undated photo provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society
shows First Lt. Alonzo Cushing. A Civil War soldier is to be
honored with the nation's highest military decoration 151
years after his death.The White House announced Wednesday
that President Barack Obama will give the Medal of Honor to
Alonzo H. Cushing. His descendants and Civil War buffs have
been pushing for the Union Army lieutenant killed at
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to receive the award.
WASHINGTON — A
century and a half after his valiant death in the Battle of
Gettysburg, a Union Army officer is being awarded the nation's
highest military decoration, thanks to a decades-long campaign by
his descendants and Civil War buffs.
The White House
announced Tuesday that President Barack Obama approved the Medal
of Honor for 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing, who was killed standing
his ground against Pickett's Charge during the pivotal, three-day
Battle of Gettysburg.
a special exemption last December for Cushing to receive the award
posthumously since recommendations normally have to be made within
two years of the act of heroism and the medal awarded within three
The White House
also announced that Obama will award the medal in a ceremony on
Sept. 15 to two Vietnam War soldiers who also received the
congressional exemption — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G.
Adkins and Army Spc. Donald P. Sloat. The medal is given to
members of the Armed Forces who risk their own lives in acts of
great personal bravery.
Cushing was born
in Delafield, Wisconsin, raised in Fredonia, New York, and buried
at his alma mater, West Point, after being killed on July 3, 1863,
at age 22. He commanded about 110 men and six cannons, defending
the Union position on Cemetery Ridge against Pickett's Charge, a
major Confederate thrust that could have turned the tide in the
war. Cushing received a bullet wound in the head.
The fierce battle
near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, resulted in more than
51,000 casualties. Confederate soldiers advanced into the Union
fire but eventually retreated with massive losses. The South never
recovered from the defeat. Four months later, President Abraham
Lincoln memorialized the Union war dead in his Gettysburg Address.
battle, Cushing's small force stood their ground under a severe
artillery bombardment as nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen
waited to advance. Cushing was wounded, and his battery was left
with two guns and no long-range ammunition. Historians say his
stricken battery should have been withdrawn and replaced with
reserve forces, but Cushing insisted on ordering his guns to the
front lines on the last day of fighting.
evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the
operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire in the face
of the enemy," the White House said in its announcement.
"With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing
was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it
possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the
More than 1,500
soldiers from the Civil War have received the Medal of Honor, most
recently Cpl. Andrew Jackson Smith of Clinton, Ill., who was
awarded the medal in 2001 by President Bill Clinton. It's not
clear why Cushing never got one, but his descendants and admirers
took up his cause in the late 1980s.
The Cushing name
is prominent in Delafield, his birthplace in southeastern
Wisconsin. A monument to Cushing and two of his brothers — Naval
Cmdr. William Cushing and Army 1st Lt. Howard Cushing — stands
at Cushing Memorial Park, where the town holds most of its
Memorial Day celebrations.
lawmakers pushed through an amendment to a defense spending bill
to award Cushing in 2010, but then-Sen. James Webb, D-Va.,
stripped it from the bill because he said it was impossible to go
back 150 years to determine who should receive the award. Webb
predicted it could open an endless series of claims and argued at
the time, "The better wisdom would be for Congress to leave
The award also
will be given posthumously to Sloat, who was killed in action in
Vietnam on Jan. 17, 1970, at age 20. Sloat, of Coweta, Oklahoma,
picked up a live grenade triggered by a fellow soldier and used
his own body to shield the blast and save his fellow soldiers.
Adkins, a veteran
who served 22 years and has retired to Opelika, Alabama, plans to
receive his medal in person. He was deployed three times to
Vietnam with the Special Forces and is being awarded for actions
in combat on his second tour, in 1966, when he ran wounded through
enemy fire to drag wounded comrades to safety.