Federal bill could help Civil War soldier from Wisconsin receive highest military honor

  • Article by: DINESH RAMDE , Associated Press
  • Updated: December 20, 2013 - 3:20 PM

MILWAUKEE — A Civil War soldier from Wisconsin who made a valiant last stand at Gettysburg might finally receive the nation's highest military decoration.

First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing of Delafield was killed in 1863, and in the past few years, descendants and Civil War buffs pushed for him to receive the Medal of Honor.

But the challenge has been the timing. Medal of Honor recommendations have to be made within two years of the act of heroism, and the medal must be awarded within three years. For a medal to be awarded posthumously to Cushing, the first step was for Congress to grant an exception to the rule.

That happened Friday when the Senate passed a comprehensive defense bill that included an exemption on Cushing's behalf. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama.

Even if the president signs the bill, a few steps remain before Cushing would get the medal. The Defense Department would still have to make an official recommendation, and Obama would have to approve it.

Two Wisconsin congressmen said they're sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking him to promptly review Cushing's record and recommend that he be recognized.

"It's never too late to do the right thing, especially when it comes to honoring our war heroes," Rep. Ron Kind said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a spokeswoman with the Defense Department, said the agency does not comment on private letters between Hagel and members of Congress.

Cushing was killed on July 3, 1863, the last day of the three-day battle of Gettysburg. He was 22.

The West Point graduate and his men of the Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery were 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 commanded about 110 men and six cannons. His small force along with reinforcements stood their ground under terrific artillery bombardment as nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen waited to advance.

For two hours, shells rained upon Cushing and his men. Cushing was wounded in the shoulder and groin, 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 Historians say his stricken battery should have been withdrawn and replaced with reserve forces, but Cushing insisted on ordering his guns to the front lines.

Within minutes he was killed by a Confederate bullet to the head.

Confederate soldiers advanced into the Union fire but finally retreated with massive casualties. The South never recovered from the defeat.

Several soldiers who fought alongside Cushing received Medals of Honor. It's not clear why Cushing never got one, but his descendants and admirers took up his cause in the late 1980s. They reached out to Wisconsin senators who helped them lobby the Army, but their petitions went nowhere.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who joined with Kind in advocating for Cushing's cause, said he was pleased that the House and Senate finally agreed to pass the Cushing amendment, and that Cushing deserved to be remembered as a hero.

"Lieutenant Cushing was a courageous leader who gave his life to protect our country," Sensenbrenner said. "(He) deserves to be recognized for his bravery."

There have been 3,463 Medals of Honor bestowed, including more than 1,500 from the Civil War, according to the Defense Department.

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