February 2006

William Barker Cushing and The North Carolina Sounds
by James L. Walker

A letter from the USS Monticello in Hampton Roads, Virginia dated July 9, 1864 reads:

"Confidential"
SIR: Deeming the capture or destruction of the rebel ram Albermarle feasible, I beg leave to state that I am acquainted with the waters held by her, and am willing to undertake this task. If furnished with three low-pressure tugs, one or more fitted torpedoes, and all armed with light howitzers, it might be affected, or if rubber boats were on hand to transport across the swamp to a point immediately abreast of Plymouth. If detailed for this work, I would like to superintend the outfit of boats. I am respectfully, your obedient servant,
W.B. Cushing
Lieutenant, Commanding

Acting Rear-Admiral S.P. Lee
Comdg. North Atlantic Blockading Squadron,
Hampton Roads

Heroes come in all sizes and types, fully equipped to hammer out their contributions to history. None is from a "common mold"; -- try for example, comparing Joe Bailey (of dam building fame on the Red River) and Davy Farragut (famous commander of the Union Fleet on the Mississippi River); -- yet all possess a common denominator, a measure of courage far more generous than that accorded the average man or woman. They tend to be innovative, and they tend to be obsessed by a desire to succeed. They are sublimely confident of overcoming challenges considered overwhelming by the average person. A very special case in point was William Barker Cushing.

"Will," as most of his peers knew him, grew up like any small-town boy in Fredonia, New York, located about seventy-five miles southwest of Buffalo. He was only four when his father died in 1846. The later had been quite a man; a physician, a justice of the peace, and a part-time merchant. The cause of his premature death is not a matter of record.

Will Cushing's mother saw to it that the boy attended Fredonia Academy, where he was recorded as an average student. If he excelled in anything, it was mathematics and English. Upon his graduation in 1856, he moved to Washington to become a page in the United States House of Representatives. Proving himself an adept politician at the tender age of fifteen, he won an appointment to the Naval Academy. Thus in 1857, the six-foot-tall, blond, and wiry, though frail, young man became Midshipman Cushing. He was subject to recurrent headaches and respiratory infections.

In his second year at the Naval Academy, Will stood third in a class of thirty-seven in the subject of gunnery and ninth in general order of merit. Even so, he was not to graduate. Pranks -- though scarcely more than the norm for an underclassman -- compounded by a Spanish professor's running vendetta against him resulted in Cushing's forced resignation on March 23, 1861. I was not quite three weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter.

The academy's venting of petty pique seemed both a slap at the Congress that had appointed him and a waste of public funds. But Will did have his champions, especially Lieutenant Commander Charles W. Flusser, a professor. Flusser managed, on April 1, an appointment for Cushing as a master's mate, a junior rank of some responsibility even though the pay was low -- forty dollars a month, Cushing was assigned to the USS Minnesota -- soon to become Admiral Goldsborough's flagship -- riding majestically at anchor off Fort Monroe.

Within three months, the nineteen-year-old Cushing was given command of two prize ships: a schooner and a bark. In late summer, he was a member of a raiding party that burned ten craft and captured one schooner in the backwater of Hampton Roads. He seemed to have acquired the killer instinct early on; he wrote his mother of "the supreme pleasure of burning one of the vessels with my own hands!"

By the spring of 1862, Cushing was a veteran of naval operations in the Tidewater area of Virginia. Attached to the converted steamer Cambridge, he was occupied with boarding and inspecting suspected blockade-runners, a duty attended with obvious peril. Should a vessel turn out to be a privateer, he risked being taken prisoner or being shot on sight.

On March 8, the day the Merrimack ran amuck, the Cambridge served as a tug, towing larger warships out of range of the furious ironclad. Cushing, in fact, was slightly nicked by shrapnel from one of the Confederate ship's many guns, but he missed the epochal encounter with the Monitor, since the Cambridge was ordered that Saturday night to Beaufort, North Carolina.

By August, manifestly pleased with Cushing's performance, the navy promoted him to the rank of lieutenant and granted his request for duty as executive officer on Flusser's Commodore Perry. In October, the former ferryboat was steaming up the Blackwater River, above Pamlico Sound, in support of ground forces attacking Franklin, Virginia. It was a brisk action, as Flusser would report to the Navy Department: "We kept up a fire of great guns and musketry. With the forward IX-inch gun I threw shells in the direction of Franklin; with the forward 32-pounder and field gun gave them the same on the right, and shelled the bluff .... At 10:15 we started down, getting a terrible fire from the bluff. The enemy continued to fire at us from every available point ... They also attempted to block the river in our rear, by felling trees, through which obstructions we pushed with a heavy head of steam."

