The Long Blue Line: The heroic actions of James “Hutch” Scott (Part 1)

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by William H. Thiesen, Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian

James "Hutch" Scott

James “Hutch” Scott

With so many superhero movies to choose from it may be difficult to remember real-life heroes aren’t bullet-proof, can’t travel at the speed of light and don’t wear capes.

There are hundreds of untold stories of these real-life heroes who often put their own lives in jeopardy to save the lives of complete strangers.

James Hutchinson Scott was one of these heroes who lived to serve others. Born in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 1868, Scott was a member of a distinguished military family.

Scott decided to join the Revenue Cutter Service, one of the predecessor services that created the modern-day Coast Guard. He received an appointment to the Revenue Cutter Service School of Instruction and graduated with the class of 1891.

During his career, Scott demonstrated his bravery on many occasions. For example, during the cadet cruise to Europe aboard the sail training ship, Salmon P. Chase, the vessel’s quartermaster fell overboard. Scott immediately jumped overboard to rescue the drowning man.

Scott’s active duty career began on the Cutter Woodbury. On an icy, subzero day in January 1891, the Woodbury was cruising east of its homeport of Portland, Maine, when they came across the wreck of a three-masted schooner that had grounded on a rocky island. Heavy seas broke clear over the schooner, forcing the crew took refuge on a high ledge.

Woodbury’s commanding officer commandeered a fishing dory in a local village to attempt the rescue in the island’s roiling surf. After retrieving the fishing boat from the village, the captain called for volunteers and Scott immediately stepped forward. As Scott’s dory deployed into the stormy sea, a U.S. Life-Saving Service surfboat appeared from down the coast and the race was on to see who would save the shipwrecked men.

Cutter Woodbury

Cutter Woodbury

Despite the greater experience and boat handling skills of the Life-Saving Service crew, Scott’s dory reached the stranded sailors first. After some unsuccessful attempts to heave a line to the freezing men, Scott secured the rope around his waist and jumped into the bone-chilling water. He swam toward the rocks, yelling at the boat’s officer to pay out the line. Scott reached the surf zone where seas dashed him against the rocks. He was dazed by his wave-tossed landing, but the sailors grabbed him and hauled him onto the slippery ledge.

Scott’s daring feat allowed the men to secure the rescue line to the rocks. By the time they climbed down the line and into the dory, the stranded men had been exposed to wind, water and freezing cold for 14 hours. If they remained on the rocks any longer, they likely would have perished. This selfless act demonstrated yet again Scott’s bravery and heroism.

A few years later, Scott found himself assigned to the cutter Hudson. Commanded by Civil War veteran, Lt. Frank Newcomb, Hudson was homeported in New York. Intended for harbor patrol duties, Hudson was essentially a large tugboat and had a draft of only nine feet. On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war with Spain, initiating the Spanish-American War. Due to her relatively shallow draft, the U.S. Navy command assigned Hudson to enforce the blockade off the coast of Cuba. By May 9, the Hudson took up her duty station between the ports of Cardenas and Matanzas.

Cutter Hudson

Cutter Hudson

On May 11, the gunboat USS Wilmington and torpedo boat USS Winslow joined the Hudson in attacking Spanish gunboats moored in Cardenas Bay. Between 12 and 1 p.m., the three ships steamed into the bay and began searching for the gunboats. During the patrol, Winslow located the enemy vessels moored at the port of Cardenas.

The ship steamed toward the waterfront in reverse to make full use of her stern-mounted torpedo tube. When Winslow reached a distance of 1,500 yards from the wharves, she found herself perilously close to white range buoys set by the enemy to aim their artillery. The Spanish forces opened up on Winslow with one-pound guns blazing from the gunboats and artillery salvoes from cannon located within Cardenas’s waterfront.

Curious what happens next? Stick around for the next installment of ‘The Long Blue Line’, set to publish right here on Coast Guard Compass Thursday, June 9, 2016.


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