WESTFIELD – More than 150 years after his heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg, Alonzo H. Cushing will finally be awarded a Medal of Honor next week.
White House officials have for weeks been wanting to present the nation’s highest military honor posthumously to Cushing – but the plan was put on hold until officials could locate his closest living relative.
For weeks, distant relatives and historians scrambled to try to trace Cushing’s family over the past century and a half. That was no simple task. Consider that Cushing died at 22, with no children – and that his four brothers, who were also raised in Fredonia, also had no children.
On Friday, the hard work paid off. The Pentagon confirmed that Helen Bird Loring Ensign, 85, of California, is Cushing’s cousin and his closest living relative.
She will accept Cushing’s Medal of Honor next week from President Obama, as part of three days of ceremonies.
Although Cushing was born in Wisconsin, he grew up in Fredonia from the age of 5 until his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He died on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and has been acclaimed for his bravery in Pickett’s Charge, a turning point of the battle. A monument to Cushing stands in Fredonia Pioneer Cemetery on Route 20.
Ensign is related to Cushing through his mother, Mary Barker Cushing. His aunt, his mother’s sister, was Margaret Loring. The Loring family has carried the Cushing name through several generations.
Historians were able to trace Cushing to Ensign largely through the help of Brian Cushing, a Buffalo dentist – and distant relative of Alonzo Cushing – who stepped forward several weeks ago to provide his family history to the medal committee.
John Paul Wolfe, curator of the Chautauqua County Museum at Westfield, got involved and helped verify Cushing’s connection to Ensign. Wolfe made a special plea to Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Thursday when the senator visited the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield.
“The Loring family has been very generous by donating many of the letters and documents about the famous Cushings to our county museum,” Wolfe said.
The donation gave him access to letters that Alonzo Cushing had written to his aunt, Margaret Loring. Those letters helped to confirm the family connections.
Jessica Loring, the niece of Ensign and spokesperson for the family, said she was delighted that her family will be able to take part in the ceremony and receive the medal in honor of Cushing – whose legacy lives on in the family.
“My grandson, born March 31, 2013, is named Joseph Alonzo Cushing Mayne,” she said.
Loring’s son, Maj. Michael Loring Mayne and his wife, Maj. Jennifer Morris Mayne, are both members of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Military tradition is part of our family,” Loring said.
William Cushing, Alonzo’s brother, was a member of the U.S. Navy in the Civil War and is credited with the sinking of the Albemarle, a Confederate ironclad warship.
The Loring family has donated many documents from its Cushing family history to the McClurg Museum in Westfield.
“We are delighted with John Paul Wolfe’s help in getting our information in front of the senator so it could be reviewed by the Pentagon staff,” Loring said.
Wolfe will be the family’s guest at the Medal of Honor ceremony scheduled for next week, she said.