Thursday, November 6, 2014

Union Officer Receives Medal Of Honor Now For Actions In 1863

This story in the Washington Post tells us about First Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who was killed in action at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. After years of lobbying, a Wisconsin woman has convinced the powers-that-be to award the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to Cushing for his efforts in leading his company in the defense of the charge made by the Confederate troops led by Major General George Pickett.

It's nice to know that the US Congress and the Department of Defense have the time to investigate the merits of a soldier's bravery in an incident that occurred 151 years ago. And then take the action necessary to recognize it. Not to denigrate this bravery but what does the award actually signify? Lt. Cushing and his immediate descendents, should he have had any, are unaware of it.

This quote gives some idea of the thinking behind the medal:

“The idea is that it shouldn’t just sit on someone’s mantlepiece and just stay there,” said Jessica Loring. “It needs to be shown so people today can understand the price of making our country free and the sacrifice it takes. We want to bring Alonzo to life in what he did for this nation.”

Does looking at the Congressional Medal of Honor, and perhaps a sepia-tinted photo of the recipient, really help people to understand the War Between the States? Does celebrating the bravery of one particular individual among a cast of thousands give us some insight into the most traumatic era in American history? 

The battle and Cushing's contribution to it didn't do much for the freedom of the Confederates involved. He was just one of over 600,000 American men and boys, from both the north and south, sacrificed on the altar of the nation/state.

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