26 August 2014 by Published in: General musings 21 comments

220px-Alonzo_CushingThe soldier in the image is Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who is set to receive a Medal of Honor on September 15, 2014, 151+ years after his death at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Of the following facts, there is no dispute or doubt: Alonzo Cushing was a brave and very capable young soldier who died as a hero. Cushing, although horribly wounded, stood to his gun and pulled the lanyard, blasting canister into the faces of the Confederate soldiers of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s brigade at point-blank range at the climax of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. He was an incredibly brave young man who died a hero’s death doing his duty. These facts are not in dispute. I admire Alonzo Cushing.

Having said that, I have real problems with him receiving a Medal of Honor now, 151 years after the fact. There were plenty of opportunities for the War Department to honor him in the years after the war, but it did not do so. 1520 Medals of Honor were awarded for valor in the Civil War. Many of them were politically motivated, like the one awarded to Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who instead should have been the subject of a court-martial. Many were not really earned or deserved. Many were. A number of them were even revoked. But Alonzo Cushing was not deemed worthy of being awarded a Medal of Honor by his peers. That fact is also beyond dispute or controversy.

Again, this is not to take anything away from Lieutenant Cushing or his courageous stand at the guns on July 3, 1863. But I have real problems with his being awarded a Medal of Honor today. Is this really the sort of precedent that we want to set? Isn’t this a slippery slope that will open up a big can of worms? Doesn’t this open the door for the advocates of any soldier who did something brave to demand that that soldier also be awarded a Medal of Honor even though his peers did not believe his feats worthy of one? That’s my real concern with this Medal of Honor being awarded to Alonzo Cushing, whose valor certainly deserved recognition.

As unpopular as this statement might be, my humble opinion is that if the veterans–Cushing’s peers–did not deem him worthy of a Medal of Honor, who are we to question the wisdom of their judgment? I think that we should just have left well enough alone. The precedent that this Medal of Honor sets is not one that should have been set.

Despite my objections, I nevertheless congratulate Lieutenant Cushing and his supporters who spent so many years fighting to win the Medal for their hero.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. John Foskett
    Tue 26th Aug 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Eric: I must respectfully disagree. The failure to honor him with the Medal at the time/during the post-war era cannot be separated in part from the apparent bias against the deceased, who couldn’t lobby for the award. Moreover the 19th century criteria were all over the lot. How many were issued for Gettysburg, for example? The notion that this guy’s actions did not meet or exceed theirs is beyond my acceptance. In my humble opinion he should have been awarded it on July 4, 1863. I simply think that a wrong has been righted after 151 years. I fully understand your viewpoint but just disagree. And my
    bias towards the gunners and what they accomplished in this war and at Gettysburg has not influenced my opinion in the least. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. daniel mallock
    Tue 26th Aug 2014 at 10:55 pm

    There is no doubt that Cushing died a hero serving his piece till the end and doing considerable damage. But there are heroes in EVERY battle and in every war who, though dying a hero, did not receive this decoration. Do all these dead heroes deserve the MOH as much as Cushing? They do. But they won’t get it.

    And it’s alright that they won’t get it.

    The MOH is for extraordinary action in combat, far beyond the call of duty. Cushing died doing his duty. Every man on the Cemetery Hill line who died during that combat on July 3rd also died in the same way. They’re all heroes – but they won’t get the MOH, and that’s alright.

    The MOH should be reserved for extraordinary action, and ideally bestowed, if posthumously, within the lifetime of direct relatives so that they can bask in the glory of their loved one’s heroism and recognition.

    I appreciate Cushing, I appreciate Armistead, too. I appreciate all of those folks, blue or gray.

    But I also appreciate Eric’s point and it’s a salient one. The MOH should be reserved for extraordinary actions ONLY.

  3. Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 10:32 am

    Yes, the mixed metaphor was very intentional.

    Since I have not seen you post here before, you get one bite at this particular apple.

    Anonymous comments are not permitted at any time. Use of made-up names (although I must admit that Jobu is a particular favorite of mine) for the purpose of posting here is not permitted. Would you like to change it?

    Future comments under such anonymous names will be deleted without warning now that you have been made aware of the rule.

    UPDATE: The individual refused to post his comment under a real name, so the comment was deleted for not complying with the rules.

  4. Rick Crouthamel
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 10:37 am

    I suppose you could argue that Cushing WAS awarded the highest award the Army could give: a brevet promotion. Today we view the MOH in MUCH higher esteem than Cushing and his peers did. That’s why it was awarded willy-nilly.

  5. Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 1:52 pm

    My ancestor Lieutenant George Augustus Woodruff served under Cushing and was mortally wounded leading his two gun section in front of Ziegler’s Grove on July 3, 1863, dying on July 4.

  6. Don Downing
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Tend to agree. Normally a MOH awarded much later is an upgrade from one of the services other higher awards, which would be an affirmation from his peers.

  7. John Foskett
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 2:55 pm

    There were 63 other Medals awarded at Gettysburg alone – several for capturing a flag. Cushing obviously went far beyond that. And very, very few ACW MOH were awarded posthumously, while several were awarded well after the war due to lobbying. Unlike today, you were far more likely to get the Medal if you did just enough but avoided getting actually killed doing it. As i indicated, I have no problem with this one.

  8. John Foskett
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 3:00 pm

    JLD:
    Woodruff was indeed another hero gunner at Gettysburg who sacrificed his life on July 3 but i believe that he commanded Battery I, 1st US rather than a section of Cushing’s Battery A, 4th US.

