By David VergunNovember 10, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 10, 2014) -- "It's a story of loyalty, of courage and sacrifice, and service above self," said Jessica Loring, referring to Union Soldier 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing's valor at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
"All of those are standards which I think we always hope we could live up to if ever called to do so," she said. "It would take a great deal of courage to actually step forward" to do something similar to what Cushing did.
Cushing was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, Thursday, during a ceremony at the White House. Loring and others spoke the next day at the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon. Loring is Cushing's first cousin, three generations removed.
Cushing stood directly in the line of Pickett's Charge "at basically ground zero of the attack," she related.
He was told to retire and get medical help, because he clearly was in terrible shape, she said. But he refused. Instead, he asked for his two remaining cannons to be moved up to the stone wall, right in the face of Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's Charge at the so-called Bloody Angle, a low, stone, angle-shaped wall.
There he remained, firing his cannon until he was shot and killed by the advancing foe.
His valor and that of the other Union Soldiers that day won the battle, she said. "The victory at Gettysburg sounded the beginning of the end of [Confederate Gen. Robert E.] Lee's army and the Confederacy."
It has been said that Cushing's achievements were belatedly recognized with the Medal of Honor. However, Cushing's bravery was well recognized at the time, Loring said. He was buried at the United States Military Academy's West Point Cemetery, New York, "with a very high military honor."
The memory of Cushing has lived long in both the Cushing and Loring branches of the family, she said. "We have told his story over the generations."
LONGEST WAIT FOR MEDAL OF HONOR
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work also added his tribute to Cushing.
"An astonishing 1,522 Medals of Honor were awarded to those who fought in the Civil War," Work said. "But the heroic deeds of Lieutenant Cushing on that bloody day at Gettysburg were overlooked."
This is likely because he didn't live to share his own account, Work said, in a time where most of the recipients did live and were able to advocate for their award.
"Just two percent of all these [1,522] brave American Soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor died," he said.
"The rest all lived. So it's understandable that Lieutenant Cushing's heroic deeds were kind of forgotten."
The nation finally is able to address that mistake and honor him, Work said, following the efforts of his family, and Margaret Zerwekh, the historian granddaughter of another Union Soldier, who "engaged in a battle for over 27 years to have Lieutenant Cushing awarded and recognized for his valor," the deputy secretary said.
The 151-year delay in Cushing's recognition is the longest gap ever between the awarding of a Medal of Honor and the act of valor for which the medal was given, he noted.
The deputy defense secretary also took a moment to welcome the descendants of the Union Army lieutenant who have carried on the family's tradition of military service.
"They've gathered from across America to join us here today," Work said. "Like many of our nation's distinguished military families, patriotism and selfless sacrifice run deep in the veins of the Cushing family tree." He noted that Cushing had three brothers who also served.
"Now, with us here today, are over 60 Cushing family members who continue this proud tradition," he added, "and the legacy of service to our nation's armed forces."
Work, a 27-year Marine Corps artilleryman, said he was "particularly thrilled" to join in honoring Cushing for his extraordinary valor.
"So, artillerymen are a unique bunch," he said. "They adore their cannon, which they treat with loving care so when the time comes, and at the decisive moment in battle, their guns are able to operate and able to fire in support of, in the Civil War, the infantry and cavalry, and today, in support of our armor, and our special operations also."
Work said despite his age, the 22-year old Cushing already was a veteran of "some of the greatest and most [bloody] battles of the Civil War." These included Malvern Hill, Antietam and Fredericksburg, he said, and on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Cushing and his artillery battery were positioned on a critical ridge anchoring the entire Union position -- Cemetery Ridge.
"For two days ... General Lee's army battered itself against this line of brave Union Soldiers searching for weakness," Work said. "But the northerners held firm, rushing reinforcements from one part of the threatened battlefield to the other."
But on the morning of July 3, 1863, Lee and his commanders took a look across that field and said it was time to try to force the issue, he said. Lee decided he would roll the dice, he added, placing all of his fresh troops under Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett and having them charge straight at the line on Cemetery Ridge.
"Some 12,000 men ... in gray began to converge on the Union defenses, right where Lieutenant Cushing and his battery stood waiting," the deputy secretary said. Lee had his own artillery, Work noted, which he used to blast away at the Union line in an attempt to soften up their defenses.
"Lieutenant Cushing found himself with only two workable cannons left at the end of this barrage," he said. "Most of the artillerymen who served the guns were either dead or wounded."
Work said Cushing reacted without even thinking about it, moving his two remaining cannons right up to the well-known stone wall that created the "bloody angle," where he stood and fired into the oncoming mass of infantry charging across the field.
"But the southerner troops were as brave that day as the Union troops," he said. "They came on until they had reached the very muzzle of Lieutenant Cushing's guns."
Despite already being shot twice and being grievously wounded, Work said, Cushing refused to leave his position, stating he would "stay right here and fight it out or die in the attempt."
Minutes later, Work said, the Confederate wave crashed over the position and Lieutenant Cushing was cut down. "His valor was worthy of being awarded the highest medal that our nation bestows on its men and women -- even if it took a little time to do it," the deputy secretary added.
"So it's taken America more than 150 years to officially honor Lieutenant Cushing's extraordinary valor," he concluded, adding that "It is never too late to correct the record and appropriately honor our fallen."
Army Secretary John M. McHugh and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn also spoke. More than 60 of Cushing descendants and advocates attended the event.
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