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Commander Will Cushing

Daredevil Hero of the Civil War

Jamie Malanowski (Author)


“Superbly entertaining.”—S. C. Gwynne, best-selling author of Empire of the Summer Moon

October 1864. The confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle had sunk two federal warships and damaged seven others, taking control of the Roanoke River and threatening the Union blockade. Twenty-one-year-old navy lieutenant William Barker Cushing hatched a daring plan: to attack the fearsome warship with a few dozen men in two small wooden boats. What followed, the close-range torpedoing of the Albemarle and Cushing’s harrowing two-day escape downriver from vengeful Rebel posses, is one of the most dramatic individual exploits in American military history.

Theodore Roosevelt said that Cushing “comes next to Farragut on the hero roll of American naval history,” but most have never heard of him today. Tossed out of the Naval Academy for “buffoonery,” Cushing proved himself a prodigy in behind-the-lines warfare. Given command of a small union ship, he performed daring, near-suicidal raids, “cutting out” confederate ships and thwarting blockade runners. With higher commands and larger ships, Cushing’s exploits grow bolder, culminating in the sinking of the Albemarle.

A thrilling narrative biography, steeped in the tactics, weaponry, and battle techniques of the Union Navy, Commander Will Cushing brings to life a compelling yet flawed figure. Along with his three brothers, including one who fell at Gettysburg, Cushing served with bravery and heroism. But he was irascible and complicated—a loveable rogue, prideful and impulsive, who nonetheless possessed a genius for combat.

In telling Cushing’s story, Malanowski paints a vivid, memorable portrait of the army officials, engineers, and politicians scrambling to win the war. But he also goes deeper into the psychology of the daredevil soldier—and what this heroic and tragic figure, who died before his time, can tell us about the ways we remember the glories of war.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • November 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-35185-9
  • 5.6 × 8.3 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Jamie Malanowski has brought to life one of the great, little-known swashbucklers of the Civil War. A fun, exhilarating rush of a read, this is history told with the flair and panache of a great journalist.” — Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea

“It’s astonishing to me that I’d never heard of such an astonishing and very American hero. Will Cushing is like a character out of fiction or the movies—charismatic trouble-maker, patriot, half-mad can-do leader of men—and Jamie Malanowski beautifully tells the ripping yarn that was his remarkable life.” — Kurt Anderson, host of Studio 360 on NPR

Commander Will Cushing is a happy combination of one of the Civil War’s best tales and a writer whose taut, smart prose is up to the task of writing it. So much Civil War writing loses its luster in an ocean of sheer data. In Malanowski’s hands the narrative just drives forward, carrying you with it. A superbly entertaining book on a subject that, somehow, everyone else overlooked.” — S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon

“Jamie Malanowski restores Cushing to his proper place in the first rank of American naval heroes in this fast-paced, rousing biography that illuminates both Cushing the man and the hero. Gracefully written and admirably nuanced, Commander Will Cushing makes a significant contribution to the naval history of the Civil War.” — Peter Cozzens, author of Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign

“Jamie Malanowski’s compelling history sheds new light on Will Cushing, a major naval hero of the Civil War who, but for a technicality, would have surely received the Medal of Honor. The Cushing name reverberates through those years, with four brothers serving the North, including Alonzo, a cannoneer who fell at Gettysburg. But this story is about Will, and it’s a corker.” — Larry Smith, author of Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Winners in Their Own Words

“[G]ripping, accessible… Malanowski’s nimble prose serves the action scenes perfectly and gives Cushing’s battles the weight and presentation they deserve… [H]as the page-turning excitement of a thriller…” — Publishers Weekly, Starred review

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