Artilleryman awarded Medal of Honor 147 years later
June 10, 2010
- Artillery officer from Wisconsin gives life in defense of stone fence in Gettysburg, Penn., on third day of Civil War battle.
- Stone marker dedicated to Cushing's heroism dedicated at the site in 1887.
- Cushing killed in action at moment that Pickett's Charge faltered in front of Cushing's battered command.
A field artilleryman will be awarded the Medal of Honor 147 years after he fought to the death at the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.
In February, Secretary of the Army John McHugh recommended the approval of the nation's highest honor for 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Battery A, 4th United States Artillery commander.
During the battle of Gettysburg July 3, 1863, in the midst of what is considered by most as the turning point for Union forces in the Civil War, the young artillery officer made the ultimate sacrifice at the Angle during Picket's Charge.
Today, the location of Pickett's Charge and the Angle, which got its names because of a stone fence used by Union troops as cover, are among the most heavily visited places by tourists and re-enactors visiting Gettysburg. A stone marker dedicated to Cushing was erected at the site in 1887. It's still there, right next to two cannons.
Cushing was born in Wisconsin, and grew up in New York, graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June 1861, was commissioned into artillery and assigned to the 4th U.S. Artillery.
Besides his final battle at Gettysburg, Cushing served in critical engagements at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and by July 1863 the 22 year-old was commanding Battery A.
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Cushing was positioned with his battery near a small grove of trees in "the Angle" on Cemetery Ridge that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had designated as the objective of his assault.
When 15,000 Confederate soldiers attacked across the field, Cushing and his battery stood at the apex of the assault where Confederate Brig. Gen. Lew Armisted led his brigade and intended to pierce the Union line.
Before that desperate and ultimately disastrous gamble, Confederate artillery launched a ferocious bombardment that decimated Cushing's unit. When the Confederate cannonade stopped, Cushing had only two working cannons and a few soldiers left. Despite being told by his superiors to seek medical attention, Cushing refused to leave the front line or disband what remained of his battery.
By all accounts, Cushing and his battery kept up a tremendous rate of fire as the Confederates approached and as Armisted broke the Union infantry lines, they surged forward toward the 4th Artillery. If Pickett's Division broke through, the outcome of the entire war might have been different.
However, Cushing was literally being held up by 1st Sgt. Frederick Fuger. He refused to fall back, continuing to command his battery and pour fire into the advancing enemy. Finally, the Confederate infantry broke and began to retreat just as Armisted fell a few feet in front of Cushing's guns. In the engagement Cushing received a final, fatal wound, taking a bullet to the head just as victory was achieved for the Union.
History shows that the Confederacy would always be on the defensive from this point forward and never again mount a major offensive.
Fuger, a German immigrant assumed command of the battery after Cushing's death and continued to fire on the enemy. For his actions, Fuger was awarded the Medal of Honor and commissioned as a second lieutenant, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1900.
Cushing was not nominated for the award, but was cited for his gallantry and brevetted to lieutenant colonel for his actions. He gained immense fame for his actions and even today, he and Fuger are memorialized with a life-sized diorama at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa. Cushing's body was returned to his parents in Wisconsin and then buried at West Point beneath a headstone inscribed "Faithful until death."
The Medal of Honor dates to the Civil War. Of the 3,468 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. military members, 1,522 were given out during the Civil War. It's possible Cushing was never recognized for his bravery because so many men valiantly lost their lives at Gettysburg.
In 2002, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin nominated Cushing for the Medal of Honor for his actions, and after an investigation and review, the Army concurred with the action.
Now, Congress must vote before the medal can be awarded.
"This is a tremendous honor made possible by a group of devoted citizens with immense pride in Alonzo Cushing's actions," said Feingold. "I am grateful to have been able to help secure this very prestigious and well-deserved honor for a hero who fought valiantly and gave his life for his country."