Long battle to get Civil War officer Medal of Honor in final charge

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When the House this month voted to waive the time constraints on issuing the Medal of Honor for Lt. Alonzo Cushing, it brought the artillery officer and hero of the Union stand at Pickett’s Charge one step closer to the military’s highest honor — though in the eyes of his supporters, it’s 149 years late.

Cushing still has a few steps to go.

The Senate must pass the waiver, and then President Obama must concur with the Defense Department, which has recommended Cushing for the medal, a century and a half after he and his men faced the furious attack of Gen. George Pickett’s Virginians, whose repulsed assault on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg has been deemed the turning point in the war.

For Cushing’s supporters, the path to the medal has been tortuous, but they say seeing it awarded as the country nears the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg would be fitting tribute.

Congress must get involved because the law sets a time limit on how long after the action someone can be nominated. With the waiver moving now through Capitol Hill, backers are cautiously optimistic.

Alonzo Cushing

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“We’ll believe it when we see it, but I am really happy about it,” said Kent Masterson Brown, a Kentucky lawyer who in 1993 published a biography of Cushing that has helped arm a disparate group of folks pushing for Cushing’s recognition.

Cushing, a Wisconsin-born West Point graduate, was in command of an artillery battery in the middle of what became known as “The Angle,” a stone wall that became the fulcrum for some of the fiercest fighting in the entire war. With Cushing’s battery down to two guns, Gen. Alexander Webb told him to withdraw to the rear, but the 22-year-old lieutenant instead asked for and was granted permission to advance.

Weak from two previous wounds, he gave orders through his aide, Sgt. Frederick Fuger, who called them out to the battery. A third bullet pierced his heart, killing Cushing on the battlefield.

Both Fuger and Webb were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during Pickett’s Charge, but Cushing was not.

Usually, those pushing for honors for long-dead military men are descendants. But this time, it’s people with much more tenuous personal connections, but who saw an injustice to be corrected.

Mr. Brown is one of those.

He first encountered Cushing’s story in 1964 when as a teenager his family stopped at Gettysburg, and he saw the park’s cyclorama, the giant 360-degree painting that depicts the furious final Confederate assault. At one point in the presentation, the spotlight focused on Cushing, the young lieutenant dying near his guns.

In the ensuing years, Mr. Brown dabbled with trying to track down information on the young soldier, finally hitting pay dirt when he learned of a trunk of Cushing’s letters sent back home to his family, then living in Chautauqua County in New York. His book helped spark interest in giving Cushing the Medal of Honor.

“I spent more years working on him than he did living,” Mr. Brown said. “I absolutely just love this kid.”

Even as Mr. Brown was working, Cushing was getting a boost back in Wisconsin from Margaret Zerwekh, a nonagenarian who lives on part of what used to be the Cushing family’s farm, along the Bark River in Delafield, west of Milwaukee.

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