Sunday, November 9, 2014

Medal for Cushing, O'Rorke Snubbed‏

Alonzo Cushing is finally honored, "Civil War Hero Is Awarded the Medal of Honor at Last" (NY Times, 11/6/14).   If we're correcting long ago slights, then why hasn't Colonel Patrick Henry O'Rorke another forgotten Gettysburg hero who sacrificed his life for the Union been similarly honored.  The criteria for awarding the Medal of Honor shouldn't be that you have avid fans and  powerful political sponsors,  in Cushing's case Senator William Proxmire and Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Patrick Henry O'Rorke graduated first in the West Point class of 1861, the one from which George Armstrong Custer graduated last.  O'Rorke was  born in County Cavan, Ireland, which also gave America General Phil Sheridan,  and came to America when his father immigrated to Rochester, NY, the Erie Canal hub.  In 1863 he was appointed Colonel of the 140th New York Infantry Regiment.

O'Rorke's moment of valor occurred during the defense of Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Although Joshua Chamberlain is credited with the heroic charge that saved the important position on the left flank of the Union army, the actual crisis occurred an hour before Chamberlain's storied charge, which took place after reinforcements had secured the top of the hill.   As detailed in Oliver Norton's eye-witness account in Attack and Defense of Little Round Top,  a strong Confederate attack hit the center of the Union line that had been quickly established by Strong Vincent's Brigade.   During the heavy fighting Vincent was killed and the center regiments collapsed.   O'Rorke had rushed his regiment to Little Round Top to reinforce Vincent and arrived just as the Union line gave way.   Colonel O'Rorke grabbed his regimental flag, rallied his men and personally led the counterattack that drove off the Confederates, holding the position until the rest of O'Rorke's brigade and their artillery took control of the top of the hill.   Colonel O'Rorke was shot and instantly killed leading the charge.

That O'Rorke is little remembered today has something to do with him and Vincent being killed during the battle.  They couldn't tout their own horns afterwards like Chamberlain was able to do.   Undoubtedly his Irish Catholic heritage has something to do with it, too, for a nation that preferred its heroes to be Puritans and college professors.