TIME History

Obama to Award Civil War Hero With Posthumous Medal of Honor

Alonzo Cushing
This undated photo provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society shows First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing AP

The young lieutenant died repelling Confederate forces during arguably the most decisive battle of the American Civil War

Alonzo Cushing, who died aged 22 during the American Civil War, will receive the nation’s highest military honor for conspicuous gallantry and unbridled valor as displayed on the killing fields of Gettysburg 151 years ago.

The White House announced this week that President Barack Obama approved the awarding of the Medal of Honor to the young first lieutenant, who “distinguished himself during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.”

Cushing’s death came during the battle’s climatic third day when Confederate General Robert E. Lee, against the wishes of his top lieutenant, hurled three infantry divisions against entrenched Union forces in an ill-fated thrust, later coined Pickett’s Charge.

The maneuver was arguably the greatest military blunder in the course of the Civil War and led to the gratuitous slaughter of thousands of young Virginians by the well-positioned bluebacks.

The defeat would serve as the beginning of the North’s reversal of the war’s tide following a string of brazen victories by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Cushing was killed in action as he manned the last remaining serviceable piece of field hardware from his unit’s battery. As Confederate forces lurched closer to his position, he refused to retreat and continued to fire into the enemy despite suffering multiple injuries.

“With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand,” read a statement released by the U.S. Army. “His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault.”

Cushing was later buried with full military honors at his alma mater West Point.

Following the defeat at Gettysburg, the conflict, which began as a campaign to subdue rebellion but later evolved into a war of conquest and emancipation, would grind on for two more bloody years.

General Ulysses S. Grant took the fight to the South and Lee eventually surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

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