Navy Reserve history – “Citizen Sailors” through the years History

The Navy Reserve was officially formed in 1915 – just as the United States was emerging as a world power and just following the outbreak of World War I. But the concept of the American Citizen Sailor actually precedes America itself. Follow Navy Reserve history – from its militia-like roots to its official existence over the past nine decades.

Be Part of the Storied Tradition

Even before the Continental Congress established the Continental Navy, there were bands of residents in seaside towns such as Machias, ME, engaging in combat with British warships – inspired by the spirited battles of Minutemen.

By the end of World War II, there were millions of Americans actively engaged in that conflict as members of the Navy. And the vast majority of them – Reservists.

From the American Revolution to the ongoing engagements in the Middle East, American Citizen Sailors/Reservists have performed heroically in service to their nation – creating and maintaining a proud heritage and history built on the same core values that guide all of America’s Navy. Honor. Courage. Commitment.

Historical Highlights

Below are some of the key points in history leading up to the modern day Navy Reserve:

  • On June 12, 1775, the first Reservists in American history served their country at sea. Throughout the battle for American independence, the small size of the Continental Navy often necessitated the service of Citizen Sailors.
  • During the War of 1812, Citizen Sailors raided British commerce on the high seas and outfitted a fleet of barges called the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla in an effort to defend that vital body of water against British invasion.
  • During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln authorized an increase in the personnel levels of the Navy, which assumed an important role in the strategy to defeat the Confederacy with a blockade of the South and a campaign to secure control of the Mississippi River.
  • The Navy had grown from a force numbering 9,942 in 1860 to one manned by 58,296 Sailors by the end of the Civil War in 1865. A total of 101,207 men from 21 states enlisted during the Civil War. Reservists were an integral part of the daring mission to destroy the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle, which resulted in the awarding of the Medal of Honor to six civilian volunteers.
  • The first official use of a reserve source of Navy manpower took place in 1888 when Massachusetts organized a Navy battalion as part of the state militia.
  • By 1897, a total of 16 states had organized Navy units as part of their state militia.
  • Reservists assisted in the Spanish-American War by providing coastal defense and serving aboard ships, with 263 Officers and 3,832 Enlisted men of various state Navy militias answering the call to arms.
  • Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and his assistant, a young New Yorker named Franklin D. Roosevelt, launched a campaign in Congress to appropriate funding for an official federal force. Their efforts brought passage of legislation on March 3, 1915, creating the Navy Reserve Force.
  • On August 29, 1916, with the prospect of World War I looming, the Navy Reserve Force was formally organized, with the first official U.S. Navy Reservists hunting enemy U-boats from the cockpits of biplanes.
  • By the summer of 1941, two years after the start of World War II, virtually all members of the Navy Reserve were serving on Active Duty, their numbers destined to swell upon the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the ensuing four years, the Navy would grow from a force of 383,150 to 3,405,525 at its peak. Among these numbers, most were Reservists, including five future U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.
  • The five decades after WW II were marked by massive mobilizations of Reservists fueled by Cold War fears. From the Berlin Crisis to Vietnam to the defense buildup of the 1980s, situations led to both expansion of the Navy Reserve and a greater focus on interoperability between Active Duty and Reserve Duty forces.
  • In the 1990s, more than 21,000 Navy Reservists supported Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During this time, the distinct differences between full-time and part-time forces became less and less apparent.
  • Response to events such as the ethnic cleansing of the former Yugoslavia and the attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, illustrated the transformation of the Navy Reserve from a force in waiting for massive mobilization to an integral component in carrying out the mission of the U.S. Navy.
  • Today, with approximately 20 percent of the Navy Total Force made up of Navy Reservists, the role and contributions of the Navy Reserve and its men and women are as vital as ever, on all fronts – from conflict prevention to conflict support, from combat to peacekeeping, from disaster response to humanitarian relief.