One hundred fifty one years ago this month, at the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what I know we all recognize as one of the most iconic, one of the most enduring speeches in American history. It came just four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
And in that now storied "Gettysburg Address," Lincoln eloquently memorialized those who willingly gave their lives so that future generations, our generation, might live in freedom. In so doing, he reiterated the very principals of our American democracy.
But Lincoln did something more than that in his two-minute, 272-word address. An address, by the way, that was significantly shorter and, as history had shown, far more memorable than the 2-hour oration of the day's featured speaker, Edward Everett. I want to promise you I'll be more like Abe than Everett with my remarks! And I know that's a big relief to all.
But in his words, the president charged the audience -- he charged the Nation, really - to honor the memory of the fallen by recommitting themselves to the virtues for which they fought and died. Lincoln urged, and I quote:
"…for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…
And I too am honored to be here with all of you today to recall the cause of Lt. Alonzo Cushing's last full measure of devotion to his country. And I am proud too, that as a nation, we're honoring his faithful actions that day in July day 1863, and that we, too, are taking increased devotion to that cause for which he and so many others fought and died.
It's truly right and proper that, at long last, we do so.
So Mr. Secretary, Vice, Mrs. Allyn, Sergent Major, to all of the Cushing family who have come so far and who have waited so long, we are deeply honored to have you here. And we are especially thrilled that you could join us here in this moment. And to the tenacious Margaret Zerwekh, as the deputy secretary noted, the historian and advocate who first petitioned congressmen, senators and presidents on Alonzo's behalf, our thanks, our congratulations for tirelessly shining a light on this incredible soldier's deeds.
And let me also welcome some other distinguished guests. Mr. Ed Clark, the superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. To each and every one of you, we're welcomed and honored that you are here.
Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, a United States Military Academy graduate, lies in the West Point Cemetery in Section 26, Row A, Grave 7.
At the behest of his mother, his headstone reads "Faithful unto Death." Faithful unto death.
And it's that faithfulness, if I may, I'd like to talk with you about on this very special day for the Cushing family, a special day for our Army, and indeed for the American people.
For, it is faithfulness which permeates the Cushing legacy. The faithfulness of a young but incredibly dedicated soldier to do his duty; the faithfulness of a Wisconsin family to share and to sacrifice their most precious gifts in service to the Nation; the faithfulness of fellow soldiers like Sergeant Frederick Fuger-- also a Medal of Honor recipient -- who fought alongside his lieutenant to the very end; and the faithfulness of so-called "ordinary citizens" like Margaret Zerwekh to never forget a soldier's selfless sacrifice and to champion his noble cause; and, finally, the faithfulness of a Nation to honor and never forget its most patriotic servants.
Faithfulness is defined rather simply as the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something and putting that loyalty into consistent practice, regardless of extenuating circumstances. It was then, on that day in 1863 as it remains today, a defining virtue of our great United States Army.
If you've read or heard of this 22-year-old Wisconsinite's short but storied life or reflected on his Medal of Honor citation -- then you know that the cause of our Nation was something to which "Lon" -as his friends called him - had no trouble being faithful.
Born on January 19, 1841 to his father, Milton Buckingham Cushing, and mother, Mary B. Cushing, Alonzo spent the first years of his life in the town of Delafield, WI. Upon the death of his father in 1847, Mary moved the family to Fredonia, New York, where Alonzo and his three surviving brothers would grow into young adulthood.
Alonzo was later appointed to the military academy at West Point in 1857, graduating four years later, twelfth in a class of 34 cadets. Upon graduation, as the deputy noted, he saw action at First Manassas, was cited for "gallant and meritorious services" at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, receiving brevet promotions following each.
He was by every account exceptionally skilled as an artillery officer and was well loved and respected by his subordinates and superiors alike. Generals described him as "Brave, cool and confident." One his men described him as a "Most able soldier. A man of excellent judgment and character."
In all, each noted in what they described as his "poise under fire, radiant grin, and infectious smile, which as they described it gave a soothing effect during the chaos of battle."
All of those qualities and more were present on July 3rd 1863, at approximately 2:30pm., at the height of Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. As Artillery Commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac, Cushing "boldly stood tall" atop Cemetery Ridge at a place as the deputy noted which was known as The Angle. At the start of the battle he commanded 126 men and six cannons. Before long, as the nightmarish barrage of Confederate artillery took its toll, all, everyone of his officers had been killed, as the deputy said, all but two of his guns remained. Wounded in the abdomen as well as the right shoulder, Cushing refused to leave the field -- despite repeated appeals to do so. When Rebel forces closed to within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and he lied dead.
Blackened by powder and soaked red by blood, Cushing epitomized the essential faithfulness of the entire Union Army that day.
Like today's Soldiers, Cushing's Army didn't fight for empire, they didn't fight for domination or personal gain. They fought for a value. They fought for a cause. Indeed they fought for one another. They fought for things that they found worthy of their last full measure of devotion.
At Gettysburg, the very fate of our nascent Nation hung in the balance. And thanks to people, to soldiers, to heroes like Alonzo Cushing, and the faithful who followed him, our great American experiment was saved. And a united Nation preserved.
One admirer of Cushing's bravery wrote,
"On the field of Gettysburg, more than once I stood where the brave Cushing gave up his life, right at the peak of Pickett's daring charge...History will not let that smiling, splendid boy die in vain; her dew will glisten forever over his record as earthly morning dew glistens on the fields. Fame loves the gentleman and the true-hearted, but her sweetheart is gallant youth."
Alonzo Cushing and his fellow soldiers who gave their lives at Gettysburg certainly did not die in vain.
They died for a cause, they died for a country, and when you think about it they died for each and every one of us.
But those men are us. And we are them. Americans all. And we must remain ever faithful to their cause and to their noble ideals.
Let us also be ever forever faithful to their memory.
God bless the memories and the families of our fallen and our missing.
God bless the United States and this glorious Army that, as on that day in 1863, keeps us free.