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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Men, Wind and Sea

Riley Brown

published by
Carlyle House, New York 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2
This site is not affiliated with the US Coast Guard Academy.

 p17  Chapter One

From the Revenue Marine to the Coast Guard

July, 1789. A new nation had been created. Formed from thirteen states bonded together at first in the defense of common ideals, the United States were faced now with problems issuing from the peace for which they had fought so valiantly. They had to put into practical operation governmental departments strange and untried in the congress of nations.

So it was that on July 31, 1789, the President approved an Act providing for the imposition of duties on the tonnage of vessels, and on the importation of goods and merchandise into the United States, and established, in the spirit of that Act, the need for a Revenue Marine. In September of the same year, Congress established the Treasury Department, and Alexander Hamilton was named as the first Secretary.

As the Continental Navy had been disbanded at the close of the war, there were no means of enforcing the newly enacted revenue laws until, at Mr. Hamilton's suggestion and with the President's full  p18 approval, Congress passed an Act calling for the construction of ten vessels, the commanders of which were to operate directly under the Collectors of Customs in the enforcement of revenue laws. This, actually, was the beginning of the Coast Guard.

These vessels, designed for speed and ease of handling, put to sea upon completion, and for more than six years constituted the nation's sole armed force afloat. They enforced the revenue laws, afforded protection from pirates to the inhabitants of isolated points along the coast, and scoured the sea for the snaky ships of these plunderers.

Known at this time as the Revenue Marine, an Act of February, 1863, designated the service as the United States Revenue Cutter Service; and from 1868 until 1915, acts of appropriations referred to the service in this manner. The Act of January 28, 1915, however, combined the United States Revenue Cutter Service with that of the United States Life Saving Service and provided that the name, United States Coast Guard, be used henceforth.

The Coast Guard forms a very definite part of the armed forces of the United States. The Act of February, 1799, authorized the President to direct the Revenue Marine to coöperate with the Navy in defense of the coast lines. Since that time, the Coast Guard has engaged actively in every war in which this country has been concerned; but it was the Act of January 28, 1915, that provided for the merging  p19 of the Coast Guard with the Navy at the outbreak of hostilities.

To provide for the professional education of young men who are candidates for commissions in the Coast Guard, an Academy is maintained at New London, Conn. Appointments to cadet­ships are made upon strictly competitive educational examinations, and are open to those young men of the prescribed age, 17 to 22 years, who have the necessary moral and physical qualifications. These examinations are held throughout the country from time to time, candidates making the highest average being selected for cadet appointment. There follow four years of military and comprehensive training at the Academy in New London, four years of hard work, during which the cadet is fitted, physically, mentally, and morally for his duties as an officer of the United States Coast Guard.

American naval history is sprinkled with heroic deeds performed by Coast Guardsmen, down from the days of the Revenue Marine to the present time. They have always been fighting men, because the Coast Guard was conceived for the precise purpose of fighting to preserve the revenues of the United States. In wartime, the Coast Guard has formed an invaluable adjunct to the Navy, and has done much to add to the glory of the American naval forces.

On October 13, 1814, the Revenue Cutter Eagle,  p20 under the command of Captain Frederick Lee, was cruising in the vicinity of Long Island, searching for the barges and tenders of the British brig Dispatch, which were in the Sound annoying shipping and causing great concern among the inhabitants ashore. Captain Lee was directed not to encounter the brig herself, as she was too heavily armed, manning eighteen guns to the cutter's six, but merely to attack and destroy the British vessel's attendant craft.

The Eagle came upon one of these small boats in a fog not far offshore. The American cutter immediately gave chase, firing several shots into the sloop, but did not succeed in overhauling her. Around nine o'clock, the fog suddenly lifted, and the brig herself was discovered by the Eagle coming down upon the chase from a starboard course.

Seeing at once that he could not hope to escape to sea, Captain Lee realized that his only chance was to drive his vessel upon the beach, and removing the guns, defend her from a vantage point ashore.

The Eagle went aground just under a high cliff, and the tremendous job of dragging her guns to the top of the precipice was begun. Arriving off the Eagle's position just as this operation was completed, the enemy brig immediately began firing. The first shell took effect in the Eagle's hull, tearing a gaping hole just above her waterline.

