After Vetting, Civil War Veteran Approved For Medal Of Honor
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The president has also approved awarding the Medal of Honor to a long deceased hero of a different war. Army 1st Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing is to be commended for bravery demonstrated on July 3, 1863. That's the day he died at the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. The posthumous award follows a campaign by Lieutenant Cushing's admirers, survivors and, as he was a native of what is Delafield, Wisconsin, members of Congress from that state.
Kent Brown is the author of several works about the Civil War, including "Cushing of Gettysburg." And he joins us from Lexington, Kentucky. Welcome to the program.
KENT BROWN: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Lieutenant Cushing was commanding an artillery battery at Gettysburg. Pickett's Charge, the famous Confederate charge, came right at him. What did he do that demonstrated his valor that day?
BROWN: During the artillery bombardment before the attack, he had been wounded twice - once in the shoulder, once in the groin. The man was virtually ill from there on because of the wounds. He had virtually cauterized right thumb to the bone stoppering the vent of the last gun he was serving.
And as Pickett's division came up to him within 300 yards, they opened fire. And as Cushing was yelling fire to his cannoneers, he was killed by a bullet that entered his open mouth. And this was after he had been asked repeatedly to leave the field. And he refused and stayed there till the end.
SIEGEL: This happened in 1863. In 1861, the Medal of Honor had been created. Why wasn't one awarded to Alonzo Cushing all these years?
BROWN: Well, in the Civil War, they never gave the medal posthumously. And there were numbers of officers around Cushing who received the Medal of Honor for services that same day with him. And Cushing didn't because he died.
And there was a concerted effort from people within Wisconsin, where he was born, including a woman named Margaret Zerwekh, who started this effort to get him the Medal of Honor. Lo and behold, that got to the point where the Army War Decorations Board was considering it. And that's when they contacted me because they wanted verification of his service.
SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you about that. Former Virginia Senator James Webb effectively blocked this award, claiming that it's in his words impossible to verify the circumstances of battle 150 years after a battle. Are you as confident of what you have found out in your research about what Alonzo Cushing did as you would be of what a soldier in the Vietnam War would, when you could go and interview several other people who were there at the same time in the same place?
BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the reason is it was recorded by so many people who were with him, including General Alexander Stuart Webb, who commanded the brigade that Cushing's battery protected, even down to corporals in his battery. And then the after-action reports, that are part of the official records, speak of his valor. I have no doubt whatsoever of the tightness of that story. It's an amazing story, frankly.
SIEGEL: If indeed an injustice has been righted here by awarding the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Cushing, are there other acts of bravery from the Civil War era that are similarly unrecognized as his was for so long?
BROWN: Oh, heavens - I mean, thousands, frankly. I wonder whether Cushing may be the last Civil War soldier to receive it. And if he is, I'd like to think that it's being given to him but on behalf of all those others who are going to go unnamed - that they will all share in Cushing's award of the Medal of Honor because we'll never be able to right all those, quote, "wrongs," unquote, of all those other soldiers who were equally valorous.
SIEGEL: Kent Brown, author of "Cushing of Gettysburg" - thank you very much for talking with us.
BROWN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.