Gettysburg Bits & Pieces: Alonzo H. Cushing

Medal of Honor

First Lt. Alonzo Hereford Cushing. Born 19 January 1841 in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Raised in  Fredonia, New York. West Point graduate, class of 1861. Cushing saw action at the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. He received a brevet promotion to major after the latter. Commanding Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery. Killed in Action 3 July 1863 at Gettysburg.

Cushing Picks a Side

The disunionists are rapidly resigning and my class is already reduced to about 40 members. I want to see every man go who has any scruples about fighting their ‘Southern Bretheren [sic]’ … All I want now is to graduate right away. I could not for anything stay here a whole year longer. I want to fight my ‘Southern Bretheren.’ They would like very well to whip us and kill us, and it is just and right that we return like compliment. Three cheers for the Stars and Stripes, American Eagle and Yankee Doodle.

A letter to his mother from West Point 17 April 1861.

Actions at Gettysburg on 3 July 1863

He challenged the admiration of all who saw him. Three of his limbers were blown up and changed with the caisson limbers, under fire. Several wheels were shot off his guns and replaced, till at last, severely wounded himself, his officers all killed or wounded, and with but cannoneers enough to man a section, he pushed his gun to the fence in front and was killed while serving his last canister into the ranks of the advancing enemy.

Attributed to Col. George B. Hall, Brigade Commander [some sources say he left the unit before Gettysburg].

The manner of your brother’s death was this: When the enemy was within about four hundred yards, Battery A opened with single charges of canister. At that time Cushing was wounded in the right shoulder, and within a few seconds after that he was wounded in the abdomen; a very severe and painful wound. He called and told me to stand by him so that I could impart his orders to the battery. He became very ill and suffered frightfully. I wanted him to go to the rear. “No,” he said, “I stay right here and fight it out, or die in the attempt.”

When the enemy got within two hundred yards, double and triple charges of canister were used. Those charges opened immense gaps in the Confederate lines. Lieut. Milne, who commanded the right half-battery, was killed when the enemy was within two hundred yards of the battery. When the enemy came within about one hundred yards, Lieutenant Cushing was shot through the mouth and instantly killed. When I saw him fall forward, I caught him in my arms, ordered two men to take his body to the rear, and shouted to my men, as I was left in command, to fire triple charges of canister.

Owing to dense smoke, I could not see very far to the front, but to my utter astonishment I saw the Confederate General Armistead leap over the stone fence with quite a number of his men, landing right in the midst of our battery, but my devoted cannoneers and drivers stood their ground, fighting hand to hand with pistols, sabers, handspikes and rammers, and with the assistance of the Philadelphia brigade, the enemy collapsed and Pickett’s charge was defeated. The gall and behavior of the men in Battery A was entirely due to your brother’s training and example set on numerous battlefields.

Lieutenant Cushing, my commander, was a most able soldier, of excellent judgment and great decision of character. Devoted to his profession, he was most faithful in the discharge of every duty, accurate and thorough in its performance. Possessed of mental and physical[Pg 55] vigor, joined to the kindest of hearts, he commanded the love and respect of all who knew him. His superiors placed implicit confidence in him, as well they might. His fearlessness and resolution displayed in many actions were unsurpassed, and his noble death at Gettysburg should present an example for emulation to patriotic defenders of the country through all time to come.

General Armistead fell, mortally wounded, where I stood, about seven yards from where Lieutenant Cushing, his young and gallant adversary, was killed. In height your brother was five feet nine inches, in weight about one hundred and fifty pounds, good long limbs, broad shoulders, blue eyes, dark brown hair, smooth face, without beard or mustache, and rather swarthy complexion.

