Written by David Carkhuff
Chris Hall, an expert on the War of 1812, curator of an exhibit on the subject at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, said there’s a connection, albeit somewhat tenuous, between the tall ship now moored in Portland Harbor and the war made famous by “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“The 1812 War was obviously the start of the Navy, but it also involved revenue service cutters that were a precursor to the Coast Guard,” he said.
“There’s not a particular striking connection other than just honoring the birth of maritime service,” he acknowledged.
The Barque Eagle is participating along with the U.S. Navy and various national and international tall ships in the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Yet the ship has no direct connection. It was built at the Blohm and Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany in 1936, and commissioned as Horst Wessel, one of three sail-training ships operated by the pre-World War II German navy, the Coast Guard reported.
“At the close of the war, the ship was taken as a war reparation by the U.S., re-commissioned as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle and sailed to New London, Connecticut, which has been its homeport ever since,” the Coast Guard reported. Now the ship is a floating classroom for Coast Guard Academy cadets, and more recently officer candidates.
The War of 1812 typically is marked by the U.S. Navy, not so much the Coast Guard, Hall noted.
“The Navy itself grew into an organized service distinct from privateers and private merchant ships hired out. By the 1812 War, there was a small but growing and largely successful fleet of naval vessels,” he said.
Whatever the connections, Hall welcomed the chance to discuss the War of 1812, seomthing he has delved into at the Bath museum.
The Maine Maritime Museum is offering an intimate look at the War of 1812 in its latest exhibit, “Subdue, Seize and Take: Maritime Maine in the Unwelcome Interruption of the War of 1812,” on display until Sunday, Oct. 28.
“We’ve tried to include letters, archival documents that are written by individuals, it’s like a personal glimpse for what life was like during that war in the State of Maine. It was an intensely confusing situation,” Hall said.
During that lesser-known conflict, waged between the fledgling United States and the British Empire, the American revenue service deployed cutters on duty from Portland to Eastport, for toll collections and enforcement of tariffs.
“At least one revenue service cutter was along the Maine Coast to prevent smuggling and illegal trade with Canada,” Hall said.
“It was a confusing war for people in Maine partly because they had close ties to Canada and also were a maritime related largely coastal culture and economy, so in the course of that war there were a variety of decrees issued and blockades issued by the British and our own government,” Hall explained.
The Battle of Baltimore famously inspired the “Star Spangled Banner,” in memory of the flag flying at Fort McHenry.
Maine entered the union in 1820, separating from Massachusetts, a statehood which stemmed largely from the war, Hall said.
“They’d just had it with the politics of being the district of Maine,” he said.
Although the Barque Eagle has no direct tie to that long-ago war, the tall ship may make a return voyage to Maine. Maine Maritime Museum is hoping to bring the Barque Eagle to Bath next summer for a Coast Guard exhibit.
The Barque Eagle — the largest tall ship flying the stars and stripes and the only active square rigger in U.S. government service, according to the U.S. Coast Guard — is moored at the State Pier in Portland as part of a 2012 cruise and will be open for tours this weekend. Times open for tours are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.