The War of 1812 was a major event for the Dept. of Treasury Revenue Cutter Service, the organization that would eventually become the U.S. Coast Guard. The service was the only coastal defense the fledgling nation had at the time, the navy having been disbanded.
Cutters of the Revenue service, known as Revenue Cutters, would engage the British Navy multiple times throughout the war. One of the first significant battles was the first battle between the cutter Commodore Barry and the Royal Navy.
According to a history of the Coast Guard and the War of 1812 found on their official website, The Commodore Barry had taken five smuggling ships captive and was escorting them when the men of the cutter learned that the British Navy had captured an American vessel.
The captain of the cutter took up alongside an American privateer ship and beached the other vessels to set up a shore battery along the Little River in Maine. The British overwhelmed that cutter and crew, took three crewmen captive and sailed the ship to Canada.
The Norfolk, Va.-based cutter Thomas Jefferson also saw quite a bit of action during the war. It was in April 1813 that it would meet British ships and troops in the waters of Hampton Roads.
Americans would meet the British on the James River. The cutter along with smaller vessels would meet British barges after chasing them up the river. The British would eventually surrender.
And here in North Carolina, there was a near miss in the brown waters of the Pamlico Sound and its tributaries.
During what was called the British invasion of North Carolina, the revenue cutter Mercury became a valuable asset because it was small and maneuverable in the shallow sound waters. The British had attempted to blockade Ocracoke Island and cut off inland passage to the state’s backwater sound country.
In May 1813 the Mercury and other American vessels were anchored at Ocracoke when a British privateer ship attempted a sneak attack. Locals on the island caught wind of it and warned the American ships, preventing an attack.
In July of that same year the British Navy attempted another attack at Ocracoke, only to be thwarted by the Mercury again.
Fifteen armed British barges with 1,000 officers and men were attempting to take the Mercury, but she was a fast cutter and escaped. The cutter sailed to New Bern where they were able to warn the town of a pending attack.
The town mustered its militia but the British had given up on its attempt to control the inland waterways of North Carolina.