Union Artillery Officer To Receive Medal Of Honor For Actions At Gettysburg

Today, 6 November, the White House will hold a ceremony to honor First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing with the Medal of Honor for his actions 151 years ago, during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

Cushing was born in Wisconsin in 1841 and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1861. He fought with the Army of the Potomac in a stunningly long list of engagements in northern Virgina from 1861-1863: the Manassas Campaign (including the First Battle of Bull Run), the Peninsular Campaign, the Siege of Yorktown, the Seven Days Battles, Rappahannock, and Thoroughfare Gap. Finally, he commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg.

On the third day of the battle, 3 July 1863, Battery A was deployed along Cemetery Ridge in the center of the Union lines. Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered an assault on the center of the line, to be led by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, though it would come to be known as Pickett’s Charge for Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett. Cushing’s battery was deployed near The Angle, where the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead made their farthest advance against Union positions, known as “the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.”

As Battery A directed fire against the enemy, Cushing was wounded twice by Confederate artillery fire. He continued to direct the battery against the enemy assault and refused to be evacuated to the rear. Cushing is reported to have said, “I’ll stay and fight it out, or die in the attempt.” First Sergeant Frederick Füger held Cushing upright so the officer could continue to give commands despite the wounds. As the enemy approached, Battery A continued to pour fire upon the enemy with its single remaining gun. Cushing was struck in the mouth with a bullet and died; he was 22 years old.

Füger assumed command and continued firing until no ammunition remained; the battery then defended with rifles and finally in hand-to-hand combat. The area around the Angle was briefly overrun by the Confederates before the enemy was beaten back and the Angle once again secured. Füger was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

This story is also one about the perseverance of a local historian. Margaret Zerwekh of Wisconsin has written and lobbied to honor Cushing for nearly a quarter century. Elected officials from Wisconsin took up this issue and after review of the relevant facts, an Act of Congress was passed to award the medal to Cushing. This is a fascinating story from start to finish, and certainly makes me want to pick up the biography of Cushing, Cushing of Gettysburg, written in 1993 by Kent Masterson Brown.






William Merrick Bristoll: Eyewitness to the Battle of Fort Sumter, Artilleryman, Latin Professor

The author of the previous quote, William Merrick Bristoll, turns out to have been an artilleryman himself.

Bristoll graduated from Yale University in 1860 and taught in Delaware until February 1861, when he accepted a position at a school in Charleston, South Carolina–where his father owned a shoe business. Only two months later, the Civil War erupted and Bristoll was an eyewitness.

The war brought havoc to Bristoll’s life and his father’s business, so he left South Carolina and became the principal of a school in Illinois. He worked there until the end of 1861 and then moved on to teach in Wisconsin. It was in Wisconsin on 3 July 1863, as the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in Pennsylvania, that he decided to enlist in a company of Wisconsin volunteers.

Bristoll became a private in the 13th Battery, Wisconsin Volunteer Light Artillery; he was commissioned as officer by the end of December 1863 and promoted to First Lieutenant in January 1865. He served the majority of that time in garrison in New Orleans, which had been captured by Union forces in May 1862. Lt. Bristoll served as ordnance officer and assistant to the chief of ordnance on the staff of the military governor. Bristoll’s supervisor commended him “for the efficient, faithful, and conscientious performance of the important duties he has fully and satisfactorily completed.” He was honorably discharged in June 1866.

He became a Latin professor, first at Ripon College in Wisconsin, then at Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, and finally at Yankton College in what was then the Territory of Dakota. He also worked in banking and accounting. Bristoll died in 1910.

Entry for William Merrick Bristoll in the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.

Entry for William Merrick Bristoll in the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.


Yale University. 1906. Biographical Record: Class of Sixty, Boston: 71-73.

Andover Theological Seminary. 1914. Necrology: 1911-1914, Cambridge: 38.

Wisconsin Historical Society. 1886. Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Volume I. Madison: 250.