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1861 Union Civil War Navy Hero William B. Cushing ALS Regarding a Contraband Servant, the expected Rebel Fleet, Mentions of “Woman’s Rights” & The Star Spangled Banner

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WILLIAM B. CUSHING (1842-1874). United States Navy Officer best known for Sinking the Confederate Ironclad Ram CSS Albemarle in a daring raid October 27, 1864 at Plymouth, NC, for which he became a national hero; January 1865, he helped lead the Union Navy landing force in the assault on Fort Fisher.

November 24, 1861-Dated Civil War Period, Extensive Autograph Letter Signed, "Wm. B. Cushing" with 5+ pages (1+ pages cross-written), measuring 5" x 8", aboard the U.S.S. Cambridge, at Newport News, Va., Choice Very Fine. Excellent content, writing of expecting the Confederate Rebel fleet to come down from Richmond, and looking forward to doing battle with it. Cushing also writes of the terrible time he had with a

“Contraband Servant,” replacing him with a “white lad” from his home town of Salem, with mention of “Woman’s Rights” and “The Star Spangled Banner”. This Letter reads, in part:

My Dear Cousin, ---- It is Sunday - Inspection is over. Church service has been read, and I can employ the remainder of the day as I see fit. I please myself by writing to you, and I am in hopes that 'the babies' will remain quiet long enough to enable their Mother to write to me. --- We are now about four miles up James River. At the mouth of the river is the 'Congress Frigate' and the 'Cumberland', besides several gun boats. We are all stationed here for the purpose of intercepting the Confederate fleet when it comes down from Richmond. The powers that be received information that both men of war and fire ships were going to come down on us some days ago. A strong force was at once placed here to receive them, and everybody was jolly at the thought of meeting the rebels on our own element. --- The Captain says that he is confident that they will come, but when is the question with us.

There is, also, another subject of interest to all on board. The Captain says that the vessel will go North within a month, for repairs, and we all hope that we will go to Boston. Time will tell. If we go North in a Month, it will be just sleighing time. I have not had a sleigh ride for over five years, and I intend to make up for it all this winter.

How did you pass Thanksgiving day? I was invited to take my Thanksgiving dinner with the Captain, who had also invited the Doctor and the Chief Engineer. I enjoyed myself very much, but I could not help thinking that there was a more pleasant party than ours in Mass. that I would like to join. Tomorrow is the day appointed for Thanksgiving in my own State; yet, of all Mother's boys, none are there to give thanks with her. Howard, who was at first a lieutenant in a western company, has now been promoted to Captain, and is fighting in Missouri. 'Lon', as you probably know, is with his battery in Virginia. Milton is in Washington...

I have had no fighting to do since we were up the Rappahannock. I would be much gratified if the Confederates would make their appearance, if it were for nothing else than to give me some news to send to my friends. --- I learn that my father in law has gone to the war. I wish him good luck. You had better look out or Lyman will become over patriotic and being to rave about the star spangled banner.

In that case, all that you will have to do will be to threaten to go for woman's rights, as a sort of offset, you know. By the way, I have got a young rascal here for a servant who lives in Salem. His name is Webber. I had a contraband, but he was so lazy... The only part of him that I could hurt was his shin, and it was too hard on shoe leather to punish him in that way. Besides, I didn't have time. I couldn't get around more than once in five minutes, and, unless I could wake him up twice as often, I couldn't get anything done. I therefore concluded to cast him adrift, and take this boy Webber... (Signed on the final page edge) Your loving cousin - Wm B. Cushing”

A rarely encountered extensive Letter from this daring heroic Union Naval Officer, whose career was cut short by his death at age 32. The content is significant regarding military concerns, and so personal as to mention “woman’s rights” and the star spangled banner!

William Barker Cushing (1842-1874) was a daring and skilled naval officer in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. Born on November 4, 1842, in Delafield, Wisconsin, Cushing hailed from a family with a strong naval tradition. His father, Milton B. Cushing, was a naval officer, and this influence likely played a role in William's decision to pursue a career in the navy.

Cushing's most famous exploit occurred during the Civil War when he led a daring and successful raid against the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle in October 1864. At the time, the Albemarle posed a significant threat to Union naval operations in North Carolina's inland waters. In a daring nighttime mission, Cushing and a small crew navigated the Roanoke River and approached the anchored Albemarle. Under heavy fire, Cushing managed to attach a spar torpedo to the Confederate vessel, causing a massive explosion that sank the ironclad. This audacious and successful mission earned Cushing national acclaim and established him as a hero.

Cushing's bravery came at a cost, as he was seriously wounded during the daring raid. Despite his injuries, he managed to evade capture and return to Union lines. His exploits brought him fame and earned him promotion to the rank of lieutenant commander.

After the Civil War, Cushing continued his naval career and served in various capacities. Tragically, his life was cut short when he died by drowning on December 17, 1874, at the young age of 32. The circumstances surrounding his death remain somewhat unclear, but it is believed that it may have been related to heavy drinking and depression.

William B. Cushing's legacy lives on through his daring raid on the CSS Albemarle, which is often cited as one of the most audacious exploits of the Civil War. His courage and determination in the face of adversity have solidified his place in naval history.
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