United States Revenue and Coast Guard Cutters in Naval Warfare, 1790–1918 Cover

United States Revenue and Coast Guard Cutters in Naval Warfare, 1790–1918

Thomas P. Ostrom

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2018, 240 pages

Book Review published on: January 25, 2019

Thomas Ostrom’s United States Revenue and Coast Guard Cutters in Naval Warfare, 1790-1918 fills an academic void in the U.S. Coast Guard’s history. This historical survey of the Coast Guard’s participation in naval warfare highlights the continued participation of the Nation’s smallest military service in the country’s wars, and provides needed documentation regarding the early military exploits of today’s Coast Guard, the Nation’s longest continuous sea service.

Ostrom’s service as a Coast Guard Reservist in the 1960s and as a professor of history at Rochester Community College is evident throughout the book. The maps, notes, bibliography, and index are comprehensive and reinforce his research, while also providing reference material for further study and review. Ostrom’s notes show research from the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, the Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian, the U.S. Naval Institute, and other authoritative works and studies. Most of the sources are secondary in nature, and there are few primary sources and archival materials annotated. Little has been written regarding Coast Guard participation in conflict from 1790 to 1918, and this book provides fertile ground for further expansion and academic study.

Ostrom’s book is structured as a historical survey with each chapter covering a period of time between 1790 and 1918. He starts his book with the formation of the Revenue Marine during the administration of President George Washington. Under Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s guidance, the first cutters sailed to enforce revenue taxes, regulate maritime trade, and prosecute illegal smuggling. Comprised of the Nation’s only commissioned warships and captained by commissioned officers, the Revenue Marine was the only naval service for the nascent United States and formed the vanguard for the undeclared naval war with France as the U.S. Navy built and commissioned its first frigates. Since 1790, cuttermen have fought in every war to include volunteering to sail with Navy crews in the Barbary Wars, firing the first naval shots of the Civil War, and establishing national sovereignty and rule of law in Alaska following that territory’s inclusion into the union. Ostrom ends the study in 1918, a year that saw the sinking of USCGC Tampa. The cutter sank off the cost of England while conducting an antisubmarine warfare patrol. Its sinking with all hands, in enemy action, meant that the Coast Guard suffered the largest proportional loss of men of any U.S. service involved in combat during World War I.

An organization that frequently straddles the line between being a military service and a federal agency working within the interagency, the Coast Guard needed this book to illustrate its rich marshal prowess and the role it plays in securing the nation. Ostrom’s decision to focus on the Coast Guard’s role in naval warfare squarely places this book within the realm of military history and supports a continued military role for the service as a member of today’s joint force. United States Revenue and Coast Guard Cutters in Naval Warfare, 1790-1918 does much to address the Coast Guard’s defense readiness missions and balances more popular works focused on the better-known lifesaving and regulatory responsibilities that form the popular understanding of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Book Review written by: Lt. Cmdr. Christjan Gaudio, U.S. Coast Guard, Washington, D.C.