WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama awarded Civil War artillery officer Alonzo Cushing the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. award for bravery, on Thursday, 151 years after he was killed manning his guns at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The posthumous award for the Delafield, Wisconsin, native “is a reminder that no matter how long it takes, it is never too late to do the right thing,” Obama told a White House ceremony attended by more than two dozen of Cushing’s relatives.
Cushing was a 22-year-old first lieutenant and commander of an Army artillery battery on July 3, 1863, at the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, a turning point of the 1861-65 Civil War.
During the Confederate attack known as Pickett’s Charge, Cushing’s six-gun battery was mauled by rebel artillery but he continued to man his cannon as 13,000 rebel infantrymen advanced on a front more than a mile (1.6 km) wide.
Cushing was wounded in the abdomen and the right shoulder but refused to leave his post, telling his men that “he’d fight it out or die in the attempt,” Obama said.
He was shot and killed when Confederate forces were within 100 yards (meters) of his position, and he is credited with helping turn back the attack.
After years of research by supporters, Congress granted an exemption so Cushing could receive the medal. Recommendations normally must be made within two years of the act of heroism, and the medal presented within three.
Cushing, who was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, is buried at his alma mater in West Point, New York. His epitaph is “Faithful Unto Death,” Obama said before presenting the medal to Helen Loring Ensign of Palm Desert, California, Cushing’s cousin twice removed.
Two of Cushing’s brothers died in the Civil War. A monument to the three brothers stands in Delafield’s Cushing Memorial Park.
Cushing’s Medal of Honor is not the first to come long after the Civil War. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented the award to the descendants of Corporal Andrew Jackson Smith for heroism at the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina.
There have been more than 1,500 Medals of Honor awarded for heroism during the Civil War, the deadliest conflict in U.S. history, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by