Book Review: William B. Cushing in the Far East: A Civil War Naval Hero Abroad, 1865-1869


by Julian R. Mcquiston

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. vi, 222. Illus., notes., biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 0786470550

The further adventures of “Civil War SEAL” William B. Cushing

Best known for the sinking of the Confederate ironclad Albemarle, after the Civil War Cushing (1842-1874) took the gunboat Maumee on a long cruise to East Asian waters.  Cushing visited, and often made friends with the “natives” in Japan, China, Singapore, and other places, while “showing the flag” and looking after American interests.  During the long deployment, Cushing maintained a voluminous correspondence with his family and most notably with Kate Forbes, his fiancé, a childhood friend from western New York.  Prof. McQuiston (formerly of SUNY Fredonia) has used these letters, and many other documents, to give us a look at an American naval officer on foreign service during the height of the Victorian Age.  We get a look at the inner workings of a warship of the times and the complex norms that governed the naval service (there’s one amusing incident in which the senior British officer at Hong Kong gently rebukes Cushing for a faux pas).  McQuiston’s treatment of Cushing’s contacts with and perceptions of Asian cultures, from meting individuals to coping with the food to buying souvenirs, helps point out much about the American culture in the period.  The book also helps throw light on American family life, courtship, and marriage in the times. 

Full of anecdotes, some amusing and some insightful, this book is likely to prove interesting and informative for anyone interested in American life or naval service in the years immediately following the Civil War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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