I recently read a book on William Cushing and decided his story was interesting to tell this week. Will was born in Wisconsin in 1842 and grew up in Fredonia, New York, which was located in the upper part of the state. He attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, from 1857-1861 where is wild behavior frustrated the Academy staff and almost led to his expulsion. Instead of facing expulsion, Will resigned from the Navy. However, the start of the Civil War gave Will another chance at redemption for his Navy career. He would display great courage and initiative during his 4 years in the war. Will started the war as executive officer of the gunboat Commodore Perry. During this time period, he also led several reconnaissance and raiding missions into Confederate territories mostly in the North Carolina inlets near Cape Hatteras. In 1863, he commanded a series of gunboats along the Carolina coast distinguishing himself for his bravery and coolness under fire, His men came to love him. In July 1863, Will's brother Alonzo was killed defending his artillery battery during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Alonzo received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Gettysburg and Will was crushed by his death.
The Confederate Navy built the ironclad CSS Albermarle in 1864 and briefly took control of the North Carolina inlets destroying any Union ships its faced. The U.S. Navy needed a plan to take destroy the Albermarle and Will was selected to lead the mission. On the night of October 27, 1864, Will and a small crew launched in a small boat armed with torpedoes to sink the Confederate Ironclad. After a great struggle, Will and his crew managed to attach the torpedo to the Albermarle's hull and a great explosion erupted thus the Albermarle sank into the shallow waters. Unfortunately, Will was the only survivor of the crew after battling Confederate infantry during their escape. Will became a national hero for his exploits in sinking the Albermarle and received the thanks from Congress. Will continued to serve in the Navy after the Civil War until his health declined and died in 1874. He is buried at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.