On Feb. 9, 1888, the New York branch of the U.S. Naval
Institute met at the Seawanhaka
Corinthian Yacht Club in
Manhattan to hold a debate on a
topic of “popular interest and
national importance” — the establishment of a naval reserve.
Despite a consensus that the
Navy needed an ability to augment
its manning during times of national
emergency, contentions existed
regarding the organization and mission of a manpower reserve pool.
In light of the fact that the
nation had relied on Merchant
Mariners in the past for reserve manpower, CAPT
Augustus P. Cooke argued for strong subsidies to
rebuild the Merchant Marine, which had been depleted
during and following the Civil War.
With a larger pool of Merchant Mariners to draw on,
Cooke envisioned “an efficient naval reserve organized
by the general government.”
In contrast, Jacob W. Miller, an Annapolis graduate who
rose within the commercial sector, represented a con-
stituency of yachtsmen and extolled their potential worth
to the Navy if organized into state-affiliated naval militias.
Miller warned, “In forming a National Naval Reserve,
the traditions hostile to centralizing armed forces may
feel outrages and the scheme may become unpopular.”
He envisioned the naval militias performing coastal
Lacking support from the agrarian midsection of the
country, federal legislation to subsidize the Merchant
Marine and create a federal naval reserve stalled. In the
meantime, Miller in New York and John C. Soley —
who would serve in the Navy during the Civil War,
Spanish-American War and World War I — in
Massachusetts lobbied their respective legislatures and
received authorization to create naval militia units.
With federal naval reserve initiatives stymied in
Congress, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy seemed
content with the state militia initiatives despite concerns
from within the ranks that naval militia proponents were
simply organizing units to elevate their social status
within their respective communities.
One cynic noted, “Whereas the
Navy desired a reserve pool of sea-
faring men, what it got was lands-
men with aquatic tastes.”
Several states along the coasts
and Great Lakes established mili-
tias. The Navy provided coastal ves-
sels such as Civil War-vintage mon-
itors, tugboats and small craft for
the militiamen to train on.
When the nation declared war
against Spain in 1898, concerns
that the Spanish Navy would suddenly appear off the Atlantic
seaboard and bombard eastern
cities was alleviated by naval militiamen who served as coast watchers, and manned
monitors and other armed small craft.
The Navy established a federal Naval Reserve on
March 3, 1915, with an aim of creating a manpower augmentation pool for its growing fleet of battleships.
However, when the United States entered World War I on
April 6, 1917, the threat did not come from the German
High Seas Fleet but instead from U-boats.
Thus naval militiamen, who were federalized as
National Naval Volunteers, joined with civilians entering
the Naval Reserve to crew sub-chasers, converted yachts
and other small vessels operating off the North American
and European littorals against the undersea menace.
While much of the regular Navy’s officers and enlisted
served with a battle fleet that remained operationally dormant, the activated littoral citizen-sailors fought at sea.
After the war, Secretary of the Navy Josephus
Daniels would write: “Never again will men dare
ridicule the Volunteer, the Reservist, the man who in a
national crisis lays aside civilian duty to become a soldier or sailor. They fought well. They died well. They
have left in deeds and words a record that will be an
inspiration to unborn generations.” ■
Source: David F. Winkler’s Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready
Always: More Than a Century of Service by Citizen Sailors
Dr. David Winkler is a historian with the Naval Historical
Contentious Debate Preceded
Establishment of Naval Reserve
By DAVID F. WINKLER
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 60 SEAPOWER / JUNE 2015
USS Ticonderoga Executive Officer
LT Frank L. Muller, left, and LTJG Junius H. Fulcher, U.S. Naval Reserve
Force Sailors, were taken prisoner by
the German Navy submarine U-152 in
October 1918 after it sank the ship
1,700 miles off the Atlantic Coast.