Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Cushing, William Barker

Cushing, William Barker

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Commander, USN, (1842-1874)

William Barker Cushing was born in Delafield, Wisconsin, on 4 November 1842, but spent most of his childhood in Fredonia, New York. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1857 until March 1861, when his high-spirited behavior led to his resignation. The outbreak of the Civil War brought him back into the service, and he soon distinguished himself as an officer of extraordinary initiative and courage. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in mid-1862, Cushing served as Executive Officer of the gunboat Commodore Perry, then was given command of the tug Ellis, which was lost under heroic circumstances on 25 November 1862. He subsequently commanded the gunboats Commodore Barney, Shokokon and Monticello. During this time, he led several daring reconnaissance and raiding excursions into Confederate territories.


On the night of 27-28 October 1864, Cushing and a small crew took the Navy steam launch Picket Boat Number One upriver to Plymouth, NC, where they attacked and sank the Confederate ironclad ram CSS Albemarle with a spar torpedo. This action made him a national celebrity, and he was quickly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In January 1865, Cushing helped lead the Navy landing force in the conquest of Fort Fisher, NC, again distinguishing himself.


Following the Civil War, LCdr. Cushing was executive officer of USS Lancaster and commanding officer of USS Maumee. Promoted to Commander in 1872, he was captain of USS Wyoming in 1873-74. In November 1873, he boldly confronted Spanish authorities in Cuba to save the lives of many passengers and crew of the steamer Virginius, which had been captured bringing men and supplies to Cuban revolutionaries. While serving as Executive Officer of the Washington Navy Yard, DC, Commander Cushing's always delicate health gave way and he died on 17 December 1874.


As befits the memory of a man that Civil War Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles called "the hero of the War", the Navy has named a series of torpedo boats and destroyers for William Barker Cushing. These include USS Cushing (TB-1) of 1890-1920, USS Cushing (DD-55) of 1915-1936, USS Cushing (DD-376) of 1936-1942, USS Cushing (DD-797) of 1944-1961, and the present USS Cushing (DD-985), commissioned in 1979.


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