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

By Julian R. McQuiston

Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2013

6” x 9”, softcover, vi + 222 pages

Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00

ISBN: 9780786470556 

            Julian McQuinston’s work puts forth a two-pronged narrative based on the letters and journals of Civil War hero William B. Cushing. Cushing was a young naval officer in the Union Navy who earned his fame by sinking CSS Albemarle. After the war ended, Cushing entered into an engagement with Kate Forbes, a young lady from Cushing’s hometown of Fredonia, New York. Their budding relationship was put on hold, however, when Cushing was assigned to a four-year stint in the Far East as commander of USS Maumee. During the course of this work, McQuiston details the dynamics of their long-distance relationship as presented in letters they wrote to one another during Cushing’s time in the East. In addition to the “love story,” McQuiston intertwines historical information about United States naval activities and customs in the Far East in the years after the Civil War.

            The narrative is, overall, very engaging, but the introductory chapter is somewhat chronologically confusing. While introducing the characters and Cushing’s background, McQuiston jumps back and forth in time, and the result is a slightly confusing beginning to the narrative. In spite of this, the purpose of the book is fairly simple, and the reader is able to follow the slightly obscured procession of events. The end of the book also seems abrupt, and certainly would have benefitted from a brief prologue about Kate and William Cushing’s relationship after he returned, and about Cushing’s death. The dearth of information about Cushing’s death is confounding, especially since it is mentioned and alluded to a few times in the book. Nonetheless, this is not a major shortcoming and does not detract from the many strong aspects of this work.           

           This work is richly illustrated with photographs of the objects and people dealt with. McQuiston uses excellent illustrative selections from Cushing’s journals and letters that show his attitudes about the different cultures he encountered, his experience with naval customs required of officers, and his outlook on his relationship with Kate. McQuiston also places these writings and reactions in their larger historical context. This contextual information helps to flesh out the narrative and make for a satisfying and informative read. Overall, William B. Cushing in the Far East is a great contribution to works that explore the interactions between the United Staes and the East in a time when the Navy was recuperating after the devastation of the Civil War and working toward being an international presence and tool of American diplomacy.

Stephanie Croatt

East Carolina University