Captain Lee assembled his men and guns on the cliff and began a heated answer to the enemy's fire.  p21 The British vessel attempted to get in close so as to rake the position of the Americans, but the rapid and efficient handling of the fourpounders prevented this. At this time it was discovered that the wadding for the guns was running low, and since it was feared that the British might put a landing party ashore and try to storm the American position, Captain Lee decided to ask for volunteers to go back aboard the Eagle and secure all clothing and material that might be used as wadding. This, in itself, would be a risky undertaking, the captain pointed out, as the cutter lay squarely under the guns of the British warship, and was subjected to continuous fire.

There was no hesitation on the part of the Eagle's crew. As one man, the entire body stepped forward; and of these, five men were chosen and armed with muskets.

The five men started the perilous descent from the cliff to the beached cutter. The British trained their guns on them and tried to blast them out of existence. Shells burst all around them. A fragment struck the leader, wounding him severely. The remaining four men made him as comfortable as possible behind a pile of rocks and kept on.

Reaching the Eagle, they scrambled aboard in a hail of exploding shells, to find the cutter a complete wreck. Gaping holes showed where direct hits had registered, the masts were nothing but jagged stumps. As the flag had long since been shot away,  p22 one of the volunteers found another and hoisted it on the stern.

All available cloth and old log books were collected on the deck. The volunteers, knowing that the supply of bullets was growing scarce on the cliff, went around picking up the metal that had lodged in the Eagle's hull. Then they prepared for the dangerous trip back to the American guns.

The brig had shifted slightly and was now in a position to rake the open beach between the cutter and the cliff, rendering the situation extremely delicate for the four men on the Eagle. Captain Lee, as if sensing his men's circumstances, began a furious attack on the British warship, and under the cover of this fire, the volunteers dropped over the side and raced for the cliff.

Halfway across, a shell bursting directly in front of them instantly killed one man. Stopping only to pick up the material the man had been carrying, the little party kept going, finally reaching the rocks behind which they had left the wounded sailor. Almost immediately, the enemy ship was seen to get under way, moving closer in toward shore, and marines could be seen gathering at the rails. That could mean only one thing — a British landing party!

Carrying the precious wadding, the volunteers scrambled desperately up the cliff. They came upon Captain Lee standing on the edge of the precipice; he was studying the enemy vessel through a glass.

 p23  "Captain!" exclaimed one of the men, "They're coming ashore! With bayonets!"

Captain Lee smiled. "They'll never reach us," he replied.

They could hear the whistles on the British warship. As the sound of shouted commands came clearly across the water, Captain Lee tore the books and cloths into small pieces and distributed them among his gunners.

"Aim for their tophamper, men," he said. "Make every shot count."

The brig lay close in, her white sails glistening in the sun, her decks a beehive of activity as the landing party prepared to go over the side.

Captain Lee raised his hand, hesitated, then brought it down with a snap.

The six guns roared as one. Instantly, bedlam struck the brig. Her sails were torn and her masts splintered by the shots. The whole aspect of the picture was changed. It became urgently necessary for the British to get their craft out of the range of the deadly little guns on the cliff, and this they did, working desperately while the Americans poured a hot fire down upon them. That night, while the enemy craft was disappearing into the distance, the cutter men stood by their guns and cheered.

This episode is only another of the many glorious incidents which are glowing pages in Coast Guard history. Big men in little ships, they have been in  p24 the thick of every fight, making traditions upon which the Coast Guard stands solidly today.

In the War with Mexico, 1845‑47, eleven cutters, under the command of Captain Webster, took part in the hostilities. Arriving at South West Pass, in the Gulf, Webster detached two of the cutters, Forward and Ewing, and directed them to report to General Taylor, commanding the American forces in Mexico.

At 8 P.M., on the evening of June 23, 1846, the two cutters came to anchor off the bar at Brazos Santiago, Mexico, and on the next day, Captain Nones, accompanied by Lieutenants Jones and Scott, left the vessel to communicate with General Taylor.

The general explained the situation to them, saying that it was urgently necessary for all supplies and munitions of war being shipped in to the enemy by way of the sea be cut off and confiscated. Therefore, he ordered the two cutters to patrol the seacoast as far south as Soto La Marina and to capture and destroy all vessels discovered landing cargoes or in any way supplying the enemy with the means of war.

