Tuesday, March 23, 2010
News: Medal of Honor for Federal Canoneer at Gettysburg?
1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing Is One Step Closer to the Medal of Honor
Civil War hero from Delafield in line for Medal of Honor, Meg Jones, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Online, March 23, 2010.
In the hell that was the battle of Gettysburg, in the hailstorm of shells and shrapnel that extinguished so many lives on a hot July day, one bullet struck a blue-clad soldier from Delafield, Wis., in the head. A shell fragment already had pierced Alonzo Cushing's shoulder and shrapnel tore through his abdomen before the shot that felled the 1861 West Point graduate. Cushing died July 3, 1863, during Pickett's Charge at Cemetery Ridge next to the artillery guns he refused to leave. It was the third and final day of the Gettysburg battle. Cushing was just 22.
The 1st lieutenant's body was returned to his family and buried at West Point beneath a headstone inscribed "Faithful until death." Cushing's name didn't fade away - it graces a park in Delafield, and a white obelisk monument was dedicated there in 1915. However, a small but dedicated group wanted more for Cushing; they wanted his heroism recognized with the nation's highest military honor. Now, it appears that Cushing will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that Pennsylvania battlefield 147 years ago.
The secretary of the Army has approved the request, which must go through a few more hurdles before it can be signed by the president. Then the military will present the Medal of Honor to Cushing's family during a ceremony. "He's definitely my hero," said Phil Shapiro, 27, who started a "Give Alonzo Cushing the Medal of Honor" Facebook page in early February. "I always felt he deserved the Medal of Honor." The quest to recognize Cushing's valor began in the 1980s, first with then-Sen. William Proxmire and later with Sen. Russ Feingold, who eventually shepherded the request through military and congressional channels.
Margaret Zerwekh, 90, who belonged to the auxiliary of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, has three inch-thick folders of paperwork relating to the effort. Normally, a recommendation for the Medal of Honor must be made within two to three years of the heroic action, and the medal must be awarded within three to five years. The length of time varies depending on the military branch, said Victoria Kueck, director of operations for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. It takes an act of Congress to waive the time limits, which was done in Cushing's case.
The Medal of Honor dates to the Civil War. Of the 3,468 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. military members, 1,522 were given out during the Civil War, though back then only a handful were conferred posthumously. It's possible Cushing was never recognized for his bravery because so many men valiantly lost their lives at Gettysburg or because so few Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously during the Civil War. Whatever the cause, Zerwekh believes Cushing is due.
"When Alonzo and his (three) brothers went off to the Navy and Army, their mother told them, 'Die my boys, but no dishonor.' That was probably one of the things he was thinking when he stood there at his last gun," said Zerwekh, who lives on property in Delafield once owned by Alonzo Cushing's father, Milton. Barbara Gruwell's father, Robert Cushing, who died this month at the age of 80, was part of the effort to recognize his ancestor. Gruwell, who is Alonzo Cushing's sixth cousin four times removed, was able to tell her father the good news before he died. "He was honored to know Alonzo had been recognized," said Gruwell, of Lodi.
Before Gettysburg, Cushing fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville as well as the Battle of Bull Run. Historic accounts of the Gettysburg battle place Cushing and his men of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery near a small grove of trees in a confined spot known as "the Angle" because of a stone fence used by Union troops during the third day of the battle.
This was the area of Pickett's Charge. Before that desperate and ultimately disastrous gamble, Confederate artillery launched a ferocious bombardment that decimated Cushing's unit. When the Confederate cannonade stopped, Cushing had only two working cannons and a few soldiers left. Despite being told by his superiors to seek medical attention, Cushing refused to leave the front line or disband what remained of his battery. He had been wounded in the shoulder and was holding in his intestines with his hand after shrapnel ripped through his abdomen and groin.
Battery A moved the two remaining guns to the stone wall and blasted away at the charging Confederates. Cushing was seen firing one of the cannons into the mass of Pickett's soldiers as they drew close to the stone wall. A few seconds after he yelled "I will give them one more shot," Cushing was struck in the mouth by a bullet that killed him instantly.
The location of Pickett's Charge and the Angle are among the most heavily visited places by tourists and re-enactors journeying to Gettysburg. A stone marker dedicated to Cushing was erected at the site in 1887. It's still there, right next to two cannons. "Many of the stories that surround Alonzo Cushing may seem like tall tales, but they're steeped in fact of his bravery on the battlefield," said Kirsten Lee Villegas, executive director of the Waukesha County Historical Society, which has numerous documents relating to Cushing in its archives. Cushing is mentioned in the Civil War exhibit at the historical society, which was responsible for the Cushing monument in Delafield in 1915.
Shapiro, the creator of the Facebook page dedicated to Cushing, learned of the Wisconsin hero when his father took him to Civil War battlefields as a boy. He wrote papers on Cushing for high school and college classes and bought two small crossed cannon pins similar to those worn by artillerymen such as Cushing. On a visit to Cushing's grave at West Point more than a decade ago, Shapiro left one of the cannon pins on the headstone. The other pin he keeps close.
Shapiro is an Air Force C-130 pilot based at Little Rock Air Force Base. He recently returned from missions in support of Haitian earthquake victims and last year was deployed to Iraq, where he flew cargo and passengers throughout the war zone. He's expecting to be deployed overseas again later this year. Shapiro wears the artillery pin fastened to the underside of his hat. "Sometimes if I get in a situation I'm nervous about, I look at it and touch it and try to remember I have courage. I've never been in a situation anything close to what Alonzo did, but if you could be 22 years old and do what he did, I can certainly put up with anything," Shapiro said.
Bottom Image Caption: First Lt. Alonzo Cushing of Delafield (middle, standing) was among Union officers at Antietam in 1862. At Gettysburg the next year, a wounded Cushing refused to abandon his post and was killed. A group has been pushing to honor him.
Portrait Image:Cushing's Battery
Medal Image: Medal of Honor
Text and Bottom Image: Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Online