For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of one’s life above and beyond the call of duty. – Medal of Honor Citation
The new Spotlight Exhibit in the lobby of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center is showcasing Gettysburg National Military Park’s collection of six Medals of Honor, including Alonzo Cushing’s, awarded in 2014. This free exhibit opened today and will remain on display for six months.
One of the primary goals of the National Park Service at Gettysburg is to tell the compelling stories of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War – creating memorable visits. Merely preserving and protecting these resources is not enough if the public does not believe the stories are relevant and important. We must continue to make the case that Gettysburg still matters. And we must tell these compelling stories to every one of our 1.2 million annual visitors.
The key to history is the story. Nothing can be more compelling to our visitors than the stories of valor and sacrifice illustrated by the Medal of Honor recipients in this exhibit. In all, 64 soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. For each of these outstanding acts, there are untold numbers of soldiers on both sides who committed acts of bravery and self- sacrifice for their comrades and their cause.
At Gettysburg, so often we talk about leaders, but it is really the acts of individuals that make the difference. Battles are individual struggles on a large scale. Through the ages, the highest calling of man has always been to put one’s own life at risk for the benefit of others, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty.
This whole exhibit came about in December 2014 when President Obama honored Alonzo Cushing with the Medal of Honor. Cushing’s descendants and the National Park Service committed to continuing to tell Cushing’s story at Gettysburg.
The National Park Service is tremendously grateful for the opportunity to continue to honor these soldiers. We’d like to thank the donors of the artifacts who helped make this exhibit possible and the Gettysburg Foundation for supporting this exhibit.
Medals of Honor now on display at Gettysburg are:
Daniel P. Reigle, Corporal, Company F, 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 19, 1864. Date of issue: October 26, 1864. For gallantry while rushing forward to capture a Confederate flag at the stone fence where the enemy’s last stand was made.
Edward L. Gilligan, First Sergeant, Company E, 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1, 1863. Date of issue: April 30, 1892. Assisted in the capture of the flag of the 23rd North Carolina Infantry. The 88th Pennsylvania attacked the retreating Confederates of the 23rd North Carolina, capturing nearly the entire regiment. Captain Joseph Richard fought with the regimental color bearer, who only gave up when, according to Gilligan “I reasoned with him with the butt of my musket.”
James J. Purman, Lieutenant, Company A, 140th Pennsylvania Infantry. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Date of issue: October 30, 1896. While engaging troops of the 24th Georgia Infantry in the woods south of the Wheatfield, Purman voluntarily assisted a wounded comrade to a place of safety while the enemy was in close proximity, hence narrowing his route of withdrawal. In attempting to withdraw across the Wheatfield, Purman received the fire of the enemy and a wound, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg.
Wallace W. Johnson, Sergeant, Company G, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Date of issue: August 8, 1900. As Union forces of the 3rd Corps became actively engaged with Confederate forces near Little Round Top and Devil’s Den, regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves from the 5th Corps arrived to reinforce them. The Pennsylvanians came under sniper fire from the John Weikert farmhouse. Johnson and five other men from the 6th Reserves volunteered to assault the house and neutralize the Confederates. They rushed the structure under thick fire, broke down the barricaded door, and captured the Confederates.
Alonzo H. Cushing, First Lieutenant, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1863. Date of issue: November 6, 2014. 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. . . 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 oncoming forces. As the Confederate forces closed in, Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun.
In 2013, we posted a blog with more information about Medals of Honor in the Gettysburg collection.
This post is based on Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Ed W. Clark’s remarks at the opening of the Medal of Honor exhibit at Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center, April 14, 2016