Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alonzo Cushing, Harry Reese and the Issue over Medals of Honor. . .

Lt. Alonzo Cushing
News broke last night that Lt. Alonzo Cushing will receive a Medal of Honor and the reaction from those in the Civil War community has thus far been overwhelmingly positive. "At long last," "finally," "it's about time". . .these are just some of the common statements I have seen from bloggers and facebookers. But there are some who are expressing hesitancy and even outright disagreement with this decision to recognize Cushing's valor 151 years after the fact, out of concern for the precedent this will set.
My own feelings about this are mixed; while a great story I can also agree with those who now fear that slippery slope. This is certainly not meant to diminish Cushing's bravery and his heroic actions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. Yet there were countless other soldiers who performed equally heroic actions--at Gettysburg and on just about every battlefield of the war--whose valor has gone unrecognized by the Medal of Honor. And as was the case with Cushing, there are no doubt many other Union soldiers who were nominated for the Medal but whose nominations were never acted upon.

Sgt. Henry Reese
This includes Sergeant and later Lieutenant Henry Reese of Company F, 48th Pennsylvania, who was, indeed, nominated for a Medal of Honor for his bravery immediately prior to the Battle of the Crater. It was Reese, of course, who volunteered to crawl back into the 48th's mine at Petersburg to discover why there had been no blast. He discovered the fuse had gone out and, with the assistance of another officer, he re-spliced and re-lit it. . .then crawled back out as quickly as possible.
While the resulting battle was a complete disaster for the Union, the mine itself was a great success and in February 1865, Major General John Parke, who assumed command of the Ninth Army Corps following Burnside's departure, sought to have Reese's "conspicuous act of gallantry recognized with a Medal of Honor. In Reese's service records at the National Archives is Parke's recommendation, which reads, in part:  

Major General John Parke
"In the undermining and destruction of the Rebel Fort No. 5 in front of Petersburg, Va., the fuse leading to the magazine had been spliced about 15 feet from the fuse of the mine, when the fuse was first lighted, it burned to the splice when the fire went out, and, after the time set for the explosion had elapsed, Sgt. Henry Reese volunteered to enter the mine and relight the fuse at the splice, which he successfully accomplished, and returned in safety to the mouth of the mine, and in one minute after the explosion took place."
For whatever reason, or reasons, Parke's recommendation was not acted upon, and Reese was not issued the Medal of Honor. But there are some still today who would like to see the Welsh-born sergeant receive his medal. . .posthumously, of course, 150+ years later. . .just like Alonzo Cushing.

Entrance to the 48th's Mine at Petersburg


MICHAEL said...

Saw White House medal of honor ceremony. I thought posthumous award to Alonzo Cushing would take place today.

MICHAEL said...

I thought medal of honor ceremony in White House would include award to Alonzo Cushing. I did not see it take place. Perhaps at another date.

MICHAEL said...

See article in today's Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel for story about Alonzo Cushing.