The cost of this "excursion" was two dead and ten wounded, two of whom would later succumb. Flusser made mention of the "great gallantry" of Lieutenant Cushing, "who ran the fieldpiece (an army cannon mounted on wagon wheels) out amidst a storm of bullets, took a sure and deliberate aim at the rebels, and sent a charge of canister among them that completely silenced their fire at that point." Flusser postscripted, "He is a fighting man of the North Carolina sounds."

Cushing's reward came quickly; he was given command of the iron gunboat Ellis, which had been captured from the Confederates. As a leader of raiding parties, Cushing proceeded to destroy vital salt works and other installations, stores of cotton and tobacco, and the schooner Adelaide, when she was only twelve miles from the safety of Wilmington. In seizing another schooner, the Jacksonville, he found on board a consignment of slaves, whom he freed at once. His luck ran out in late November 1862, however, when the Ellis came too close to shore batteries and was sunk.

The "Fighting Man of the North Carolina Sounds" continued his aggressive amphibious role in early 1863 as he made hit-and-run forays among South Carolina's strongholds. After relieving Richard Renshaw as captain of the Commodore Barney, he pressed his attacks until the ferryboat was too holed by artillery to be serviceable.

Barney was ordered to Baltimore for overhaul in June, affording Cushing a chance to renew old contacts in Washington. Gideon Wells, whom he had previously met, greeted him with warmth. Cushing was always ready to volunteer advice on winning the war, and the navy secretary decided to introduce him to President Lincoln. Cushing found the president "rather subdued and sad" over Union reverses. Lincoln thought things were going pretty well at sea and upon the rivers, but he simply could not seem to find the right generals. (After the fall of Vicksburg in just a few more days, he would know he had found one in Grant.)

Later in the summer of 1863, after his older brother, Alonzo, had been killed at Gettysburg, Cushing returned to the Barney and duty off the Carolinas. That winter, he received his largest warship, the Monticello, a 655-ton, 11-knot screw steamer. He soon attempted his boldest venture yet: the capture of General Louis Hebert, the engineer who commanded the Cape Fear Department. It was the sort of military impudence that had been the province of the Confederate cavalry -- the capturing of ranking officers asleep in their quarters.

Cushing knew that Hebert worked out of Smith's Island, the location of the Cape Fear headland, at the mouth of the river leading into Wilmington. On February 29, 1864, Cushing set out with twenty men in two small boats, rowed silently under the guns of Fort Caswell, and landed near the tiny town of Smithville (now Southport). There, the raiders enlisted the services of two willing slaves, who led them to Confederate headquarters.

The headquarters proved surprisingly unguarded. Cushing kicked open an inside door to find a tall man wearing a nightcap and nightgown holding a chair menacingly above his head. "I had him on his back in an instant with the muzzle of a revolver at his temple and my hand on his throat," the naval officer would recall.

But he had not caught Hebert, who was away in Wilmington. Cushing's prisoner was merely the general's adjutant, a junior officer named W.D. Hardman. Before returning to the Monticello, his lesser catch in tow, Cushing penned a note: "I deeply regret that you were not here when I called."

Two months later, in April, Cushing learned of the death of his friend and benefactor, Lieutenant Commander Flusser, aboard the Miami by fire from the Confederate ram Albemarle. Grief hardened into a resolve for revenge. Cushing found himself writing scenarios for the destruction of the Albemarle to any and all Washington officials who would listen. But the summer of 1864 was distinguished by operations on a grand scale: Sherman was knocking on the portals of Atlanta, and Grant was digging in around Petersburg for the final assault on Richmond. One ship, even a big enemy ship, had to be considered in relation to greater concerns.

Mindful of the fate of New Ironsides and Housatonic, Cushing decided that the simplest tactics would likely be the most effective. His answer was a torpedo, delivered not by submarine, since none was obtainable, but by a vessel that would anticipate the torpedo boats of two twentieth-century wars. He resolved to obtain small, swift steam launches and spar torpedoes armed with at least a hundred pounds of powder. Then, in the dark, he would dash in and explode a charge below the water line and beneath the armor plating of his foe. How could he fail?

