Monday, October 27, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Portrait of Lieutenant William B. Cushing

                                  Lieutenant William B. Cushing (1842-1874), portrait undated
                                  Artist unknown
                                  Gift of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II

Civil War naval buffs probably recognize Lieutenant William B. Cushing from his daring exploit on the Roanoke River in October 1864. On this evening 150 years ago, Cushing led 22 men in two small boats on a mission to sink CSS Albemarle, an ironclad that was positioned to stop Union forces from penetrating further inland.

One of Cushing’s boats was a steam launch outfitted with a spar torpedo that he planned to detonate after drawing up next to Albemarle. His approach did not go undetected, though, as sentries on the shore spotted the steam launch and began firing at the Union men. Albemarle was also protected by floating log booms, but they had been in the water so long that they were covered with a heavy slime which allowed Cushing’s boat to ride up and over them.

Finally, when he was close enough, Cushing detonated the torpedo which blew a hole in Albemarle right at the waterline and sank her immediately. The force of the explosion severely damaged the steam launch as well, forcing Cushing’s men to swim for shore and attempt to evade Confederate patrols. Of the crew on the steam launch, eleven were captured and two drowned. Only Cushing and one other man escaped back to Union lines. 26 years later, the Navy named its first ocean-going torpedo boat after Cushing. A model of USS Cushing (TB-1) is currently on display in the torpedo station gallery.

                                   Model of USS Cushing (TB-1)
                                   Built by Pasquale J. Bianco of Cranston, RI

Friday, October 24, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Captain John Winslow Portrait, c.1870

                                                      Rear Admiral John A. Winslow (1811-1873), c.1870
                                                      Artist unknown
                                                      Gift of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II
One of our most recent acquisitions is this portrait from the collection of Ambassador John William Middendorf II. The officer pictured is Rear Admiral John Winslow, best known as the commanding officer of USS Kearsarge, the ship that sank the Confederate raider CSS Alabama during the Civil War. Before taking command of Kearsarge, then-Captain Winslow spent much of 1861 and 1862 on the Mississippi River where he assisted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote in fitting out Union gunboats. 152 years ago today, while in command of USS Baron de Kalb (formerly named St. Louis), Winslow found himself conducting a small-scale amphibious operation while patrolling a section of the river in Arkansas. As he later described to the commanding officer of the Western Gunboat Flotilla, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter:
“A report having reached me yesterday that a small party of guerrillas had entered the town of Hopefield, opposite to this vessel, I dispatched Mr. Medill (carpenter), with 25 men, to capture the party. On gaining the bank by our men, the guerillas took to flight, when a pursuit followed by such of the men as had procured horses by impressment. The guerrillas were followed up for some 8 or 9 miles, at the end of which they were all captured.” - Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
Winslow was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1870 and commanded the Pacific Squadron for two years before retiring. When he died in Boston in 1873, his coffin was draped with the battle flag of the Kearsarge. Two ships in the U.S. Navy have been named USS Winslow in his honor: TB-5, a torpedo boat from the Spanish-American War, and DD-53, an O’Brien class destroyer that served during WWI.