A century and a half after his valiant death in the Battle of Gettysburg, a Union Army officer is being awarded the nation's highest military decoration, thanks to a decades-long campaign by his descendants and Civil War buffs. The White House announced yesterday that President Obama has approved the Medal of Honor for 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing, who was killed during the pivotal three-day Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Cushing, who was born in Delafield, Wis., was 22 years old when he commanded about 110 men and six cannons defending a Union position against Pickett's Charge, a major Confederate thrust that could have turned the tide in the war.
He was wounded as his small force stood its ground under a severe artillery bombardment while nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen waited to advance, but he insisted on ordering his guns to the front lines on the last day of fighting. "Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire in the face of the enemy," the White House said in its announcement. "With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault." (Another posthumous Medal of Honor may be awarded to a member of the all-black World War I unit known as the "Harlem Hellfighters" who fought off 20 German soldiers with only a knife and a jammed rifle.)