WASHINGTON – A century and a half after his valiant death at 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.
Congress granted a special exemption in 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 years.
The White House also announced that Obama will award the medal in a ceremony 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 life in an act 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 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.
During the battle, Cushing’s small force stood their ground under a severe artillery bombardment as nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen waited to advance.
Cushing suffered a gunshot wound to his head, 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 Historians say his stricken battery should have been withdrawn and replaced with reserve forces, but the mortally wounded Cushing insisted on ordering his guns to the front lines on the last day of fighting.
Refusing to 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 Confederate assault.
The award will be given posthumously to Sloat, of Coweta, Oklahoma, who died in Vietnam on Jan. 17, 1970, at age 20 when he used his body to shield a grenade blast.
Adkins, a veteran who served 22 years and has retired to Opelika, Alabama, will receive his medal in person.