Admiral S.P. Lee had initially approved Cushing's plan, but he had since been relieved as commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron by Admiral Porter, who looked upon the expedition as "a forlorn hope." He could not decide if the young officer with the exemplary record made sense or not. Like Sherman, however, Porter was concerned with the broad canvas. At worst, the squadron stood to lose only a small boat or two if Cushing pushed ahead. "I have no great confidence in his success," Porter wrote to Commander W.H. Macomb of the Shamrock, a double-ender in the Roanoke Squadron, "But you will afford him all the assistance in your power, and keep boats ready to pick him up in case of failure."

I must have seemed to Porter like Joe Bailey and the Red River all over again. Only the cast, the background, and, of course, the objective differed.

Meanwhile, life had settled down to a humdrum aboard the Albemarle. She was at anchor off Plymouth, gathering river and scum on her keel from inaction. Her engines were turned over infrequently for lack of coal. She was undermanned, and the morale of those who comprised her meager company was low. None other than John Maffitt had relieved Captain J.W. Cooke, who after great expenditure of effort had sunk only one ferryboat. Duty aboard the Albemarle proved at once too dull for Maffitt, however, since he cherished the sport of blockade running as others might women or fine bourbon. In September, Maffitt wangled command of the new iron-hulled steamer Owl, built in England for the Confederacy.

The Albemarle's third captain was Lieutenant Alexander F. Warley, a professorial-appearing officer with a neatly trimmed moustache who had commanded the 387-ton ironclad Manassas on the Mississippi; he had rammed the Brooklyn during Farragut's capture of New Orleans. Warley, graduated in 1846 from the first class at Annapolis, could not fathom why he had received no orders to go out on the attack. He was in a quandary as to whether he should take it upon himself to scrounge some coal and ammunition, borrow soldiers idling on the shore, and go thumping back down the Roanoke. Perhaps such indecisiveness was responsible for keeping Warley, almost twenty years out of the Naval Academy, a lieutenant. He would recall gloomily: "When I took command ... I found her made fast to the river bank nearly abreast of the town of Plymouth. A cordon of single cypress logs chained together, about ten feet from her side, surrounded her. There was no reason why the place might not be recaptured any day; the guns commanding the river are of no condition to use, and the troops in charge of them were worn down by ague, and were un-drilled and worthless."

The anchorage was unfavorable from both offensive and defensive standpoints. Shallow and rather swift, the river was only a hundred yards across in some places affording poor maneuverability for the elephantine Albemarle. The pinpoint town of Plymouth offered no substantial buildings that could be commandeered as strongholds. The only exception was the handsome, old, brick and stone Grace Episcopal Church, whose spire dominated the otherwise nondescript town. The Confederates, however, stopped short of using the house of worship as any manner of bastion.

Relief troops marched in during the latter part of October, even as rumor spread of "a steam launch having been seen in the river." Warley paid a call on the new army commander and bluntly informed him that "the safety of the place depended on the Albemarle, and the safety of the Albemarle depended on the watchfulness of his pickets."

The officer appeared to understand, at once arranging a "picket" of twenty-five men equipped with rockets and a cannon aboard a small schooner being used as a word vessel in the attempt to raise the Southfield, sunk in April by the Albemarle.

"The crew of the Albemarle numbered about 60," Warley continued, "too small a force to allow me to keep an armed watch on deck at night and to do outside picketing besides. Moreover, to break the monotony of the life and keep down ague, I had always sent out an expedition of ten men, who were uniformly successful in doing a fair amount of damage to the enemy.

"Monotony" was but part of the penance aboard the Albemarle. Her heavy hull -- without ports except for those designed for the guns -- and her armor plating made her a stifling iron box. The men mused whether the heat, some days, were sufficient to bake bread. Her so-called fo'c'sles were unbearable ovens. When they fired up her boilers, the Albemarle was purgatory. Desertions were commonplace.

The captain remained on the alert. More and more nervous as time passed, he would remove his pince-nez for repeated sightings through his binoculars.

The evening of October 27 was "dark and slightly rainy." Warley doubled the watch "and took extra precautions." He recalled being especially uneasy, though he was not fully certain why. Shortly before 3:00 AM on the twenty-eighth, he was up and peering out into the murk. Nothing was to be seen. The only sounds were the occasional coughs of those on watch. It was too early for the first call of the roosters from the many poultry pens.

On October 25, Cushing returned to the Roanoke Squadron from Norfolk, where he assembled his little "fleet." It had been a rough trip, part of the route through the imperiled Dismal Swamp Canal. He had lost two of his three boats -- one grounded and surrendered to Confederate guerrillas, while the other sank in rough seas.

