Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Near the end of the midwatch on 9 January 1811, the young commanding officer weighed anchor and with the aid of a northeastern breeze, set sail for New London. The morning watch had barely begun when a heavy fog blanketed Narragansett Bay, but the lieutenant was confident that his pilot had things under control, so he retired to his cabin to rest.

All was quiet for the next several hours, but at about 0900, the lieutenant heard the leadsman call out “ten fathoms.” By the time he arrived on deck, the leadsman had called out “five fathoms,” and the lieutenant knew his ship was in serious danger. A flurry of orders and actions followed, but it was too late. With a sickening crunch, the Revenge ran aground.

This was not the first vessel to run aground on Watch Hill Reef, nor would it be the last, but that was of little consolation to this promising young lieutenant whose bright future had suddenly dimmed. Demonstrating remarkable composure and presence of mind, he jettisoned his guns, tried to kedge his way off, cut down the mainmast and foremast, and sent word ashore of his plight in hopes of getting towed off. But worsening weather compounded the situation, and the Revenge remained steadfastly attached to the reef as mounting swells eventually filled her with water. Finally, facing the inevitable, the lieutenant removed what equipment he could and ordered the crew to abandon ship.

The inevitable court of enquiry ensued, and although Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton concluded that “my confidence in him has not been in any degree diminished” and assigned blame to the pilot, the lieutenant took full responsibility for the disaster.

Although he was excluded from a coveted major seagoing command at the onset of the War of 1812, his obvious potential was not completely ignored and the lieutenant was eventually promoted to master commandant and given command of the American squadron at Lake Erie. As fate (and the wisdom of those who continued to see great potential in this young officer, despite the serious blemish on his career) would have it, he won a now-famous victory there that was of great strategic significance and made Oliver Hazard Perry one of the U.S. Navy’s greatest heroes.


Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets .

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


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Mon, 2016-06-13

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