Thursday, September 13, 2012

North Carolina Naval Militia Uniform, 1893

Shown here is a sailor's uniform worn by BM2 Leonard K. Rutter, a member of the North Carolina Naval Militia, Elizabeth City Detachment. The uniform is quite elaborate for an enlisted sailors' outfit.  It is a shell jacket with a high, "choker"-type collar that was typically only worn by chief petty officers and commissioned officers.   It is currently on display in the museum's 1907 exhibit on the third floor of Nauticus.

Like the U.S. Army, the Navy always kept a pool of trained reservists who could be called up in times of national emergencies.  For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Army relied on each state to keep and maintain a state militia, eventually formalizing the institution into what is now known as the National Guard.

The Navy had no such system of "citizen-sailors" until New York and Massachusetts each established their own naval militias in 1891.  By 1896, fourteen more states created their own naval militias.  Though Congress refused to establish a national reserve component of the U.S. Navy, it did provide Federal support for the various state naval militias.  Part of this support came in the form of surplus U.S. Navy ships.  North Carolina received  the monitor USS Nantucket, a veteran of several Civil War battles with Confederate forts on the Atlantic Coast, in 1895.

During the Spanish-American War, the Navy mobilized the Nantucket and her ship's company for national service and sent them to guard Port Royal, South Carolina.  This seemingly unimportant task of guarding the American coastline served a very important function. Americans feared Spanish ships raiding their coastal cities. Instead of placing front-line ships like USS Brooklyn (ACR-3) or New York (ACR-2) on coast defense duty, the Navy placed ships like Nantucket and militiamen like Rutter at America's ports.  Even though the ships were old and obsolete, their presence reassured a jittery American public that the Navy was working to protect them.

After the war, the North Carolina Naval Militia lost Nantucket.  They later acquired the gunboat USS Hornet, the armed yacht USS Elfrida (SP-988), and then the torpedo boat USS Foote (TB-3)

North Carolina Naval Militia, Elizabeth City Detachment.  Rutter is standing on the far left, back row. 

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