Birth Date: January 19, 1841
Birth Place: Delafield, Wisconsin
Education: U.S. Military Academy at West Point – Class of 1861
Major Battles: First Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg
Awards/Medals/Promotions: second lieutenant (June 24, 1861), first lieutenant and brevet captain (December 13, 1862), brevet major (May 2, 1863), brevet lieutenant colonel (July 1, 1863)(i)
Alonzo Hereford Cushing was born on January 19, 1841 at Delafield, Wisconsin. He was raised in Fredonia, New York. His parents were Milton Buckingham Cushing and Mary B. Cushing. He was one of four brothers, all of which served in the Federal forces during the Civil War, making them the youngest sibling group to do so. His younger brother, William, earned the “Thanks of Congress” for his actions as a naval lieutenant.(ii)
Cushing was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1857. He graduated in 1861 – a year that did not include a formal graduation due to the ongoing military operations. He ranked twelfth in the class of 34.(iii) Immediately after graduation, Cushing was sent to Washington City where he was engaged in organizing and drilling volunteers. He would see his first action at the First Battle of Bull Run, on July 21, 1861, while serving temporarily in Battery G, 4th U.S. Artillery.(iv)
After the First Battle of Bull Run, Cushing would serve in the defenses of Washington City as an ordnance officer at the division headquarters of US Major General Edwin V. Sumner. He would remain in the capacity through March 21, 1862 when he departed with the rest of the Army of the Potomac for action in the Peninsula Campaign. He would see action at Yorktown and Seven Pines. During the Seven Days he remained on Sumner’s staff and would see action at Savage’s Station.(v)
Cushing would serve as an assistant topographical engineer during the Maryland and Fredericksburg campaigns serving at the headquarters of the Right Grand Division. During the Chancellorsville Campaign he would command Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, which served in the II Corps Reserve Artillery.(vi)
With CSA General Robert E. Lee initiating his movement towards Pennsylvania, the Army of the Potomac started north to intercept the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia – and to protect Washington City. On June 25, 1863, Cushing’s Battery A would be involved in a skirmish near Thoroughfare Gap, in Northern Virginia.(vii) Over the next several days, he would march with his battery to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Cushing arrived at Gettysburg with the II Corps. He would witness the fight for Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard on the afternoon of July 2. At first light on July 3, Cushing’s Battery would be deployed near the “Angle” along Cemetery Ridge. It was positioned between the left flank of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, to his north, and the 72d Pennsylvania to the south.(viii) Standing with his battery that morning, “Lon” Cushing was said to look “every inch the soldier he was,” in his blue officer’s kepi bearing the numeral “4” on a red disc. Strapped to his five foot, nine inch frame was a revolver and saber.(ix) Around 8:00 a.m. that fateful morning Cushing met with the Chief of Artillery, Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt, and Brigadier General Alexander S. Webb, of the Philadelphia Brigade. Hunt had ridden over to meet with Cushing to let him know the location of the reserve artillery train. Suddenly, two long range guns were fired from the distant Seminary Ridge. The shells found their mark, hitting the limber for his number one gun. It set off a chain reaction of explosions, sending wheels and pieces of wood fragments into the air. Many of the artillery horses scattered, with some heading across the fields towards the Rebel position. While the shells created quite a commotion, amazingly enough none of the artillerists were hurt.(x) Thus started the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
By 12:00 p.m., with the temperature hovering in the upper 80’s, a quiet lull fell across the fields south of Gettysburg. Lon was said to have eaten a lunch of salt pork and hardtack, and smoked his pipe. This would be the last meal of his short life. Manning the left section of his battery was Lieutenant Milne while Sergeant Frederick Fuger commanded the right section. Across the fields, in the woods on Seminary Ridge, General Lee had assembled nearly 6,200 men. Cushing and his men were unaware of what awaited them. Lee’s battle plan was to send nearly two full divisions of infantry, commanded by CSA Major General George E. Pickett, in an assault against the center of US Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s veteran II Corps. In the middle of this position was Cushing’s Battery. A huge artillery bombardment of the Union line would precede the Rebel assault. A total of 150 Confederate guns, under the command of Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, would be utilized.