Porter, aghast, wrote, "Cushing's condition when he reported on board the flagship (Malvern) was most deplorable. He had been subjected to the severest exposure without shelter, for over a week, had lost all his clothes except what little he had on, and his attenuated face and sunken eyes bore witness to the privations he had suffered. Officers and crew had subsisted on spoiled ship's biscuit and water, and an occasional potato cooked before the boiler fire."

The next day, the twenty-sixth, several Union ships were lazing on picket duty near the mouth of the Roanoke River. They included the big double-ender Otsego, the squadron "flag" Shamrock, the ferryboat Commodore Hull, and lesser craft. Master's Mate Thomas S. Gay aboard the Otsego watched the approach of a small steam launch until it hove to alongside.

"Ahoy there!" came the call from a lanky, blond Lieutenant. Will Cushing was making the rounds of the vessels, seeking volunteers for a most unusual "expedition," to be undertaken by a single 30-foot steam cutter. He described the exact nature of his operation succinctly: "To endeavor to destroy the rebel ram Albemarle!"

Cushing could have obtained all the volunteers he needed from his own Montecello, but he wanted the expedition to be representative of the Roanoke flotilla. He recruited Gay and two other officers from the Otsego and three officers and eight men from various other ships. There were fifteen in all, Cushing included.

One veteran from the Smithville foray and other "expeditions of peril," as Cushing phrased it, could not stay out of this one. He was tough, brawny Master's Mate William L. Howorth, who possessed a signal lack strangely common among sailors -- he could not swim a stroke. Neither could Master's Mate John Woodman of the Commodore Hull, though Mate Gay of the Otsego was an exception. He was a strong swimmer.

Cushing outlined the challenges: a river, the Roanoke, 150 yards at its widest point; "several thousand soldiers" occupying Plymouth and forts along the banks (the young officer was not above wildly exaggerating the little garrison actually present); and sentries stationed on the wreck of the Southfield. "It seems impossible to surprise, or to attack with hope of success." Then with a touch of the theatric, Cushing observed that "impossibilities are for the timid!" and that "all obstacles" could be "overcome."

That night, Cushing and a few of his group with like tastes dined on champagne and terrapin. When he learned of the feast, Porter was piqued. A ham and eggs -- and whiskey -- man, the admiral may have been out of sorts because he was not invited.

At 11:00pm on October 27, a Thursday, the lieutenant's launch, equipped with its spar torpedo, cast loose from the Otsego. A cutter in tow with two officers and ten men had been added to the force. The cutter's mission was to attack and capture whatever pickets were on the wreck of the Southfield. All were armed with revolvers, cutlasses, and hand grenades in the even that Cushing decided to storm his target.

Throttling back the steam pressure, Cushing glided past the Southfield, no more than twenty yards abeam. The Confederate sentries must have been asleep. Since he had apparently attained his first objective -- surprise -- Cushing then decided to land at Plymouth's "lower wharf" and approach the ram from the banks. It was at that point that Lieutenant Warley aboard the Albemarle spotted the strange silhouette approaching.

The launch had just passed a stronghold known as Fort Race, according to Master's Mate Gay, and was "within hailing distance of the ram." The cutter was cast loose and ordered to take the Southfield. In the rain and darkness, there was confusion as to the exact position of the raiding party. Even while Cushing was "sheering in" his craft close to the wharf, Gay reported, a light appeared that they "took to be aboard the Albemarle," but astern, rather ahead of the launch. "On turning around, we were hailed from the ram. We make no answer. We were hailed again, making no answer, but still getting in a fair position."

Warley "rang the alarm bell." Since he could not depress his big guns at such close range, he ordered musket fire and grape from a small stern gun.

Steering for "the dark mountain of iron in front of us," Cushing had the impression that the enemy was "much confused," and he resolved to exploit that factor to its utmost advantage. "A heavy fire was at once opened upon us, not only from the ship, but from men stationed on the shore. This did not disable us, and we neared them rapidly. A large fire now blazed upon the bank, and by its light I discovered the unfortunate fact that a circle of logs around the Albemarle, boomed well out from her side with the very intention of preventing the action of torpedoes." Though Warley had placed the breadth of the boom at ten feet, Cushing estimated it at three times that figure.

At least one of his men had been wounded, Cushing wrote, while "three bullets -- the air seemed full of them -- struck my clothing."

