For anyone with even a passing interest in the American Civil War or the battle of Gettysburg, the fact that Alonzo Cushing was just awarded the Medal of Honor is old news. President Barack Obama conferred it today in a brief White House ceremony, attended by many of Cushing’s distant relatives. It would be foolhardy to think that we could add anything to the veritable sea of articles and news reports recently issued about the 22-year-old battery commander. In fact, it may be that young Cushing is in grave danger of becoming the new Joshua Chamberlain, though time will ultimately settle that score.
Our weekly blog post will offer up nothing more than the 9 minute clip of what took 151 years to accomplish: the moment when the 64th American soldier to earn the Medal of Honor for actions performed at Gettysburg gets his award. It is an award of superlatives. Cushing is the only Gettysburg recipient to die in the act of earning the Medal. He now holds the record for the longest time between the bestowing of the award and the act for which it was earned, just over a century and a half. It is also entirely possible, thanks to social media, that more Americans saw Alonzo Cushing awarded the Medal of Honor than any other American soldier in history. Slightly over 118,000 viewed it over the Gettysburg National Military Park Facebook page alone.
And then there is the obvious. Barack Obama was the President who, in the name of the American people and their government, awarded the Medal. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is impossible to deny the historic nature of this fact.
In the smokey twilight of July 3rd, 1863, the broken and torn body of 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing was taken from the shattered remnants of his battery where he was killed and brought to the opposite slope of Cemetery Ridge. His face was covered in blood, his thigh and abdomen had been ripped apart and there was a visible wound to his shoulder. The next morning, the Fourth of July, two men began to prepare Cushing for burial. They removed his blood stained and tattered fatigue blouse, the one he had worn in battle, the one he had been killed in. From the battery wagons they procured Cushing’s frock coat, his dress jacket, and went about the duty of dressing the body of their former commander. One of the men was Corporal Thomas Moon. The other we know only as Henry, Cushing’s black servant. Moon kept Cushing’s shoulder straps. Henry was allowed to keep Cushing’s bloody jacket.
A century and a half later, in the Executive Mansion of the United States, another black man finished what Henry started on the rear slope of Cemetery Ridge. He symbolically laid a blue and white ribbon on the dress jacket of that young lieutenant from Delafield, Wisconsin. And that perhaps, is Cushing’s greatest award.
Christopher Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park