ISS1 2015

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 48 of 63

worse than Travis. The British sent two of Surveyor's junior officers and sixteen of its enlisted men to the military prison on Melville Island at Halifax. During the British blockade of the North Carolina coast, the revenue cutter Mercury proved the value of small maneuverable vessels on the East Coast's inland waterways. Homeported in the city of New Bern, North Carolina, Mercury was perfect for operating in North Carolina's shallow coastal waters. The cutter's master, David Wallace, came from a prominent family from the state's Outer Banks and he had an intimate knowledge of the coast. By late May 1813, the British blockade began to encircle the Southern port cities, including Ocracoke, North Carolina. Ocracoke , located next to a channel through the Outer Banks that served as the main entrance to North Carolina's inland sounds and exposed to enemy attack, proved easy prey for British attackers. In mid-summer an ominous threat loomed on the horizon as a Royal Navy squadron appeared off shore. On July 12, 1813, the British launched a surprise attack. Fifteen armed barges, supporting approximately 1,000 British officers and enlisted men, captured two American privateer brigs, but Mercury managed to escape with the local customs house papers and bonds by "crowding upon her every inch of canvas she had, and by cutting away her long boat." The British had hoped to take the cutter so their barge flotilla could enter Pamlico Sound and capture the city of New Bern. Mercury thwarted those plans by outrunning the barges, sailing directly to New Bern and warning city officials of probable attack by British troops. Mercury's early warning allowed locals the time to muster the necessary army and militia forces to defend the city and the British reversed their invasion plans. New Bern's newspaper, the Carolina Federal Republican, wrote, "Captain David Wallace of the Revenue Cutter, merits the highest praise for his vigilance, address and good conduct in getting the Cutter away from the enemy, and bringing us the most speedy intelligence of our danger." Afterward, Mercury remained active in North Carolina waters. On November 12, 1814, the cutter captured the ship Fox, used as a tender by ship-of-the-line HMS Ramilles, and delivered to New Bern the vessel and its crew of a Royal Navy midshipman and seven enlisted men. To keep regional waters secure for American commerce also meant fighting British privateers that patrolled off East Coast ports and preyed on American merchantmen. The engagement between Vigilant and the British privateer Dart proved one of the most impressive captures of an enemy ship by a revenue cutter. It involved the sloop Dart, formerly an American ship captured by the British and converted into a privateer. The heavily armed raider carried one twelve, two nine and two six- pound cannon, as well as four swivel guns. By October 1813, Dart had amassed an impressive capture record of over twenty American merchantmen. Similar to other cutters, the Vigilant measured sixty feet on deck and nineteen feet wide and carried an armament of six cannon. The cutter had a crew of seventeen and its master, John Cahoone, came from a prominent shipping family of Newport, Rhode Island. News of the privateer arrived in Newport on October 4, 1813, so Captain Cahoone prepared the cutter for a fight. He raised an armed contingent of local militia to supplement the cutter's crew for boarding and sailing home any captured vessels. Vigilant sailed out of Newport and located Dart that evening off the east end of Block Island. In the dark of night, Cahoone pursued the armed privateer and ordered Vigilant's cannon fired at the raider. After firing a broadside, Cahoone steered the cutter alongside the enemy vessel, while Vigilant's men boarded the privateer and chased the enemy crew below decks. Cahoone's crew took the Dart and sailed the enemy privateer back to Newport. This would not be the last vessel taken by Vigilant, but it proved to be the last combat use of boarding by a revenue cutter in the Age of Sail. The newspaper Columbian Patriot boasted, "Captain Cahoone, with the volunteers under his command, deserve the highest credit for the spirit and promptitude with which this affair was conducted; and it is of the utmost importance, as it is probable she [Dart] would, but for this, have been almost a constant visitor during the ensuing season, when the mischief she would have done is incalculable." On October 10, 1814, news arrived in New Haven that a privateer in Long Island Sound had captured an American merchantmen. Cutter captain Frederick Lee showed no hesitation in pursuing the enemy. He assembled local militia to join his cutter and sailed into the night to re-capture the American vessel and take the British vessel as well. The next morning, Lee found his cutter dangerously close to the 18-gun brig HMS Dispatch and a tender and managed to escape capture from armed enemy barges by running the cutter onto the north shore of Long Island, near Baiting Hollow. The cutter's crew and militia stripped the cutter of its sails, dragged Eagle's cannon up Long Island's shoreline bluffs and dueled with the British warship. After they exhausted their large shot, Eagle's men tore up the ship's logbook to use as wadding and fired back the enemy shot that lodged in the hill. During the engagement, the British fire tore away the cutter's flag three times, but crewmembers volunteered to replace it each time. This gun duel ended without a decisive outcome, however, an American captive on board the captured merchantman recounted that the battle damaged Eagle appeared to be a complete wreck. After fighting for two days, HMS Dispatch departed in search of reinforcements. Meanwhile, Lee patched up and refloated his damaged cutter. On October 13 the British gun brig and its tender returned with the 32-gun frigate HMS Narcissus. Later that day the Royal Navy flotilla delivered an overwhelming force of seven armed barges, whose numerous officers and men fought off Lee's crew and volunteer militia to capture the damaged cutter. Lee later commented: "The officers and crew, together with the volunteers, on board the cutter, have done their duty as became American sailors." On Christmas Eve, 1814, representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed the peace treaty, the Treaty of Ghent, at a ceremony in Ghent, Belgium; however, in North America the war continued in full effect until February 1815. On February 11 the sloop HMS Favorite flew the white flag and delivered the peace treaty to New York City. The war officially ended when President Madison signed the treaty on the February 16, 1815. Before the war the Revenue Marine fleet served primarily as a maritime police force, enforcing U.S. trade laws and tariffs and interdicting maritime smuggling. However, the War of 1812 solidified the cutters' naval role and new wartime missions, including high seas combat, port and coastal security, reconnaissance, commerce protection and shallow-water combat operations. � Issue 1 • 2015 � RESERVIST 47

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Reservist - ISS1 2015