He steered parallel to the log boom to examine it more carefully. Then "sheered off for the purpose of turning, a hundred yards away, and going at the booms squarely, at right angles, trusting to having been long enough in the water to have become slimy. In which case my boat, under full headway, would bump up against them and slip over into the pen with the ram."

"This was my only chance of success, and once over the obstruction my boat would never get out again. As I turned, the whole back of my coat was torn out by buckshot, and the sole of my shoe was carried away. The fire was very severe. In a lull of the firing, the captain hailed us, again demanding what boat it was. All my men gave comical answers, and mine was a dose of canister from the howitzer."

According to Gay, however, Cushing did more than fire. He sang out, "Leave the ram, or I'll blow you to pieces!"

It was much in character. "In another instant," Cushing continued, "we had struck the logs and were over, with headway nearly gone, slowly forging up under the enemy's quarterport". Ten feet from us, the muzzle of a rifle gun looked into our faces and every word of command on board was distinctly heard.

"My clothing was perforated with bullets as I stood in the bow, the heel jigger (part of the controls of the torpedo boom) in my right hand and the exploding-line in the left. We were near enough then, and I ordered the boom lowered until the forward motion of the launch carried the torpedo under the ram's overhang. A strong pull of the detaching-line, a moment's waiting for the torpedo to rise under the hull, and I hauled in the left hand, just cut by a bullet.

"The explosion took place at the same instant that 100 pounds of grape, at 10 feet range, crashed among us, and the dense mass of water thrown out by the torpedo came down with choking weight upon us."

The Albemarle was doomed.

Warley ascertained at once that the torpedo had "Smashed a large hole in us just under the waterline, big enough to drive a wagon in!"

Understandably, "everything" aboard the little launch was "in the greatest excitement," accords to Gay. He had the impression that the little craft was "backed off," but Cushing was certain it was too disabled from water and shot to be moved.

The Albemarle's captain called twice to the attackers to surrender. Cushing shouted at his men not to do so, but to save themselves instead. Then, throwing his sword, revolver, shoes, and coat overboard, Cushing leaped into the river. "It was cold long after the frosts ... The water chilled the blood, while the whole surface of the stream was plowed up by grape and musketry, and my nearest friends, the fleet, were twelve miles away ... so I swam for the opposite shore. As I neared it, a man (Fireman Samuel Higgins) of my crew gave a great gurgling yell and went down."

Gay, along with several others, "sprang overboard" shortly after Cushing disappeared into the dark waters. He had not been swimming long when he "fell in with Mate Howorth [Cushing's veteran shipmate] on a log unable to proceed farther without assistance. Having a life preserver with me, I gave it to him and returned to the boat to procure another, not knowing how far I might have to swim, and at the same time I destroyed two boxes of ammunition and several carbines."

In the water a second time, Gay felt deeply chilled. "After a severe struggle," he wrote, "I regained the circle of logs where I found several of the crew, with a boat from the ram."

The war was over for Mate Gay. For all practical purposes, it was over for Lieutenant Warley as well. Vainly, Warley shouted orders for the Albemarle's pumps to be manned and her furnaces stoked. They were apparently cold. He held forlorn hopes that sufficient steam could at least be raised to work "the donkey engine," which would operate the pumps. "The water gained on us so fast that all exertions were fruitless, and the vessel went down in a few moments, merely leaving her shield and smokestack out."

Thrashing to keep afloat, Cushing was considerably surprised to hear his name being called from one of the Albemarle's' boats. Not bothering to speculate as to how the enemy knew of him, he struck out into the blackness with renewed vigor to avoid capture.

"This time, as I struggled to reach the bank, I heard a groan in the river behind me. Although very much exhausted, I concluded to turn and aid ... the swimmer." Cushing thus came upon Master's Mate John Woodman from the Commodore Hull.

"Knocking his cap from his head, I used my right arm to sustain him and ordered him to strike out. For ten minutes at least, I think, he managed to keep afloat when, his physical force being completely gone, he sank like a stone."

The lieutenant kept on, swimming, he hoped, in the general direction of Plymouth. But, according to his account, "not making much headway, as my strokes were now very feeble, my clothes being soaked and heavy, and little chop-seas splashing with choking persistence into my mouth every time I gasped for breath."

Cushing had little idea how long he had been in the water when his feet touched soft mud. He lay semiconscious, half in the water and half on the riverbank, "not forty yards from one of the forts," until dawn. When the sun cam out "bright and warm," he saw that the area was swarming with Confederate troops and sailors, the latter from the Albemarle, he suspected. In fact, two officers passing close to Cushing's swampy refuge speculated on the events of the night, wondering how it was done."

