Jamie Malanowski has written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times. His books include And the War Came, about America’s six-month-long descent into war after Lincoln’s election, and the recently released Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War.
From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to write about William Barker Cushing, and how did he come to be, as you say in your book, “all but unknown today”?Visit Jamie Malanowski's blog.
A: I have known about Will Cushing literally since I was eight years old. On January 6, 1961, Life magazine published the first of six issues dedicated to the centennial of the Civil War.
The editors commissioned 10 artists to illustrate scenes from the war. In addition to creating the cover, an astonishing painting of the cavalry charge at Brandy Station in 1863, the artist C.E. Monroe painted “The Sinking of the Albemarle,” which showed Cushing--the daring 21-year-old naval lieutenant--in the midst of his great David vs. Goliath victory over the fearsome Confederate ironclad.
The painting stretched across two pages, and I was captivated. I'm delighted that Buck Monroe, the painter's son, allowed me to use the image on the cover of my book.
In the ensuing years, I read Lincoln's Commando, Roske and Van Doren's 1957 biography of Cushing, which showed that there was more to Cushing than one magnificent triumph.
A few years ago, casting about for my next project, I proposed a new biography of Cushing. A half century had passed since Lincoln's Commando; if nothing else, I knew I could tell Will's story in a less stilted, less formal vernacular than Roske and Van Doren used.
I also knew that their book was written at a time when the average reader was less aware of psychological issues than the average viewer of Law & Order is today. I knew I could add that element. Fortunately, Tom Mayer at W.W. Norton agreed.
How is it that Will is all but unknown today? I suppose there are a lot of reasons. America's interest in history is tiny. America's interest in military heroes who held a rank below general or admiral is also tiny.
It didn't help Will's cause that (spoiler alert!) he...[read on]
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