional Medal of Honor). We understand that there may be a ceremony at a monument to Cushing in Delafield, Wisconsin or at his grave at West Point.

We hope and expect, however, that there will also be a suitable ceremony on Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, where Cushing gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

[Edited, Mar 12: Since we have found no evidence from the various authorities that any kind of ceremony is yet planned for Gettysburg, we have begun to undertake inquiries with many groups and dignitaries in order to set such plans in motion. If you would like to volunteer to help with the planning process, please contact us.]

[Edited, Mar 13: Sen. Feingold’s office has reported that the bill awarding the Medal of Honor will probably be rolled into the next Defense Appropriations Bill sometime this summer. Until then, it seems they have a few other things on their plate . They’ve promised to keep me informed so that we know when to start putting plans into motion.]

[Edited 15 September 2014: On August 26th, the White House announced that President Obama had approved the Medal of Honor for Lt. Cushing as well as for two Vietnam heroes. No date was set for the award ceremony for Lt. Cushing, however. According to the announcement, “Additional details on the award to First Lieutenant Cushing will be announced separately.”]

2 Responses to “1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing – One Step Closer to the Medal of Honor”

  1. admin Says:

    It finally happened. This is the White House feed. No news yet about the prospect of a ceremony at Gettysburg.



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