The partnership between the U.S. Naval Institute and U.S. Naval Academy stretches back to 1873. That’s when a group of naval officers at the Academy founded the Institute, whose offices have been located on the Annapolis school’s “Yard” ever since. The hundreds of midshipmen attending the Institute’s annual Naval History Conference on 1 October were proof that the relationship is flourishing (see “Naval History News,” pp. 64–65).
This magazine naturally takes a special interest in the history of the Academy, and in this issue, Jamie Malanowsky sheds penetrating light on a slice of its lore in his article “A ‘Talent for Buffoonery.’” On the eve of the Civil War, the school suddenly forced the resignation of Acting Midshipman William B. Cushing, who was months away from graduating. The reason: He failed his Spanish midterm, so the story goes. Cushing recovered nicely, becoming the Union Navy’s most accomplished, as well as audacious, young commander.
Combing through records at the National Archives, the Naval Academy’s Nimitz Library, and the Navy Library in Washington, D.C., Malanowsky discovered a paper trail that leads to the likely real reason the midshipman was kicked out and to a key player in the drama: Commandant of Midshipmen Christopher R. P. Rodgers. With illustrious heroes such as John Rodgers and Oliver and Matthew Perry in his immediate family tree, Rodgers would have a distinguished, though less dramatic, naval career. He twice served as superintendent of the Naval Academy and president of the Naval Institute.
In a curious twist, William Cushing returned to the Academy. After he passed away in 1874, Commander Cushing’s remains were interred beneath a solemn monument in the Naval Academy Cemetery. “I have always assumed that Will Cushing must have discussed his final resting place with his wife, Katherine, and possibly with his mother and that they made the final arrangements,” said James Cheevers, senior curator at the Naval Academy Museum.
Cheevers added that the remains of naval officers Charles Flusser and Samuel Preston—two of Cushing’s close friends who had died in battle—were reinterred nearby in the cemetery “so they would all be together for eternity on top of that hill overlooking the Severn River.” Also nearby, several paces from Cushing’s monument, is Christopher Rodgers’ grave.
As Naval History’s staff was closing in on this issue’s deadline, we received the sad news that longtime friend and contributor Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) had passed away (see “Naval History News,” p. 32). I credit Joe Alexander with being partially responsible for me ending up as editor of Naval History. Having edited several of his articles at my previous job, I called him 9½ years ago to get his thoughts about the magazine and the Naval Institute and to ask if I could use him as a reference.
He was always a pleasure to talk with and generous with sage advice. The gifted writer and historian’s articles were “easy edits” that required no fact-checking. Moreover, Colonel Alexander was deeply invested in the Marine subjects he wrote about. An assault amphibian officer while on active duty, he later chronicled Pacific war amphibious assaults in books and articles.
Alexander had been close friends with Eugene Sledge, author of the classic Marine war memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, and wrote the introduction to the 1996 Naval Institute Press edition of the book. Three years later, he joined Sledge’s son, Henry, on a trip to remote Peleliu to visit where the 1st Marine Division veteran had fought. Alexander’s article about the battle there, “A Bitter Hemorrhage of Fighting” (April 2010, pp. 44–50), earned him Naval History Author of the Year honors.