  9. Edward Browne
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I agree with Eric. There were many deserving soldiers, but it was their generation (however flawed the process) to decide the medal recipients. I also don’t think that Congress (2014) should waste their time on such matters. I don’t like the fact that now others are apt to lobby for “their soldier.” Could Congress today rescind a Civil War MOH ? I’m sure that many would find that to be an objectionable act.

  10. Chris Evans
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I tend to agree. There are many, many acts that could be recognized now if we keep going. The Civil War has many acts of bravery that were awarded the Medal of Honor.

    I mean as you point out Sickles (of all people) got one. Shouldn’t George Henry Thomas get one for help saving the Union army at Chickamauga, for example?

    Chris

  11. John Foskett
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Here’s the list of Gettysburg awardees.

    http://www.gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/Medal_of_Honor.php

    Tell me where Cushing’s actions fit in on this continuum. His action also happens to be “iconic”, by the way. Generations know that this grievously-wounded kid stood his ground with his remaining gum against the enemy at its high water mark and pulled the lanyard one last time holding his entrails I think this is a unique case. I see no “slippery slope” here – especially given the 19th-centuiry bias against posthumous awards. Cushing’s Sergeant got the Medal for the same event, for heaven’s sake. I guess Alonzo made the mistake of not surviving the battle.

  12. John Foskett
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 6:11 pm

    I meant to add in the prior post that 40 of the other 63 Gettysburg MOH were issued between 1888 and 1905. Surviving the war really helped. To close, I have little doubt that Cushing would have gotten the Medal had he fought in a later era

  13. Josh Liller
    Wed 27th Aug 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Short answer: I see your argument, but I feel like Cushing deserves the medal especially consider others won the same medal for doing far less.

    Long tangential answer: I think it is a mistake that the CMOH of 2014 is the same award as the 1860s. Winning a CMOH in modern times is a very serious and rare thing. In the Civil War, since they were the only medal at the time, were handed out for things that would earn anything from a CMOH down to a Bronze Star today. Heck, 20 soldiers got a CMOH for acts at Wounded Knee!

    When other medals came into being and the CMOH became the most prestigious of medals instead of being the only medal, the original CMOH should have been retired and never awarded again (except perhaps retroactively with men like Cushing).

  14. John Foskett
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 9:48 am

    Josh:

    I generally agree with all of that. Frankly, I’m defending the Cushing award based on the modern standard. I point to its profligate use in the ACW as just more reason why Cushing amply deserves it.

  15. Scott
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 9:50 am

    I recently took a tour of West Point this spring. My wife’s cousin is a teacher there. It was awesome! I saw Cushing’s grave on my tour of the cemetary and wouldnt you know Eric, he’s buried right next to John Buford. Judson Kilpatrick is in the same area.

  16. Chris Evans
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 11:35 am

    I should mention that anyone that wants to know more about Cushing should read the excellent book ‘Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander’ by Kent Masterson Brown.

    People who wants to read about Cushing’s spectacular brother should pick up the book ‘Lincoln’s Commando’ by Ralph J. Roske and Charles Lincoln Van Doren.

    While we are giving out medals I think William deserves one for his actions against the Albemarle.

    Chris

  17. Chris Evans
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 12:09 pm

    “…This was a distinguished career, and his services at Gettysburg were spectacular. Yet, others could probably equal both. Why this one man should be made to stand out as the hero is, as often, difficult to explain. Cushing was young, and looked younger than he was- but so were and did others. He was brave, far beyond call of duty, and so were others. Perhaps men remembered Cushing because he carried with him always some special buoyancy, some debonairness. Perhaps they remembered him because of a certain happening- so terrible as to become archetypal, and thus to focus men’s attention by a kind of fascination. Be it what it may, Cushing was remembered.”

    ‘Pickett’s Charge’ by George R. Stewart, 1959
    pg. 103

  18. John Foskett
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Chris:

    That’s an interesting quote from Stewart. That said, yes, there were others who did as much at Gettysburg. But many of those who got the Medal for their exploits in that battle did less. And I’m not simply focusing on the over-hyped professor from Bowdoin (who got his nearly 30 years later – I sniff lobbying). Even if it’s regarded as symbolic for others who didn’t get the “limelight”, Cushing’s conduct stands on its own. Now I’ll shut up. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 11:26 pm

    If this belated award will irritate even one neo-Confederate revisionist, then I am delighted it was finally bestowed. Cushing’s peers did not grant him the MOH because back then you had to be still breathing to receive it.

  20. Steven Gibbs
    Fri 29th Aug 2014 at 12:31 am

    You make a valid point, but I think he earned it, his brother in the USN earned it. The other brother killed by Apaches while leading a US Cavalry unit, I don’t know. Not every act of heroism is seen or rewarded nor is every act of cowardice or foolishness on a battlefield punished. If the powered that be find him worthwhile, then why not.

  21. John Lundstrom
    Mon 08th Sep 2014 at 10:15 pm

    These very late issues of the Medal of Honor also bother me because I think they are essentially political, serving some need of the recommenders rather than the one intended to be honored. There are some WWII USN officers whose are also being pushed for awards of the Medal of Honor.

    To me, Alonzo Cushing’s heroism at Gettysburg transcends any such late award of the Medal of Honor. He doesn’t need it.

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