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Civil War officer to receive Medal of Honor 151 years after death at Gettysburg

The White House has announced that a Union Army officer killed at the Battle of Gettysburg will receive the Medal of Honor next month in a White House ceremony. 

The decision to honor 1st. Lt. Alonzo Cushing, originally of Wisconsin, brings a successful end to a campaign by Cushing's descendants and Civil War buffs that began in the late 1980s with a series of letters to then-Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. 

Congress granted a special exemption last December for Cushing to receive the award posthumously since recommendations normally have to be made within two years of the act of heroism and the medal awarded within three years.

Cushing was born in 1841 in Delafield, Wisconsin, raised in Fredonia, New York, and buried at his alma mater, West Point. At Gettysburg, he commanded about 110 men and six cannons as part of Battery A of the 4th U.S. Artillery company. 

During the battle, Cushing's small force stood their ground under a severe artillery bombardment as nearly 13,000 Confederate infantrymen waited to advance as part of Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863. Cushing was wounded, and his battery was left with two guns and no long-range ammunition. Historians say his stricken battery should have been withdrawn and replaced with reserve forces, but Cushing insisted on ordering his guns to the front lines on the last day of fighting. He was shot in the head and killed instantly. 

"Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire in the face of the enemy," the White House said in its announcement. "With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault."

More than 1,500 soldiers from the Civil War have received the Medal of Honor, most recently Cpl. Andrew Jackson Smith of Clinton, Ill., who was awarded the medal in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.

The White House also announced that Obama will award the medal in a ceremony on Sept. 15 to two Vietnam War soldiers who also received the congressional exemption — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins and Army Spc. Donald P. Sloat. 

The award also will be given posthumously to Sloat, who was killed in action in Vietnam on Jan. 17, 1970, at age 20. Sloat, of Coweta, Oklahoma, picked up a live grenade triggered by a fellow soldier and used his own body to shield the blast and save his fellow soldiers.

Adkins, a veteran who served 22 years and has retired to Opelika, Alabama, plans to receive his medal in person. He was deployed three times to Vietnam with the Special Forces and is being awarded for actions in combat on his second tour, in 1966, when he ran wounded through enemy fire to drag wounded comrades to safety.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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