Sep 10

The Battle of Lake Erie, 10 September 1813

Friday, September 10, 2010 12:01 AM

The Battle of Lake Erie was a pivotal naval engagement between British and American forces during the War of 1812. At the beginning of the War of 1812, the United States sent Oliver Hazard Perry to command the American forces on Lake Erie.

When he arrived in Presque Isle (modern-day Erie, Pennsylvania), Perry commissioned several carpenters to build a fleet of ships. Within a year, he had nine ships. However, only two, the Lawrence and the Niagara, were fit for battle. Perry had also assembled a force of about five hundred men to serve under him, and after several months of drilling, they were a capable naval unit.

In September 1813, Perry set sail for Put-In Bay to meet the British fleet, which was under the command of Robert Heriot Barclay. Like the Americans, the English had begun constructing a fleet at the war’s beginning to secure control of Lake Erie. The British were anticipating an easy victory over Perry’s force. On September 10, 1813, the Battle of Lake Erie too!

The Americans had nine ships, while the British had six. Early in the battle, the British were taking a heavy toll on the American ships, principally because the British cannons were much more accurate at long distances. When the British destroyed the Lawrence, Perry took the ship’s flag and transferred to the Niagara. After Perry moved to the Niagara, the battle began to turn for the Americans.

 Before Perry’s arrival on the Niagara, this ship had hardly engaged the British fleet. Now, the Niagara and Perry inflicted heavy cannon fire on the British ships. The commander of every British ship was killed or wounded, leaving the British ships under the command of junior officers with limited experience. Perry took advantage of this situation. The Niagara rammed the British lead ship while the sailors fired rifles at the British seamen.

By nightfall, the British had lowered their flag and surrendered to Perry, who was only twenty-seven years old. Perry sent a dispatch to General William Henry Harrison, recounting the details of the battle. In the dispatch, he wrote, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The American victory at the Battle of Lake Erie cut off the British supply lines and forced them to abandon Detroit. It also paved the way for General Harrison’s attack on the British and Indian forces at the Battle of the Thames.

 
 
 
  • Jim Valle

    The question of why the Niagara hung back from the battle was the subject of a Court of Inquiry held five years after the event. Her commander, Master Commandant Jesse Duncan Elliott, faced several charges and specifications enumerated by Perry. Officers from the Niagara gave testimony directly contradicting testimony from officers who had served on the Lawrence. President Monroe refused to order a court martial and quashed the issue. No extended feud developed because of Perry’s untimely death but Elliott had several additional scrapes with the naval justice system which seemed to indicate grave defects of character.