Sergeant Frederick W. Fuger

Cushing was a small-sized man with blue eyes, smooth face and auburn hair, and looked more like a school girl than a warrior; but he was the best fighting man I ever saw. Our battery arrived on the field July 2 and took position on the left of the 2d corps. I was sent to the rear with the 4th caisson. We went back over the hill close to General Meade’s headquarters. When the heavy cannonading commenced on the 3d we went further to the rear. About the time that Pickett was ordered to charge, I was ordered to the battery. I was informed by the courier that I would find the battery on the right of the 2d corps, at the grove and angle. My horse made a good run for about a mile. I found my piece, the 4th, still on her wheels, and all the canister we had piled up around her. I had been on the ground but a few minutes before I found the gun hot and firing slow. A very few minutes passed until the smoke raised, and we saw the head of Pickett’s column within three hundred yards of us. We had the opportunity of our lives; just what an artilleryman wants. We had a flank fire on them and enough canister to stop them, but before they got to the stone wall in front we were out of ammunition and my gun was dismounted. Lieutenant Cushing was on the right. We both got to the piece in front about the same time. I found the piece out of canister, started back to the limber, looked back and saw General Armistead with his hat on his sword yelling to his men, and Cushing being held up by some infantry officer. If I had stayed at the gun as long as Cushing did, I would have been there yet. Our guns were all disabled, limbers and caissons blown up, men and horses killed and wounded, and the battery under command of a First Sergeant (afterwards lieutenant) Frederick Fuger, a 10-year man, and as fine a soldier and officer as ever faced an enemy. I was on duty that night—had three men under me. All we had to guard was a few dead men. We took Lieutenant Cushing and three or four men off the field. It rained all night.

Medal of Honor Citation (Awarded 2014):

First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing distinguished himself by acts of bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an artillery commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd, 1863 during the American Civil War. That morning, Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee began cannonading First Lieutenant Cushing’s position on Cemetery Ridge. Using field glasses, First Lieutenant Cushing directed fire for his own artillery battery. He refused to leave the battlefield after being struck in the shoulder by a shell fragment. As he continued to direct fire, he was struck again — this time suffering grievous damage to his abdomen. Still refusing to abandon his command, he boldly stood tall in the face of Major General George E. Pickett’s charge and continued to direct devastating fire into oncoming forces. As the Confederate forces closed in, First Lieutenant Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun. His gallant stand and fearless leadership inflicted severe casualties upon Confederate forces and opened wide gaps in their lines, directly impacting the Union force’s ability to repel Pickett’s charge. First Lieutenant Cushing’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac, and the United States Army.

The artillery was “mowing great swaths through their [Confederate] lines…no hurry, no confusion as our shot was poured into them. They came as steady and regular as if on a dress parade, our guns pouring the shot into them.”

Sergeant William Bowen, 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry [I cannot locate a record of a William in the 12th. Only George A. Bowen, who had been a sergeant and at the time a captain. This remark may have come from him but is credited to William by the National Park Service].

Sergeant Frederick W. Fuger. Born June 18, 1836 in Göppingen, Germany. Served in the United States Army for forty-four years. Retired as a Lt. Colonel. Was the last man to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Gettysburg.

I landed in New York City in the month of April 1853. Coming across the Atlantic Ocean in a full rigged three masted sailing vessel (I don’t remember the name however).  Lacking the influential friends and handicapped by an imperfect knowledge of the English language my progress was not such as I anticipated, so in year of 1856 August 21st, I enlisted in the 4th Artillery and was assigned to Battery “A”. The 4th Artillery was stationed at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor and commanded by Captain Frank Clark.

Frederick W, Fuger

Much of Fuger’s account of Cushing’s death and the battle around the artillery pieces at Gettysburg has been discounted as exaggeration and fiction. A real shame, considering the gun crews’ and his own bravery needed no enhancement. Their courage was well beyond the call of duty.

Perhaps his memory of the battle was as muddled in his mind as his ocean crossing from France to New York. The manifest of the ship, Issac Bell, he arrived on docked at New York on 3 April 1854, not 1853.

Alonzo Cushing Gallery

Bibliography & Further Research

Haight, Theron Wilber. Three Wisconsin Cushings: A sketch of the lives of Howard B., Alonzo H. and William B. Cushing, children of a pioneer family of Waukesha County. Wisconsin History Commission, Democrat Printing Co., 1910.

Donald McConnell and Gustav Person. “‘I Will Give Them One More Shot!’: Battery A, 4th Artillery, at the Battle of Gettysburg, 2-3 July 1863.” On Point, 19, no. 1 (2013): 36-42.

Hartwig, D. Scott. “High Water Mark Heroes, Myth, and Memory.” Accessed 18 April 2021.