This is a true rarity seldom ever encountered anywhere–an original 1860s-1870s US Revenue Marine officer belt rig in museum grade condition. Immediately after the American Revolutionary War the new United States was struggling to stay afloat financially. National income was desperately needed, and the government determined that a great deal of this income would come from tariffs on imports. Because of rampant smuggling, the need was immediate for strong enforcement of tariff laws. On 4 August 1790, the US Congress, urged on by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, created the Revenue Marine, later renamed the Revenue Cutter Service by act of 31 July 1894 (28 Stat. 171).
On 11 April 1861, the USRC Harriet Lane fired the first shots of the maritime conflict in the American Civil War of 1861–1865. The cutter fired a shot across the bow of the civilian steamship Nashville as it tried to enter Charleston Harbor during the bombardment of Fort Sumter because Nashville was flying no identifying flag. The civilian ship then promptly raised the U.S. standard, and Harriet Lane broke off.
President Abe Lincoln issued the following order to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on 14 June 1863: “You will co-operate by the revenue cutters under your direction with the navy in arresting rebel depredations on American commerce and transportation and in capturing rebels engaged therein.”
Revenue cutters assisted U.S. Navy operations throughout the war. Harriet Lane joined a federal naval squadron to capture Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras, which served as bases for Confederate blockade runners. USRC E.A. Stevens, a prototype 110-foot semi-submersible ironclad gunboat, in company with USS Monitor, USS Galena and two other gunboats, participated in the unsuccessful sortie up the James River to Drewry’s Bluff to attack the Confederate capital at Richmond. After carrying President Lincoln from Washington on 9 May 1862, USRC Miama assisted navy transports in landing federal troops at Ocean View, Virginia.
In June 1863, in an incident known as the “Battle of Portland Harbor”, the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing was captured by Confederate raiders, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Read, CSN, from the CSS Tascony. The Cushing was pursued by two civilian ships carrying a detachment of soldiers from Fort Preble and a number of civilian volunteers. Seeing that capture was imminent, the Confederates abandoned the Cushing in a lifeboat after setting her on fire. The Confederates were captured but the Cushing was destroyed when the gunpowder on the ship detonated.
After President Lincoln was assainated on 15 April 1865, revenue cutters were ordered to search all ships for any conspirators who might be trying to escape.