The Battle of Lake Erie

By late summer 1813, the War of 1812 was not going well for the young American nation. Detroit had fallen to the British, two separate invasions of Canada had failed, and Indians were ranging across frontier raiding settlements and massacring or enslaving their inhabitants. In order to regain Detroit, control of the Great Lakes had to be wrested from the British. 28 year old Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry spent the winter, spring, and summer building ten American ships and training their crews on Lake Erie. On 10 September, 1813, Commodore Perry sailed his fleet from Presque Isle Bay (now Erie, PA) to engage the six British ships nearby at Put-In-Bay (just east of present day Toledo, OH).

About noon, the British fired on the American line of battle with their lighter but much longer range cannon. Commodore Perry needed to close the distance quickly in order to get his much heavier, but much shorter range carronades into action. Unfortunately, his flagship, the USS Lawrence, was battered and out of action early in the battle so he had to transfer his flag, literally, to the USS Niagara. Perry hauled down his battle flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, the last words of his best friend Captain John Lawrence, and with his remaining crew rowed the 1/2 mile through cannon and musket shot to the Niagara.

Aboard his new flagship, the USS Niagara, the undaunted Perry sailed directly into the British line, bisecting it. At one point in the battle, the crew of the Niagara traded multiple broadsides with the HMS Queen Charlotte and the HMS Detroit to port, and HMS Lady Prevost to starboard, at the same time. In the confusion caused by Perry’s aggressiveness, the Detroit and Queen Charlotte collided, became entangled, and effectively ended the engagement.

That night, Perry wrote a short, succinct message to General (and future President) William Henry Harrison, then advancing on Detroit. It said,

“Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”12 SEP The Invasion of Italy.

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