War of 1812

Uploaded by USCGImagery on 23.04.2012

During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain and France routinely
violated American neutrality. British ships stopped U.S.
vessels at sea and impressed American seamen into the Royal Navy,
while French privateers captured American merchant ships.
President Thomas Jefferson hoped to assert American neutrality through
economic pressure with various embargoes, enforcement and non-intercourse acts.
In the years leading up to the war, U.S.
ships were forbidden to sail for foreign ports and revenue cutters, vessels of the US
Coast Guard's predecessor service, were required to enforce these unpopular laws that
put thousands of Americans out of work.
These acts were eventually repealed, but they contributed to
the outbreak of war between Britain and the U.S.
in June of 1812. Now know as the War of 1812.
On June 18th, 1812, President James Madison signed a
declaration of war against Great Britain.
At the time, the United States faced the Royal Navy's 600
ships with 16 navy vessels and 16 revenue cutters.
In the wars opening phases, Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin requested from
Congress, "small, fast sailing vessels," because there were, "but six vessels belonging
to the Navy, under the size of frigates; and that number is inadequate..." Much like
the modern Coast Guard, the revenue cutters already served a multi-mission role in
service of the federal government.
They would expand that role during the war to include several combat-oriented and
homeland security missions that remain with the Coast Guard today.
On June 25, 1812 the Norfolk cutter Thomas Jefferson
captured the first British vessel of the war.
In addition, the cutter James Madison, of Savannah, captured a British vessel on July 5
and gave chase to British merchantmen along the South Carolina coast.
The Madison also captured an armed British brig and brought a Spanish prize into
On August 22, after catching a British convoy and sending home two British prizes,
James Madison was captured by a much larger and more heavily armed British frigate after
a seven-hour chase. British commerce raiding and destruction were only a part of revenue
cutter operations during the war.
Other duties included providing protection for American vessels that navigated the
sounds, bays and inland waterways of the U.S.
For example, the cutters Active from New York, Eagle out of New Haven and Vigilant
from Newport were kept very busy escorting merchantmen between New England and the
This escort duty was later repeated by Coast Guard cutters that escorted convoys across
the Atlantic in World War II.
In addition, under orders from the local customs collector, each revenue cutter took
responsibility for the security of its homeport and surrounding waters, foreshadowing
the Coast Guard's significant homeland security duties in our ports today.
Cutter Massachusetts from Boston and Thomas Jefferson, sailing from Norfolk proved
worthy examples of cutters securing their respective East Coast ports.
To keep regional waters secure for American commerce also meant fighting British
privateers, which patrolled off East Coast ports, waiting for unsuspecting merchantmen.
Fights between cutters and privateers occurred regularly and included the battle
between the revenue cutter Vigilant and the British privateer Dart.
The sloop Dart, formerly an American ship, was a British privateer that had captured
over 20 merchant vessels.
Cutterman John Cahoone, having placed extra men on board Vigilant, sailed from Newport,
Rhode Island, in search of the enemy privateer.
Having located Dart, off the east end of Block Island, Vigilant's crew fired their guns,
boarded Dart and quickly overcame the privateer's crew.
This was the last known use of boarding by a revenue cutter as a combat tactic.
When news arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, that an American merchantmen had been
American merchantmen had been captured in Long
Island Sound, cutter captain Frederick Lee assembled volunteers to
join the cutter Eagle to overtake and re-capture the prize vessel and try to capture the
British privateer as well. Rather than privateers,
however, the British vessels were Royal Navy warships of far superior strength.
Lee decided to run Eagle ashore on the north coast of Long Island, drag her guns onto
a high bluff, and fight HMS Dispatch and her armed tender from the shore.
When they had exhausted their large shot, they tore up the ship's logbook to use as
wadding and fired back the enemy's shot, which had lodged in the hill.
During the engagement, the cutter's flag was shot away three times and was replaced
each time by volunteers from the crew.
Today the Coast Guard cutter Eagle, the only sailing ship in active US military
service, trains future Coast Guard officers in seamanship and navigation.
Cutters gathered intelligence regarding enemy naval movements,
location of privateers and U.S.
Navy vessels, and news of American merchantmen.