For three months, the two cutters in company with other vessels, patrolled the area assigned, effectively blockading the coast and doing the enemy incalculable damage. In October, 1846, Captain Nones of the Forward received orders from Captain Webster  p25 to proceed to the mouth of the River Alvarado, where in company with other units of the fleet an attempt would be made to enter the strongly fortified river and proceed inland.

This news was received with high enthusiasm by the men on the cutters for it afforded them a chance to break up the monotonous grind of patrol duty. A little after sunrise on the morning of the 15th, the Forward reached the mouth of the river, where she found already assembled the steamer Vixen, three gunboats, the prize Nonata, the Mississippi, and the cutter McLane, all under the command of Commodore Perry in the Mississippi. At a council of war held aboard the Cutter vessel, Captain Nones learned that the army wanted the destruction of enemy supply bases and munitions dumps up the river. Forts on both banks commanded the approach from the bar, making the task a difficult assignment.

It was decided that the Mississippi, having the heaviest guns, should move in and cannonade the forts, while the smaller ships crossed the bar. Unfortunately, it was found in actual operations that the Mississippi could not approach close enough to make an impression on the forts with her shells. These forts mounted a battery each of seven guns, and directly behind the forts were two power­ful pivot guns capable of throwing a shell down into the midst of the American fleet.

Despite all obstacles, Captain Nones decided to  p26 make the attempt to enter the passage. He signalled his intentions to the Mississippi and received an approval, together with the suggestion that he wait for a favorable breeze which would help the smaller vessels. Captain Nones delayed his attack until two o'clock, at which time — there being no prospect of a favorable wind — he decided to move at once. Dividing his force into two sections, with the smaller vessels in tow of the larger ones, the captain started his advance.

The first division, consisting of the Reefer and the Bonita, in tow of the Vixen, came upon the bar and at once engaged the enemy. The second division — the Nonata, Forward and Petrel, towed by the McLane — followed. The first division was well within the bar, and was matching fire with the forts, when misfortune fell upon the American fleet. A shell from the shore batteries struck the McLane, damaging the steering apparatus slightly and throwing her aground on the bar, with the tow, the Nonata, Forward and Petrel, afoul of each other in wild disorder. Seeing his advantage, the enemy immediately began a terrific fire upon the fouled ships.

Miraculously, the division suffered no critical injury. Captain Nones, dropping his tow, put about in the Vixen and went to the assistance of the McLane. With the combined efforts of the two vessels, the McLane was floated and the tow reorganized. The tide had begun to run out, however, and Captain  p27 Nones decided to postpone the attack, for he felt that the McLane's draft was too deep to allow her to enter at low water. Reluctantly he signalled his flotilla to turn and withdraw.

With the intention of catching the enemy unaware, the next attempt by the Revenue cutters to enter the river was made under cover of darkness on the morning of October 23. The plan was suddenly discarded however, when it was found that an American trading bark, with supplies for the enemy, had been in treasonable communication with the latter, and had signalled the forts of the Americans' advance. This bark was taken into custody by the Vixen, after which the American fleet sailed across the bar, and at once engaged the Mexican forts.

Shells framed through the darkness. The Vixen was hit twice, the Forward once. The great guns of the Mississippi threw shell after shell into the forts. Presently, the fire from the enemy slackened. Finally it stopped altogether.

By this time, the American fleet was beyond the bend in the river, one objective reached. The main task, however, lay ahead; namely, the destruction of the military warehouses at tabasco, a strongly fortified city 75 miles up stream. Accordingly, the fleet pushed on and in the evening of the next day anchored in battle formation, half-musket range, before the city.

 p28  Commodore Perry sent a dispatch ashore, ordering the city to surrender immediately or suffer the consequences of a bombardment. The Mexicans returned the dispatch, with the invitation to begin firing at will, as the city did not intend to surrender.

Accordingly, the Forward was directed to open fire, first on the flag staff over the city. This was done, the first few shots carrying away the flag. As the flag was not replaced, the American fire was ordered held, and a deputation was sent ashore to learn if the colors had been struck in token of surrender. The answer was the same — no surrender.

Commodore Perry ordered the Vixen and the Forward closer in shore and directed the Vixen to land a force and take up a position in the city, which was commanded by the guns of the fleet. This operation was disputed hotly by musketry from houses along the shore, and the Revenue Cutters poured round and grape shot into the buildings in an effort to silence the guns. After twenty minutes of this, no further opposition was encountered by the landing party, and they secured the waterfront, burning the warehouses which obviously held war supplies.

