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William Barker Cushing

[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

Union raider William Barker Cushing, born in Delafield, Wisconsin, was the younger brother of West Point graduate and Gettysburg martyr Alonzo Hersford Cushing. William was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1857, but resigned before graduation. When the Civil War began, the Navy gave William Cushing another chance by giving him the position of acting master's mate. Aboard the Minnesota, Cushing helped to capture a blockade runner, resulting in his appointment as acting midshipman. He was promoted to lieutenant in July 1862.

Commanding the Ellet in October 1862, Cushing entered New Topsail Inlet, N.C., and destroyed a large Confederate saltworks. After a raid in Jacksonville, N.C., he was forced to destroy the Ellet to prevent its capture. In 1863 and 1864, Cushing commanded the Commodore Barney, the Shokokon and the Monticello. In June 1864, he led night missions behind enemy lines and returned with prisoners and valuable information. In October of 1864, Cushing volunteered for an extremely dangerous assignment, the capture or destruction of the Confederate ram Albemarle in the Roanoke River at Plymouth, N.C. With 15 men in a small torpedo boat, under heavy enemy fire, Cushing sank the powerful ram with a torpedo attached to a spar. He swam to safety, but two of his men drowned and only one other man avoided capture. His brave act won Cushing promotion to lieutenant commander and the thanks of Congress.

On January 15, 1865, Cushing led sailors and marines in an assault against the seaward face of Fort Fisher, the key defense of Wilmington, N.C. Although his forces were repulsed, they distracted the Confederates, helping the Union infantry capture the land face, which resulted in the surrender of the fort.

Cushing continued in active service after the war. While commanding the Wyoming in 1873, he intervened with Cuba's Spanish government to prevent the killing of American sailors detained at Santiago. The next year he suffered a physical and mental collapse and died in Washington, D.C., in December 1874.