A few minutes before 1:00 p.m. two cannon were fired by the Washington Artillery of New Orleans. These guns were located near the Peach Orchard and their deadly missiles could be seen streaking across the Federal lines, from south to north. One shell landed in Cushing’s mess, scattering pots, pans and officers in all directions. The other shell bounded across the fields striking Lieutenant Sherman Robinson, of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry, mid-body. He was literally torn apart.(xi) This was quickly followed by the nearly simultaneous blast of all the Confederate batteries. Fortunately most of the Confederate ordnance was of poor quality and did not explode until that had passed over the massed infantry gathered along Cemetery Ridge.
After about 15 minutes Cushing ordered his 3” ordnance rifles to open fire on the enemy. Low on ammunition, he cautioned his men to make each shot count. One of his canoneers would be hit when a shell came screaming over the battery and under a limber box. The soldier was seen hopping away from the limber on one leg, the remnants of the other dangling loosely below his knee. Several other guns would be hit during the initial bombardment, tearing wheels off and sending the artillerists in all directions. Several horses would be torn apart. All through the bombardment the men of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery manned their guns, sending case shot across the fields. The men did not escape unharmed. Several were killed while they manned their guns. Nor did Cushing escape the ravages of the bombardment. He was stuck by shrapnel in the right shoulder, which nearly tore off his shoulder strap, and almost immediately in the groin. The injuries caused him to vomit and left his intestines exposed and dangling. Not able to stand on his own, and rapidly going into shock, he had Sergeant Fuger come to his side and issued orders through him. After Fuger ordered him to go the rear, Lon forcefully stated, “No. I stay right here and fight it out or die in the attempt.”(xii)
Soon, the Confederate artillery began to fall silent. Then an incredible sight appeared in the fields separating the two sides – 6,000 Confederate infantry, with ranks dressed, flags waving and officers leading them as if on the parade ground. What would become known as “Pickett’s Charge” was underway. As the Rebel lines passed Emmitsburg Road, Federal skirmishers began to retreat to the main line. The soldiers would have to climb over heavy fences, which slowed them down, as they approached the Codori Farm. They were now in small arms range and many of the Federal batteries began to switch to canister in preparation for close fighting. The Rebel infantrymen were cut down, as wheat by a scythe.
Over the next thirty minutes the Confederate infantry fought its way forward. CSA Brigadier General Lewis Armistead would lead his men into the Federal lines directly in front of Cushing’s Battery. Eventually, with added infantry and artillery support, the Union II Corps would push the Rebels across the stone wall and back to their lines. Armistead would be mortally wounded and nearly half of the Confederate infantry, which charged Cemetery Ridge, would become casualties. Unfortunately, Cushing would not witness the repulse, which would later be considered the Confederate “high water mark.” While being assisted by Fuger, and witnessing the assault against the stone wall, Lon would be struck by a well placed Rebel bullet. Fuger, standing only a couple of feet from his commander, may have heard the ball strike Cushing or just instinctively turned around. What he witnessed inevitably saddened him. Lon lunged forward, his knees buckling and arms stretching forward as if to grab the young sergeant. He inevitably tried to catch his commander as blood gushed from Cushing’s mouth and nose, splattering him. The unlucky minie ball had entered the lieutenant’s head, just below the nose, driving its way into his brain. There was nothing Fuger could do as Lon’s body convulsed on the ground near the tail of one of his guns. As his eyes rolled back in his head, Cushing breathed his last. All told, the 22 year old artillery officer remained in command of his guns for nearly ninety minutes after his first wound. He was surely in terrible pain from the two shrapnel wounds until the small bullet relieved his misery.(xiii)
First Lieutenant Alonzo Hereford Cushing is an American HERO. He has his own monument, albeit small, near where he died on Cemetery Ridge. While young, he possessed a soldierly bearing and bravery that even the most battle hardened veteran would be proud of. For several years an effort has been underway to award Cushing the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. If awarded he would join his friend, Frederick Fuger, as Medal of Honor recipients from Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg. Senator Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, nominated him for the award in 2002. After a lengthy investigation the U.S. Army approved the nomination and announced that he would receive his medal on May 20, 2010. I spoke today with Victoria Kueck, of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. She said the medal would be awarded after it is approved by the U.S. Congress – an action that is necessary due to the amount of time that has elapsed – nearly 148 years. In my humble opinion, this is long overdue. Cushing epitomizes all that the Medal of Honor represents.