May 2013 Update on Alonzo Cushing Medal of Honor

Lt. Alonzo Cushing

Back in June of 2012, Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced legislation that would have allowed Delafield, Wisconsin native Lt. Alonzo Cushing to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3rd, 1863.  Specifically, the legislation would have waived the time limit on formal recommendations for the awarding of the medal, which is normally two years from the time of the heroic action.  This waiver, attached to a defense appropriations bill, had the support of the Secretaries of Defense and the Army.  However, the waiver was removed in a House and Senate conference committee.  Sen. James Webb of Virginia, who voted against the waiver, explained that “while one would never wish to demean any act of courage, I believe that the retroactive determination in one case could open up an endless series of claims.  The better wisdom would be for Congress to leave history alone.”

I admit I’m biased and in favor of Cushing being awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, when he continued to direct his artillery battery and not leave the field despite multiple wounds during Pickett’s Charge.  He continued to fight until he was killed.  That being said, I believe awarding the MOH to Lt. Cushing would be the long overdue correction of an oversight and an extraordinary case and not the opening of a flood of revisionism.

Kind and Sensenbrenner haven’t given up.  On May 23rd, 2013, Kind’s office issued a press release saying that the two have again introduced legislation to award the MOH to Cushing.  Here’s the text of the press release:

WASHINGTON, DC–U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced legislation to posthumously award Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing with the Medal of Honor. Lt. Cushing, a Wisconsin-born Civil War hero, played a pivotal role in the Union victory at Gettysburg. July 1-3 of this year marks the 150th anniversary of that battle.

A native of Delafield, WI, Cushing is best remembered for his actions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg when he helped turn the tide during Pickett’s Charge. On July 3, 1863, the third day of battle, Cushing commanded 110 men and six cannons positioned on Cemetery Ridge. They received the full force of Confederate artillery and Pickett’s Charge of 13,000 infantry. In a period of just a few hours, all of his officers had been killed and Cushing himself was wounded though he refused to withdraw from the field. He continued to fight, and sustained two more wounds before finally succumbing to his injuries.

“It’s an honor to fight for the memory of Lieutenant Cushing and help award him the medal he deserves,” said Rep. Kind. “Even 150 years later, it’s never too late to do the right thing, especially as we prepare to honor the memories of all our soldiers this Memorial Day.”

“Lt. Cushing was a courageous leader who gave his life to protect our sovereign nation,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said. “This brave soldier from Wisconsin should be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic service.”

Recommendations for the Medal of Honor must be formally made within two years of the heroic action and awarded within three years. This bill, strongly backed by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, makes it possible to waive this requirement with an act of Congressional approval and the President’s signature

I hope Congress goes along this time and Cushing will finally get his medal in this year of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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