151 Years Later, the Nation's Highest Military Honor

More than a century and a half after his death at the Battle of Gettysburg, a Union Army officer is being awarded the nation's highest military decoration.

President Obama approved the Medal of Honor for First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, the White House announced Tuesday. Cushing was killed in action on July 3, 1863 -- at age 22 -- during the battle's third and final day, in the face of Pickett's Charge, a futile, deadly Confederate advance that threatened to turn the tide of the war.

Cushing served as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps for the Army of the Potomac.

During the battle, Cushing's battery took a severe pounding from the Confederate artillery, and Cushing was wounded in the stomach and right shoulder.

Despite his injuries, Cushing refused to leave the battlefield, commanding his men and defending his position on Cemetery Ridge against the charging opposition.

"The Confederate cannon sent volleys over the heads of their advancing troops into the Union lines," the Waukesha Freeman (Wisconsin) wrote in 1911. "Cushing and his neighbors replied with never ceasing spirit, in spite of a constant rain of shot and shell, with horses and men falling all around."

"Cushing was shot several times but kept on firing. He served his last round of canister, was struck in the mouth by a bullet and fell dead."

Cushing's efforts helped the Union Army to fight off the Confederate attack -- with the South forced to retreat, sustaining massive losses. The South would never advance that far north again, a flash-point in the Union's victory.

Cushing was one of 51,000 casualties of the battle. He was buried at his alma mater, West Point.

Morris Schaff wrote about Cushing in his 1907 book "The Spirit of Old West Point, 1858-1862."

"History will not let that smiling, splendid boy die in vain; long her dew will glisten over his record as the earthly morning dew glistens in the fields," he wrote. "Fame loves the gentleman and the true-hearted, but her sweetheart is gallant youth."

Cushing was born in what is now Delafield, Wisconsin, and raised in Fredonia, New York. He graduated from West point in 1861.

Prior to Gettysburg, he participated in other major Civil War battles, including the Battle of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. He also trained volunteer troops in Washington and completed topographical work.

Cushing was one of four brothers to serve the Union during the Civil War.

Despite a marker erected to Cushing on Cemetery Ridge and a monument near his birthplace, the Medal of Honor eluded him. Descendants and Civil War buffs took up the cause in recent decades.

Congress granted 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 years. Cushing has endured a longer wait than any of the 3,468 recipients to receive the Medal of Honor.

Cushing's Medal of Honor will be awarded on Sept. 15. Other honorees announced Tuesday include Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, who fought in the Vietnam War.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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