The Civil War was the most significant war in the history of the United States. A war which would ultimately lead to over 600,000 soldiers and sailors giving, “the last full measure of devotion.” – Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address. This was a fratricidal war of brother fighting brother, neighbor fighting neighbor and in some cases father fighting son. One of the most significant fratricidal fighting grounds – or battlefields – was Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where for three hot days in July 1863, the Confederate Gray fought the Union Blue in a sanguinary slugging match which ended in a near draw, with CSA General Robert E. Lee blinking first, retreating to Dixie shortly after the guns fell quiet on July 3.
Cushing at Gettysburg
Over those first three days of July 1863, Blue and Gray combined would suffer over 51,000 casualties – of which 7,000 were killed in action or mortally wounded. One of those mortally wounded soldiers was Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing who would fall commanding his artillery battery on Cemetery Ridge. His bravery has been praised since the battle, and written about in many historical narratives.
One of Grey Beard Biker’s favorite narratives of Cushing’s stand at Gettysburg was written by historian Noah Andre Trudeau in his well known, “Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage:”
On crossing the road, Garnett’s (Brig. Gen. Robert B. Garnett) formation was thrown into some disorder after his right regiment, the 8th Virginia, had to divide to get around the Codori farm. As the brigade pushed ahead, musketry blasts exploded from its ranks, many of them aimed at the section of wall harboring Cushing’s two guns. The young officer was struck twice, taking a terribly painful would in his genitals. Despite his pain, Cushing kept monitoring the effect of each shot, calling out corrections all the while. A soldier in the 69th (Pennsylvania) remembered hearing him declare, “‘That’s excellent, keep that range,'” just moments before am infantryman commented that “that artillery officer has his legs knocked out from under him.” Cushing was yelling another order or correction when a Rebel bullet entered his mouth, killing him instantly. Soon after this, his two guns exhausted their supplies, thus creating an inviting chink in the Union line.
At the time of his death, Cushing was 22 years old and in command of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery. Happenstance brought him to a copse of trees on Cemetery Ridge, the exact focal point of Pickett’s Charge. There he was in command of 110 men manning six artillery tubes. By the time he pushed his 3-inch ordnance rifles to the fence line, based on orders from General Alexander Webb, he only had two functioning rifles left. 150 years after his heroics at Gettysburg, Cushing was awarded the Medal of Honor. Over 3,400 brave souls have received the Medal of Honor – none have waited as long as Lieutenant Cushing: 150 years.
Cushing Medal of Honor Citation:
First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing distinguished himself by acts of bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Artillery Commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1863 during the American Civil War. That morning, Confederate Forces led by General Robert E. Lee began cannonading First Lieutenant Cushing’s position on Cemetery Ridge. Using field glasses, First Lieutenant Cushing directed fire for his own artillery battery. He refused to leave the battlefield after being struck in the shoulder by a shell fragment. As he continued to direct fire, he was struck again, this time suffering grievous damage to his abdomen. Still refusing to abandon his command, he boldly stood tall in the face of Major General George E. Pickett’s charge and continued to direct devastating fire into the oncoming forces. As the Confederate Forces closed in, First Lieutenant Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun. His gallant stand and fearless leadership inflicted severe casualties upon Confederate Forces and opened wide gaps in their lines, directly impacting the Union Forces’ ability to repel Pickett’s Charge. First Lieutenant Cushing’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his own life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac and the United States Army.
Lieutenant Cushing, you may have waited longer than any other soldier to receive your Medal of Honor, but it was worth the wait. You will forever be remembered for what you did on Cemetery Ridge, in Gettysburg, on July 3, 1863. Thank you for your service, bravery and intrepidity in the face of overwhelming odds! If it had not been for the stand you made there, the Battle of Gettysburg may have been a turning point for the Confederate States of America instead of the United States of America!