Cutter captains shared this information with customs collectors, local officials,
newspapers and military personnel.
For example, the primary mission of the cutter General Greene out of Wilmington, DE
during the British blockade of Delaware Bay was to monitor the movement of enemy vessels
and report back numbers of enemy units, their position, any landing of troops and
provisioning of the enemy, and any American vessels providing
illegal support to the enemy.
Captains Frederick Lee of the Eagle, John Cahoone from Vigilant and Caleb Brewster on
board Active also shared much of this information to inform land-based military units,
merchants and the public.
Today Coast Guard intelligence specialists are a vital part of the national
intelligence community. Throughout U.S.
history, revenue cutters and later cutters of the Coast Guard provided a vital
capability in shallow waters.
From riverine patrols in Vietnam to ongoing coastal operations in Iraq, Coast Guard
cutters have played an integral part of U.S. maritime war plans.
It was during the War of 1812 that the revenue cutters
established their role as important shallow water naval vessels.
The smallest warships of the U.S. Navy were far too
large to enter the estuaries and inland waterways of the American coasts.
Designed to catch smugglers in such areas, the revenue cutters proved effective in
navigating these shallow waters.
At the outbreak of the war, revenue cutter Commodore Barry
served in Maine's waters, where trade and smuggling flourished.
The cutter managed to avoid British naval units initially before being trapped at Little
River, Maine, with an armed American privateer.
The two vessels were run ashore and guns mounted on a temporary shore battery to
thwart enemy attacks.
On August 3, 1812, the cutter was captured but not before exacting heavy British losses.
The cutter's crew escaped safely through the Maine woods.
On April 11, 1813, in the shallows of Hampton Roads, cutter Thomas Jefferson ran down
and captured three Royal Navy barges, including over sixty British officers and men,
and it repatriated the crew of an American merchantmen captured by the barges On July
12, 1813, cutter Mercury saved the day by sailing out of an enemy ambush of the shallow
harbor at Ocracoke, North Carolina, taking with it all of the customs collectors papers
and funds.
Units of the British squadron attempted to capture the cutter and the papers and proceed
on to attack the city of New Bern, North Carolina; however, Mercury thwarted all of
those plans by escaping and proceeding directly to New Bern to warn the city of a
possible attack.
The most famous of the shallow-water engagements during the war involved the cutter
Surveyor of Baltimore.
The battle of the Surveyor was one of the most hotly contested revenue cutter
engagements of the war.
Not knowing the proximity of British forces to his anchored cutter, Captain Samuel
Travis set out a picket boat and placed boarding nets around the cutter's deck.
On the rainy and dark evening of June 12, 1813, British barges with over fifty officers
and men approached with muffled oars to deaden the noise of their approach.
By the time Travis could see the enemy barges, they were too close to fire on with the
ship's cannon.
The British invaders made the deck and Travis armed his fifteen crewmembers with two
muskets each.
The British eventually overwhelmed the crew and captured the cutter after stiff
resistance by the cuttermen.
The British lost three British seamen and had several more wounded.
Although Surveyor was captured, the British commander returned Captain Samuel Travis'
sword and remarked on the crew's bravery: Best suited to swiftness and agility,
revenue cutters provided a multi-mission vessel during the war.
Besides their primary mission of law enforcement and various combat missions, the
cutters also delivered messages and dispatches to American naval units and transported
naval personnel to and from ships of the U.S. Navy.
In addition, cutters were entrusted with important cargoes, including diplomats and
important papers.
This included the cessation of hostilities after ratification of the Treaty of Ghent,
which cutter Active attempted to announce to the British squadron sailing off the coast
from New York.
Before the war, revenue cutters had protected the revenue, enforced U.S.
trade laws and quarantined restrictions, interdicted smuggling,
supplied remote lighthouses and unofficially conducted rescue operations.
During the War of 1812, the cutter adapted
new missions, including port and coastal security
convoy and escort duty, brown water combat operations
intelligence gathering and a variety of other naval support missions.
After the was, as part of their long standing multi-mission
role, revenue cutter operations would forever include
their previous peacetime missions and their new war time missions.
The War of 1812 there by cemented many core missions
that the Coast Guard supports today.