Toward evening, Commodore Perry ordered the landing force back aboard the Vixen, and sent word to the Mexican authorities that if the city was not surrendered by morning, he would endeavor to destroy it. There was no answer.

In the early hours of the morning, a furious fire  p29 was begun by the batteries on shore, and the advance position of the Revenue cutters became extremely hazardous. But they did not fall back; instead, the Revenue cutters used the short distance between them and the enemy guns to great advantage, spraying the waterfront with grape shot. After an hour of continuous bombardment by the American ships, a flag of truce was displayed over the city, and Captain Forest, commanding the American Marines, was sent to converse with the Mexicans. The city authorities asked for a suspension of hostilities for a number of hours, until the wounded could be removed from the scene of action. This request was granted; but in the light of consequent events, it proved nothing more than a ruse to gain additional time.

Commodore Perry now ordered the prizes which had been taken in the river to proceed to the mouth and await the flotilla there. In complying with these orders, one of the prizes drifted ashore in front of the city, and the enemy, collecting a large force with heavy guns, opened fire upon the ship in violation of the truce. Lieutenant Parker of the Revenue Marine was in command of the ship. He defended her gallantly, ultimately succeeding in working the vessel free, but only after a number of the Revenue men had been killed and wounded. The guns of the flotilla were again turned on the city. A landing force from the Forward, commanded by Lieutenant McGowan, went ashore and routed the enemy concentration,  p30 while grape and round shot from the Forward's gun fired the waterfront.

The entire city was now in flames, and all organized opposition had ceased. Commodore Perry ordered the landing force back aboard the Forward. Then the fleet dropped down the river, its objectives gained.

In schoolrooms all over the country may be found a copy of the famous picture showing the Revenue Cutter Hudson taking up the tow of a disabled sister ship, the Winslow, during an engagement with the Spanish land batteries at Cardenas Bay, Cuba, May 11, 1898, in the Spanish-American War. This picture shows shells bursting on and around the Winslow, while the Revenue Cutter Hudson dashes in to pull the disabled ship to safety.

The picture is an inspiring one, typically American, typically Coast Guard. Here, in the heat of battle, the duty which is primarily the essence of the Coast Guard came to light. Lives had to be saved, and, discounting all risks, the Revenue Cutter went about doing that duty.

On the morning of May 11, 1898, the Hudson, under the command of Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb and accompanied by the U. S. S. Wilmington and the U. S. torpedo boat Winslow, steamed into Cardenas Bay, Cuba, on the lookout for enemy ships. Once inside the bay, the senior officer present on  p31 the Wilmington detached the Hudson and sent her on patrol duty along the western shore of the bay.

A Spanish gunboat came into view around the curve of the island, stopped and waited, evidently being aware that the shallow water would keep the Revenue Cutter at a distance. For some time, the Hudson steamed back and forth in an effort to draw the enemy ship out to battle, but failing in this, observed that the Wilmington and the Winslow were nearing Cardenas, with signals flying directing the Hudson's return.

The Revenue Cutter immediately turned and headed full speed toward the two naval ships, and when a mile distant, saw smoke rising from the middle of the waterfront, and the report of a heavy gun rolled across the bay. Instantly, the Winslow turned and headed in toward the wharves, with the Wilmington taking up a battle position further out. The American ships answered the shore batteries, and by the time the Revenue Cutter arrived on the scene, about 1:45 P.M., a general engagement was in progress. Lieutenant Newcomb brought the Hudson in between a bark and a brig lying at anchor, and taking a position about 1,800 yards offshore, off the western end of the city, opened fire with her two six‑pounder Driggs-Schroeder guns upon the enemy battery, which was located in the center of the waterfront.

Meanwhile, the Wilmington had turned and was  p32 steaming slowly to the westward, outside of the Hudson's position. The Winslow still maintained her original station, which was several hundred yards inshore from the Hudson. After firing a few rounds from the Hudson, Lieutenant Newcomb, noticing that the tide was swinging his vessel around into the line of fire from the Wilmington, ran around the naval vessel to obtain a clearer field for operations. Passing within hailing range of the Wilmington, Newcomb pointed toward the Winslow and asked, "Shall I take up position there?" The answer came back, "Yes."

