United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary
Harriet Lane was one of the more famous ships of the Revenue Cutter Service. Built specifically to operate out of the New York area, it helped suppress the African slave trade and, for a short period, served under the Navy Department off Paraguay enforcing American rights in South America.
On April 5, 1861, Harriet Lane was again transferred to the Navy and prepared to take part in an expedition to relieve the garrison in Port Sumter, South Carolina. Due to increased tensions between the federal and state governments, United States troops had withdrawn from other forts in the area and retreated to the safety of Port Sumter in the middle of the harbor. Still manned by Revenue Cutter Service personnel, Harriet Lane steamed to Charleston with two other warships. The three ships anchored outside the harbor entrance. On April 12, Harriet Lane and its two consorts watched helplessly as Confederate batteries began to bombard Fort Sumter.
While the bombardment continued on the morning of the 13th, Harriet Lane lay outside the harbor waiting for the arrival of other
Union ships to help in the relief of Fort Sumten Steaming outside Charleston Bar, the cutter observed an unidentified steamer approaching. The steamer showed no colors and Harriet Lane signaled the vessel to hoist a flag. Nashville, the unidentified vessel, continued on its way, failing to heed the signal. Harriet Lane exercised the right to stop an unidentified ship and fired a shot across the steamer's bow. Nashville, later a Confederate blockade runner, quickly identified itself as an American ship by hoisting the Stars and Stripes. Harriet Lane allowed the steamer to continue on its way and is credited with firing the first shot from the deck of a ship during the Civil War.
Harriet Lane later participated in the attack on the Confederate forts at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina -- the Union's first victory. In 1862, the Navy Department bought the vessel and used it in the blockade of Texas. The Confederates later captured the vessel in Galveston, Texas and converted it into a blockade runner.
The steamer Harriet Lane played a prominent role in the Civil War by augmenting the forces of the United States Navy--a role which the Coast Guard has performed in every major American war.
Artist: Howard Koslow