He spent the morning moving slowly through the cypress swamp, lacerated again and again by "A network of thorns and briers that cut into the flesh at every step like knives." At noon, he encountered a slave and bribed him with twenty dollars in soggy greenbacks and "some texts of scripture' to venture into town for news. When the man returned at about 2:00p.m. he brought enough information so that, in Cushing's mind, "there was no longer doubt that the Albemarle had gone down."

Later in the afternoon, it was the lieutenant's good fortune to come upon a picket party of seven soldiers eating their supper and, for the moment, forgetting their small skiff tied to a cypress root. Cushing crept to it as silently as possible, cast it loose, and was away. "Hour after Hour I paddled, never ceasing for a moment, first on one side, then on the other, while sunshine passed into twilight that was swallowed up in thick darkness, only relieved by the few faint star rays that penetrated the heavy swamp curtain on either side. At last I reached the mouth of the Roanoke and found the open sound."

Steering by a star, Cushing finally saw the outline of the Federal fleet at anchor. He shouted, "Shout ahoy!" several times before attracting attention. The picket vessel Valley City, one of the original fleet in Pamlico Sound, lowered its boats, which cautiously circled Cushing, not knowing whether his vessel was a Confederate torpedo craft. It was "some time," by Cushing's calculations, before it was decided that the strange skiff was not bent on harm.

On board the Valley City, Cushing told of his successful exploit while sipping brandy. Then, as he would recall, "rockets were thrown up and all hands were called to cheer ship." The captains of the other vessels were summoned to the Valley City to formulate a plan for attack up the river. Word was sent ashore to the army. By midmorning, the forces were off for Plymouth.

Warley's objectivity far exceeded his capacity for success and his luck. He concluded, "A more gallant thing was done during the war." Though he was certain that Plymouth should be abandoned, he volunteered his crew to aid in its defense. After sinking the old schooner -- the vessel that had assisted in the efforts to raise the Southfield -- in the channel near the wreck where she had worked, he salvaged two 8-inch guns and some shells from the Albemarle and set them in position near the town.

"I did not have to wait long," Warley wrote. "The fleet steamed up to the obstructions, fired a few shells over the town and steamed down again. Early the next morning they were back in the river and opened fire ... The fire of the fleet was concentrated on us and one at least of the steamers was so near that I could hear the orders given to elevate or depress guns. "When I felt that by hanging on I could only sacrifice my men and achieve nothing, I ordered our guns spiked and the men sent round to the road by a ravine."

Thus, within seventy-two hours of the destruction of the ram, Plymouth's defenders lost heart without the big vessel's protection, and the town was again occupied by the Union. The commander of the Federal forces asked that the bells of Grace Church be "rung out."

Cushing received the thanks of the Navy Department. President Lincoln asked Congress to express its august appreciation in a formal resolution, yet a Medal of Honor was never mentioned, even though it had been bestowed on some for exploits far less daring. (An entire regiment won the coveted medal for duty no more hazardous than guarding the White House, for example.) Had Cushing been a Briton in the service of Her Majesty, he would have undoubtedly have earned an earldom and some such title as "Cushing of Albemarle." The death of Commander Flusser, however, had been avenged.

In January, Cushing participated in the final assault on Fort Fisher, which had for so long guarded the approach to Wilmington. He took possession of encircling batteries that had been abandoned by their defenders. Nearly "bagged" as an unexpected bonus in the assault was John Maffitt, who veered of his Owl moments before entering the channel under the guns now manned by Union forces. Heading down the coast for Charleston, Maffitt was intercepted off Rattlesnake Shoal. His small vessel was almost perforated, and a dozen crewmen were wounded, but the veteran blockade-runner's luck held. He made port, only to flee seaward once more before Sherman's conquering army.

Cushing also revisited Smithville. Again, General Hebert was gone. It would prove an enduring frustration to the aggressive young lieutenant that he never managed to meet the Confederate commander vis-à-vis. Appomattox was only months away. Unlike many, perhaps the majority, of his shipmates, Cushing remained in the service, where he commanded various vessels. But his health deteriorated; he suffered further headaches and respiratory infections. What was the matter with him? The surgeons could not diagnose his ailment or ailments. " Cancer perhaps; or Tuberculosis?"

As with so many who gave so much in the Civil War, Cushing's flame was as ephemeral as it was brilliant. In 1874, as a lieutenant commander, he died suddenly. He was thirty-two years old.



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