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Area families share history with honored Civil War soldier
Remembering their sacrifice on Veterans Day
Lt. Cushing ceremony
U.S. Representatives Ron Kind, left, and Jim Sensenbrenner, right, joined by Martha Zerwekh, a longtime proponent of honoring Cushing

Medal of Honor recognizes a Civil War officer’s service

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) released the following statements after joining President Obama at a White House ceremony last week, where Wisconsin native Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Battle of Gettysburg. Also attending the event was Margaret Zerwekh of Delafield, Wis., a leader in the effort to honor Lt. Cushing.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing, and it’s been a great honor to be a part of Lt. Alonzo Cushing’s story,” said Representative Kind. “Making today’s ceremony particularly special was the presence of Wisconsin’s own Margaret Zerwekh, Lt. Cushing’s first advocate who reached out to my old boss, Senator William Proxmire, to begin the process that brought us to the White House today. As the President said, this would not have been possible without her.”

“Without Margaret’s persistence, Lt. Alonzo Cushing would not have been honored today for his heroics during the Civil War,” said Representative Sensenbrenner. “I commend her for her tireless determination and have enjoyed working with her to ensure Lt. Cushing is properly recognized. It was a privilege to join Margaret at the White House ceremony.”

What happened to lieutenant?

Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1861.

Cushing went on to command Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg in June of 1863 during the Civil War. He was widely recognized for his heroic actions on the third day of the battle.

The 22-year-old lieutenant was wounded three times while he and his unit fought to repel a Confederate attack, known as Pickett’s Charge. First, a shell fragment went straight through his shoulder. He was then grievously wounded by a second shell fragment, which tore into his abdomen and groin. This wound exposed his intestines, which he held in place with his hand as he continued to command his battery.

After these injuries, a higher-ranking officer said, "Cushing, go to the rear." Cushing, due to the limited number of men remaining, refused to fall back. The severity of his wounds left him unable to yell his orders above the sounds of battle. Thus, he was held aloft by his 1st Sergeant Frederick Fuger, who passed on Cushing's commands. Cushing was killed when a bullet entered his mouth and exited through the back of his skull.

Information presented in this segment was taken from the online source Wikipedia.

Families have link to Cushing’s death

July 3, 1863 was a sweltering hot summer day. It was late in the afternoon, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the worst electrical storms of the summer was lighting the sky. The air was filled with the stench of wet wool uniforms and death. Twenty-one-year-old John A. Bigley, serving with the Union field artillery, was manning the only gun still in operation. Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing shouted an order for John to fire at a Confederate caisson. The first shot John fired was just over the caisson, the second shot was just short of it and the third shot was a direct hit. (This was the method they used for sighting their guns.) John could see men and horses flying. Lieutenant Cushing shouted, “Good shot.” As John turned back to his gun, he heard Cushing cry out. Cushing was badly wounded, but no medical help was available, so John pulled him under his cannon. He placed a tarp around him to protect him from the rain. It was now night and the firing had stopped. John held Cushing in his arms to comfort him as much as he could and there during the night Cushing died.

In the late 1920s, John returned to Gettysburg for a reunion. He found his gun in the exact spot where he had used it last. Twelve paces from his gun was a monument marking the spot where Lieutenant Cushing had fallen.

John A. Bigley was the father of Katherine Bigley McCormick, who was the mother of Francis R. (Fritz) McCormick, who is the father of Marian McCormick Swanson, Helen McCormick Bell, James A. McCormick and Francis M. McCormick.

In 1980, we took a trip to Gettysburg and found Grandpa Bigley’s gun and the monument to Cushing exactly where he said they would be.

This is the story, as it was told to me by my father and as it was told to him by his grandfather.

Helen Bell, 1984

Bigley is buried in St. Philip’s Cemetery

John Ambrose Bigley was born in the County of Donegal, Ireland on November 4, 1842.

Bigley enlisted August 22, 1861 as private in Company H of the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry. He later transferred to Battery A Fourth Artillery, where he fought in the Battle of Gettysburg under Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing.

Discharged in August 22, 1864, Bigley worked as a blacksmith in Pennsylvania. In 1878, he moved to the Rolling Ground area in Crawford County and farmed on 40 acres. Many of his descendants still live in the area.

Bigley eventually moved to LaCrosse, where he served as commander of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Post. He died on May 9, 1935 in LaCrosse. He was buried May 16, 1935 in the graveyard of St. Philip’s Church in Rolling Ground. The pallbearers were Bigley’s only grandsons, James, Paul, Philip and George Bigley, of LaCrosse and Francis and Arthur McCormick of Gays Mills.