The Coast Guard (CG) is the nation’s smallest armed service and most misunderstood armed service. Most Americans know the Coast Guard is the nation’s premiere lifesaving service. Some may even know that the Coast Guard is the nation’s oldest continuing sea going service. While the Coast Guard falls under the UCMJ just like the other four branches, and often works side by side with them especially the Navy; The Coast Guard is usually trained for a very different mission than their DOD counterparts in times of peace. This paper will shed light on the Coast Guard’s accomplishments and its sacrifices in its National Defense mission.
The legal basis for the Coast Guard to operate as a military force is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: "The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times." Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy.” The Coast Guard can trace its beginnings back August 4th 1790. On this date president George Washington, at the urging of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, ordered the building of ten ships. Those ten ships would be called the Revenue Cutter Service (RCS). The purpose of these ships was to enforce tariff regulations and bolster the coffers of the newly formed United States. It is the nation’s oldest continuing sea going service. These ships would be used to “cut off” smuggling in and out of the U.S. The term “cutter” is still used today to describe any Coast Guard vessel 65’ or longer.
The RCS was first pressed into service during the undeclared Quasi War with France in 1798-99. In 1794 the U.S. and Britain signed a treaty that was negotiated largely by Jon Jay. It was a commerce treaty that addressed trading between the two nations in the aftermath of the American Revolution. France felt that the treaty violated an earlier treaty that allied the newly formed United States of America with France during the American Revolution. When America refused to aid France in its war with Great Britain in the late 1790’s, French privateers preyed upon American merchant vessels. Even though the RCS ships were outnumbered and outgunned, they acted valiantly against the French ships. The Cutter Eagle alone captured five French vessels and recaptured seven American Vessels. The service proved its worth in battle. It would be another dozen years before the service saw combat again, this time it would be with America’s old foe, Great Britain.
During the War of 1812, the RCS fought gallantly against the enemy. It was during this conflict that the service distinguished itself as a valuable asset to have. The Royal Navy had an impressive fleet of 600 ships. On the other hand the American Navy consisted of 16 ships and 12 Revenue Cutters. The first prize of the war (a prize being the capture of an enemy ship) went...