First Lieutenant Alonzo “Lon” Cushing was decorated with the nation’s highest military honor for his service at Gettysburg. The presentation was more than 150 years in the making.
A West Point graduate, during the era of Cushing’s service, the Medal was not presented to officers. He fought at Bull Run, Anteitum, Chancelorrsville, Fredericksburg and finally Gettysburg, where he was immortalized on the final day of the fight on July 3, 1863.
At Cemetery Ridge during Picket’s Charge, Cushing was hit and badly wounded. His sergeant urged him to go to the rear but he said he would fight it out or die in the doing. Over 10,000 Confederates charged while Lon used his thumb to stop his gun’s vent from burning his fingers, and continued shooting. When he was hit a third and final time, he discharged a shot at the enemy.
“Faithful unto death” was his epitaph, and the dining room on the USS Gettysburg will be dedicated to him.
Congressional exemption for a Civil War hero
The honor for Cushing required a congressional exemption because, under rules for the award—created during the Civil War—it must be presented within three years of a qualifying act of heroism. Relatives and historians worked for over 40 years to get the honor bestowed on the war hero.
The irony for me is that when I visited Gettysburg in 2013 the government was shut down in a partisan battle. I’m glad Congress can cooperate on something a year later!
Fortunately the visitor center was open during the shutdown because it’s run by a private foundation instead of a federal agency.
The Gettysburg experience
On a more somber note, I was quite moved by what I learned on my visit—about history and about myself. I hope you’ll listen to the podcast from that visit at the top of this post and visit the post I wrote about it.
I’ve visited several towns this year with Civil War history but the subject has always been remote. The war became personal to me in the exhibit hall of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum. Comparing the uniforms and kits of the Union and Confederate soldiers, I was struck by how poorly outfitted Johnny Rebel was. They never stood a chance, and I married one of their descendants.
The Confederates had some strange ideas and were fueled by false hopes and hubris, but at that moment, I recognized them as family. Truth is, they’ve always been family, even before I married a Virginian. We’re all one human family.