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Odd Wisconsin Archive

"His Guts in His Hand"

There's been a lot of press this week about the posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Civil War Lt. Alonzo Cushing, of Delafield. This story on CBS was typical.

22-year-old Cushing refused to leave the field on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, even though he was mortally wounded. As the Confederates made their last climactic assault on his unit's position, he "held his guts in his hand as the charge came up the wall" (in the words of poet Stephen Vincent Benet). He died seconds later beside his cannon when shot in the head. But his company held their position and successfully repulsed "Pickett's Charge," which decided the Battle of Gettysburg and effectively ended the South's invasion of the North.

Although Cushing only received the Congressional Medal 147 years after his death, he has long been a Wisconsin hero. In 1889 his dramatic demise was a central motif in the great Gettysburg Cyclorama made by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux and photographed by H.H. Bennett. And in 1911 residents of Cushing's native Delafield began planning a monument and a park to perpetuate the memory of Cushing and his two brothers. Land for the park was donated by members of the local historical society and the state legislature put up $5,000 towards a marble monument at the crest of the highest part of the ten-acre park, along the Bark River west of Delafield. The park opened in 1915.

Many of the current media stories contain this photo of Cushing. It is one of 50,000 pictures that Society staff and volunteers have published online in recent years at Wisconsin Historic Images. Because of their work, when the press contacted the Society for an image to go nationwide with the story, Visual Materials curator Andy Kraushaar and Public Information Officer Bob Granflaten were able to immediately deliver a high-resolution scan of Cushing's studio portrait. The media did not, however, use this less formal picture of Cushing, shown at far left with his fellow officers during the war.

Hundreds of other stories of Wisconsin soldiers will go online next year, as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Thousands of letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, personal recollections, unit histories, and other primary sources are currently being scanned. This comprehensive digital collection will include the most important original documents on Wisconsin in the Civil War and total about 40,000 pages when it's done. These are being indexed so that users can leap directly to eyewitness accounts of battles, camp life, escaped slaves, or 200 other topics, as well as browse by date, location, or regiment. For more information on this project as it grows in coming months, click "Email Us" below.

:: Posted in Strange Deaths on May 20, 2010

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