WASHINGTON – Thirty years after Wisconsin lawmakers began pushing for a Civil War soldier to receive the Medal of Honor, and 151 years after he died in battle, First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing has been given his award.
Cushing was killed at the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He was 22 years old. The fight in the Pennsylvania countryside was a pivotal battle in the war, won by the Union army for which Cushing fought.
“This medal is a reminder that, no matter how long it takes, it is never too late to do the right thing,” President Barack Obama said as he bestowed the highest military honor posthumously on Cushing at the White House Thursday.
Members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation including Reps. Ron Kind, a Democrat, and James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, attended the ceremony honoring the native of their state. They finished an effort begun in the 1980s by the late Wisconsin Democratic Sen. William Proxmire, for whom Kind worked as an intern.
Proponents of Cushing’s medal fought opponents including former Sen. James Webb, a Virginia Democrat who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. He stripped legislative language authorizing the award in 2012, saying more than 150 years later it was impossible to verify the circumstances of battle to determine whether the highest military honor was merited. U.S. law requires recommendations for the Medal of Honor to be made within two years.
New legislation to award Cushing the honor passed in December 2013, within a year after Webb left the Senate, and the nomination was sent to the Defense Department for review.
Cushing was commander of a Union artillery battery on the third day of the Gettysburg battle, during what’s now known as Pickett’s Charge, according to an account provided by the White House. After Confederate cannon fire ripped into his position, he took over firing the only artillery piece in his battery that was still operable.
During the fighting, he was severely wounded in the shoulder and stomach. Cushing refused to be moved to the rear and continued directing firing of the artillery piece until he was mortally wounded by a bullet.
“His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault,” the White House account states.
Cushing was buried with honors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, from which he graduated two years before his death. He was posthumously promoted to lieutenant colonel. A monument in his honor stands on the Gettysburg battlefield. Cushing’s cousins, Frederic Stevens Sater of New York and Frederic Cushing Stevens III of Hoschton, Georgia, and Helen Stevens Sater, of Palm Desert, California, were among the relatives attending the ceremony, according to the White House.
Previously this year, Obama awarded Medals of Honor to veterans who fought as far back as World War II when he recognized 24 Army veterans who had been passed over for the recognition because of bias.