Gettysburg hero to receive Medal of Honor 151 years later

Posted at 11:18 AM, Aug 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-27 13:38:05-04

(CNN) – “Faithful unto death.”

Those words on the West Point headstone of 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing succinctly enshrine the determination of the man who helped turn the tide at Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Despite at least two wounds, Cushing, 22, stayed at his post and directed artillery fire upon hordes of Confederates charging the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge – a doomed assault known as Pickett’s Charge. A bullet to the head finally felled the young officer.

More than 151 years after his heroic service, Cushing will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously, the White House announced Tuesday.

It is the country’s highest military award, given to American soldiers who display conspicuous “gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.”

Cushing, born in Delafield, Wisconsin, commanded the six-gun Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, at the momentous Pennsylvania battle.

His battery took a pounding from Confederate artillery preceding the attack and he had only two serviceable guns when the charge began on the hot afternoon of July 3, 1863. The estimated 13,000 attackers had what is known as “The Angle” as their objective and some were able to briefly breach the stone wall.

“During the advance, he was wounded in the stomach as well as in the right shoulder,” the White House said in a statement about Cushing, who graduated from the Army’s West Point.

“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. 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.”

Katie Lawhon, management assistant at Gettysburg National Military Park, said visitors today can see where Cushing’s battery served.

“The story of his valor and sacrifice at the center of the Union battle line … is a very inspiring story to a lot of people who study Gettysburg,” said Lawhon.

Tuesday’s announcement culminates years of lobbying for the honor. Cushing was recommended in 2010, but Congress did not give formal approval until late last year. The recommendation then had to go through the Defense Department and to the White House, where Obama gave his approval.

‘It is about time’

Margaret E. Zerwekh, 94, of Delafield, has lobbied for the honor for years, writing to Wisconsin congressmen. She’s conducted research, and lives in a house on property formerly owned by the Cushing family.

“He saved the Union and he needs to have recognition for it,” Zerwekh said late Tuesday. “It is about time.”

The White House did not release a date for the Cushing ceremony.

At a ceremony on September 15, Obama will bestow the Medal of Honor to two soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Command Sgt. Major Bennie G. Adkins, who lives in Opelika, Alabama, distinguished himself in combat operations in March 1966 during one of three tours in Southeast Asia. He dragged comrades to safety during a mortar barrage and later fought off an attack.

Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, from Coweta, Oklahoma, was killed while on patrol in January 1970. The 20-year-old machine gunner chose to shield the blast of a grenade with his own body, saving three comrades.