Lake Erie, Battle of
LAKE ERIE, BATTLE OF
The Battle of Lake Erie, which took place on 10 September 1813, was a critical naval engagement in the War of 1812. It allowed the American reconquest of much of the Michigan Territory lost earlier in the war, relieved Ohio and Indiana Territory from Native American raids, contributed to the destruction of the Tecumseh Indian confederacy, elevated the martial reputation of the U.S. Navy, and made Oliver Hazard Perry a national hero.
Combined with the U.S. Army victory at the Battle of the Thames or Moraviantown on 5 October 1813, it insured the retention of the modern states of Michigan and Wisconsin within the American national boundary.
After the surrender of Detroit on 16 August 1812, President James Madison began a major effort to reclaim lost territory. Many recognized that the key to such an endeavor was the attainment of naval superiority on Lake Erie, a crucial line of communications. After a winter ground offensive against Detroit failed, Major General William Henry Harrison began construction of Fort Meigs at the Maumee River rapids (now Perrysburg, Ohio) and awaited naval superiority on the lake before moving northward.
The Navy Department appointed Captain Isaac Chauncey commodore of the Great Lakes, and he secured Master Commandant (modern commander) Oliver Hazard Perry for the almost nonexistent Lake Erie squadron. Ably assisted by shipwright Noah Brown, Perry supervised the construction of two brigs—Lawrence and Niagara—and four schooners at Erie, Pennsylvania. After some delay in securing sailors, Perry led his squadron onto the lake on 12 August 1813 and, after conferring with General Harrison, established his base at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island.
Suffering from a decided logistical disadvantage at their naval base at Amherstburg, Ontario, near the Detroit River's mouth, in 1813 the British constructed only the ship Detroit. The ship augmented a small squadron that had previously given the Royal Navy dominance on the lake. Commander Robert H. Barclay led a British squadron carrying 64 guns throwing 905 pounds total weight of metal and 496 pounds in broadside. The U.S. flotilla mounted 54 guns with a total weight of metal of 1,536 pounds and broadside of 936. Barclay brought six vessels into his line of battle, Perry nine.
Once a wind shift allowed Perry to close with the HMS Detroit, the battle's outcome seemed obvious. But Jesse Duncan Elliott, captaining the Niagara, failed to engage his designated foe, and the British concentrated their fire on Perry's flagship, the Lawrence. For over two hours the ship fought gallantly until completely disabled. About this time Elliott brought the Niagara forward, and Perry transferred his flag to that undamaged vessel. He sent Elliott to bring up the trailing gunboats while he commanded the Niagara, which broke the British line and forced the entire Royal Navy squadron to surrender.
Perry's report to General Harrison—"We have met the enemy and they are ours"—was an immediate sensation and his battle flag's inscription—"Don't Give Up the Ship"—became an unofficial navy motto. The controversy over Elliott's behavior remained a cause célèbre in the U.S. Navy until his death in 1845.
See alsoWar of 1812 .
Friedman, Lawrence J., and David Curtis Skaggs. "Jesse Duncan Elliott and the Battle of Lake Erie: The Issue of Mental Stability." Journal of the Early Republic 10 (1990): 493–516.
Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell. The Life of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1843.
Malcomson, Robert, and Thomas Malcomson. HMS Detroit: The Battle for Lake Erie. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1990.
Skaggs, David Curtis, and Gerard T. Altoff. A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812–1813. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1997.
Welsh, William Jeffrey, and David Curtis Skaggs, eds. War on the Great Lakes: Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 1991.
David Curtis Skaggs