In Association with
The Civil War Memoir of
William B. Cushing, U.S.N.
Edited by Alden R.
"William Barker Cushing was the most
intrepid and exciting officer in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.
His daring raids behind enemy lines, including the destruction of the
Confederate ironclad Albemarle,
are the stuff of legends. Alden R. Carter perfectly captures Cushing's
personality and actions in his introduction to the naval officer's
fascinating wartime memoir."
--Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., University of North
Carolina Wilmington, author of The
Wilmington Campaign, Last Rays of Departing Hope
From Civil War News
Cushing wrote in his memoirs, “Impossibilities are for the Timid.” This
was basically the family motto, as Will and his brother Alonzo emerged
from the Civil War as two of the most famous heroes of the war.
The Wisconsin-born brothers became noted for Will’s
daring raids and the sinking of the CSS Albemarle and for Alonzo’s
heroic death while commanding an artillery battery opposing the
Pickett, Pettigrew, Trimble Assault. (Another brother, 1st. Lt. Howard
Cushing, was killed in a fight with Apache Indians in 1871 in Arizona.)
After serving as a Congressional page, Will was
appointed to the Naval Academy in 1857, while still 14. His high
spirits and love of pranks led to his dismissal in 1861 just prior to
graduation. But the Navy was desperate for trained personnel and he was
quickly named an acting master’s mate that May.
He achieved fame for a series of bold raids on
Confederate coastal positions, culminating in the sinking of the
ironclad ram Albemarle at Plymouth, N.C., on the night of Oct. 27, 1864.
Cushing approached the vessel in a small steam
launch equipped with a torpedo on the end of a pole extending from the
bow. The launch drove through a log barricade and the torpedo exploded
against the Albemarle’s hull. Although most of his crew were
killed or captured, Cushing made a spectacular escape.
For his exploit, he received the thanks of Congress
and a promotion to lieutenant commander, making him at the age of 21
the youngest individual to hold that rank in U.S. Navy history. The
commander of the Albemarle said, “…a more gallant thing was not done
during the war.”
Cushing’s career was a short one, he died in
Washington in December 1874 at the age of 32 after a long and
After a short biographical section, editor Carter provides the naval
memoirs, which were probably written in 1867-68. Cushing supplied
fascinating details of his naval service, including a night spent in a
Philadelphia jail “for thrashing a few copperheads.…”
Much of the material was published in the Century
Magazine and was later incorporated in Battles and Leaders of the Civil
War; the latter version is reprinted here. Also included are articles
by other individuals on the Albemarle and on the capture of Fort
Fisher, N.C. Cushing was one of the commanders of the disastrous naval
land assault at Fisher, when sailors, armed only with cutlasses and
pistols, attacked the fort.
Extensive appendices provide biographical sketches
of individuals and detailed descriptions of ships named in the text.
As naval history and memoirs are relatively rare in Civil War
publications, readers will find Cushing’s material to be unique in many
respects, well-written, informative and exciting.
Reviewer:_Patrick E. Purcell
Patrick E. Purcell, a graduate of Northeastern University, is a retired
railroad manager. He is a former president of the Old Baldy Civil War
Round Table in Philadelphia and was on the Board of Governors of the
Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia.
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