The Hudson ran in at full speed until about 150 yards inshore of the Winslow and a short distance to the eastward of her. The former's engines were stopped and firing was resumed with the two six‑pounders. Observing the effect of his ship's fire through his glass, Lieutenant Newcomb saw that the shells were falling short of their mark, and directed that the elevation be raised. After this, the Hudson's shells appeared to be falling within the enemy's works, which could be distinguished beneath a hovering pall of smoke.

At this time, the Winslow abruptly got underway, moving in such an aimless fashion that a collision with the torpedo boat was narrowly avoided by Lieutenant Newcomb. The Winslow kept running back and forth on a parallel with the shore, smoke rising from her in great sheets. Thinking that her  p33 ammunition had exploded, Lieutenant Newcomb signalled the torpedo boat and asked if she was in need of assistance. The answer came back that she had been hit, but that no assistance was needed.

The enemy shells were falling and bursting all around both vessels. One large shell passing closely over the top of the Hudson's pilot house struck the former vessel, but failed to explode. Apparently the enemy was bringing up heavier guns now, and fire seemed to be concentrated on the Winslow, which was still maneuvering wildly to the eastward of the Hudson. Several direct hits were registered on the torpedo vessel, and it became apparent to Lieutenant Newcomb that she was badly hurt and now needed assistance.

Again, he signalled an offer of aid, and this time the Winslow reported herself totally disabled and requested a tow out of the range of the enemy guns. In starting to her assistance, Lieutenant Newcomb was compelled to bring his vessel directly in the line of fire from the Wilmington, some of whose shells, exploding soon after leaving the guns, sprayed the Revenue Cutter with fragments.

A stiff breeze blowing obliquely on shore from the eastward caused the Winslow to make much leeway, and as she was constantly shoaling the water, Newcomb found it extremely difficult to throw a line to her. The water was so shallow that the  p34 Hudson's propeller was constantly throwing up mud, and steerageway was invariably lost as soon as the speed slackened.

As the Hudson approached the disabled vessel, an officer, Ensign Bagley, and three enlisted men, were standing on the Winslow's bow waiting to take the Revenue Cutter's line, when a large shell exploded directly in their midst, killing them instantly. Obviously trying to prevent the Revenue Cutter from drawing the disabled vessel out of the range of the shore battery, the enemy directed an intense fire at the two vessels.

During these operations, the Hudson was struck at least four times, but none of these projectiles did any great damage. Attempts were made to get a line over to the Winslow — which was a complete wreck — but these efforts were being defeated by the shallow water into which the two vessels had worked themselves. It appeared that both would go aground and thus be at the mercy of the Spanish guns.

But these were difficulties under which the Revenue Cutter men excelled. Lieutenant Newcomb brought the Hudson around, and edging past the Winslow's bow, finally managed to get a line over to her. The Hudson took up the strain, and the struggle toward safe water was begun.

The Winslow's steering gear had been wrecked and she yawed wildly, threatening to foul the Revenue  p35 Cutter with hawser. With consummate skill, however, Newcomb brought the disabled vessel out of range of the shore batteries.

Meanwhile, the Wilmington had silenced the enemy guns, and, apparently unaware of the Winslow's critical condition, she was standing down the bay. Both the Winslow and the Hudson tried to signal her for a doctor, but the flagship was a mile away now, and the signals went unanswered.

The Hudson and her tow had reached deep water when, due to the yawing of the Winslow and the choppy sea, the hawser parted, and the torpedo boat wallowed helplessly. Another hawser was passed to her, and as a temporary rudder had been rigged on her stern, the tow was resumed, this time with greater success.

After a long and laborious chase dead to the windward, the Hudson finally overtook the Wilmington, and, hailing her, requested that a doctor be sent aboard the Winslow. After the latter's dead and wounded had been removed to the flagship the Revenue Cutter made fast alongside the Winslow and attempted to tow her in that manner. However, as the water thus thrown up between the two vessels threatened to sink the disabled craft the original method of towing was resumed. Steaming out of the bay, they finally reached the U. S. Supply Ship Machias at nightfall.

 p36  In his report to the Navy Department, Lieutenant Bernadou, who was in command of the Winslow, said "— without the combined efforts of all those on board the Hudson, the surviving members of the crew of the Winslow would have been lost."

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