President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor, to a Civil War soldier 150 years after his death, thanks to a decades-long campaign by his descendants and Civil War buffs. Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing was a 22-year-old Union artillery commander when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 3rd, 1863, he commanded 110 men and six cannons, defending the Union position on Cemetery Ridge against Pickett’s Charge, a major Confederate thrust that could have turned the tide in the war. Cushing was badly wounded but refused to leave. “I’ll stay and fight it out, or die in the attempt,” he was reported saying. Cushing and his men stood their ground against a severe artillery bombardment as nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen prepared to advance. Cushing was wounded, and his battery was left with two guns and no long-range ammunition. Instead of withdrawing, he insisted on ordering his guns to the front lines on the last day of fighting.
The campaign to award Cushing was led by Margaret Zerwekh, a history buff from Cushing’s hometown of Delafield, Wisconsin. When asked why she pressed so hard to recognise the dead man’s efforts at Gettysburg, her answer was simple: “He saved the Union.” 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. “This falls into that category of it’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Representative Ron Kind, who co-sponsored legislation that allowed Lieutenant Cushing to receive the medal so long after the war. “Many military historians for years scratched their heads wondering how he was overlooked for the Medal of Honor at the time. Coming around full circle 150 years after the fact is the right thing to do.”