WASHINGTON — One hundred and fifty-one years after his final battle and more than two decades after a senator took up his cause, 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing will get a Medal of Honor.
Cushing was 22 when he died on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg, a pivotal clash in the Civil War. On Sept. 15, President Barack Obama will bestow the nation’s highest military award on the Union Army officer, the White House said Tuesday.
Members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation including Reps. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, and Ron Kind, a Democrat, sought the award for the native of their state, pushing ahead with an effort begun in the 1980s by the late Wisconsin Democratic Senator William Proxmire.
“Lt. Cushing is a reminder that it is never too late or too early, too much or too little, to honor our fallen heroes as well as the families, friends and communities they leave behind,” Kind said in a 2012 editorial.
Obama also will award Medals of Honor on Sept. 15 to two Vietnam War veterans, Bennie Adkins and Donald Sloat. Adkins will attend the ceremony, the White House said. Sloat was killed in action Jan. 17, 1970, at age 20, and will receive the award posthumously.
Cushing was commander of a Union artillery battery on the third day of the Gettysburg battle, during what’s now known as Pickett’s Charge, according to an account provided by the White House. After Confederate cannon fire ripped into his position, he took over firing the only artillery piece in his battery that was still operable.
During the fighting, he was severely wounded in the shoulder and stomach. Cushing refused to be moved to the rear and continued directing firing of the artillery piece until he was mortally wounded by a bullet.
“His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault,” the White House account states.
Cushing was buried with honors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, from which he graduated two years before his death.
The effort to award Cushing the Medal of Honor has been a battle itself.
Former Sen. James Webb, a Virginia Democrat who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, had stripped legislative language authorizing the award in 2012, saying more than 150 years later it was impossible to verify the circumstances of battle to determine whether the highest military honor was merited. U.S. law requires recommendations for the Medal of Honor to be made within two years.
New legislation to award Cushing the honor passed in December 2013, within a year after Webb left the Senate, and the nomination was sent to the Defense Department for review.