United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary
On July 12, 1861, a telegram was delivered to Captain John Whitcomb of the Revenue Cutter Morris. The telegram stated that the Confederate privateer brig Jt'ffersoi~ Davis was cruising in the North Atlantic and that Morris was to sail in search of it. The Jefferson Davis had captured a number of Union merchant vessels and several gunboats were sent to end this foray With the Civil War just three months old, Morris lay in the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston being outfitted for wartime service. Morris carried a twelve pound brass howitzer and a thirty-two pound pivot gun which could be fired over either side of the vessel. Upon receiving the telegram, the captain readied his ship and stood down the harbor at 8:30 p.m.
On the morning of July 16, sailing in a southeasterly direction, Morris began looking for the privateer. About 200 miles east of New York the cutter spied a sail and proceeded in that direction. The vessel proved to be the merchant ship Benjatititi Adattis carrying 650 Scottish and Irish immigrants from Liverpool to New York. The cutter Morris sent a boarding officer to inspect Bet' jantiti Atlattis and finding no irregularities let it continue on its way to New York. One of the more mundane tasks of the Revenue Service was the inspection of merchant vessels. The cutters acted as the enforcement arm of the Collectors of Customs who had the responsibility for collection of import and export duties, quarantines, examining vessels for contraband, and in the case of this boarding some authority for regulating living conditions on passenger ships. Immigration to the United States had increased immensely during the 1850s and in 1853 alone there were more than 1,000 crossings by passenger ships. Due to the large influx of Europeans, the United States Congress passed laws to regulate the space allotted to the passengers. The enforcement of these laws were extremely early examples of later Coast Guard efforts in Merchant Marine Safety.
Morris never located the privateer which escaped to Florida in midAugust. During the Jefferson Davis cruise, the privateer captured and burned a total of nine ships. Its name became a "word of terror to the Yankees."
More than fifty vessels served in the Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War and performed a number of valuable services. The tasks of watching the ports for contraband goods and in several instances participating in engagements with the Confederates helped the Union war effort by freeing other vessels to maintain the blockade and to support the Union armies ashore.
Artist: Gil Cohen