Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don't Give Up The Ship! - Celebrating the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812

It's a big weekend of celebration here in Ohio.  It was 200 years ago on 10 Sep 1813 that the Battle of Lake Erie was fought and won by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.

The War of 1812 is sometimes glossed over in the annals of history.  I don't remember it being taught in school, for it seemed like we jumped from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War.  I may be wrong, but that's how it seemed.

Let's look at some history:
  • It was sometimes called America's Second War of Independence.
  • The key players were the British, the Americans, and the Native Americans.
  • Johnny Appleseed was living here in northcentral Ohio when the threat of the war was close.  He ran barefoot 26 miles to a neighboring town for help.
Britain was fighting Napoleon in Europe needed more soldiers.  This led to impressment of American sailors, i.e. they were "pressed" into service for the British Navy.  

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a young man from Rhode Island, was given command of 19 vessels, and learned that the British were patrolling the western waters of Lake Erie.  Our ships were much smaller than the British ships, but Perry went looking for them.  When he learned where they were, he sailed right into them.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

A battle ensued for two hours.  Perry had enlisted the aid of William Henry Harrison, who sent 100 Kentucky riflemen.  The Kentuckians remembered the massacre on the River Raisin where many of their own were killed.  They were all too happy to join Commodore Perry.  Nearly 20% of the men on Perry's ship, the USS Lawrence were made up of African Americans.

At the end of those two hours, nearly all of Perry's men were either wounded or killed, and though his ship went down, he refused to surrender.  He climbed into a rowboat and sailed toward the USS Niagara and continued the fight against the two largest ships belonging to the British.  Eventually, the British surrendered and Perry captured the remaining vessels.

We now controlled the Great Lakes!!!  Commodore sent the following message to his General William Henry Harrison:

"We have met the enemy, and they are ours.  Two Ships, two Brigs, one Schooner & one Sloop.  Yours, with great respect and esteem."   O.H. Perry

U.S. Schooner ARIEL, Put-in-Bay, September 13th, 1813.
In my last I informed you that we had captured the enemy's fleet on this lake. I have now the honor to give you the most important particulars of the action.
On the morning of the 10th instant, at sunrise, they were discovered from Put-in-Bay, where I lay at anchor with the squadron under my command. We got under way, the wind light at S.W., and stood for them. At ten a.m. the wind hauled to S.E. and brought us to windward; formed the line, and bore up. At fifteen minutes before twelve, the enemy commenced firing; at five minutes before twelve, the action commenced on our part. Finding their fire very destructive, owing to their long guns, and its being mostly directed at the LAWRENCE, I made sail, and directed the other vessels to follow, for the purpose of closing with the enemy. Every brace and bowline being soon shot away, she became unmanageable, notwithstanding the great exertions of the sailing master. In this situation, she sustained the action upwards of two hours, within canister distance, until every gun was rendered useless, and the greater part of her crew either killed or wounded. Finding she could no longer annoy the enemy, I left her in charge ofLieutenant Yarnall, who, I was convinced, from the bravery already displayed by him, would do what would comport with the honor of the flag. At half past two, the wind springing up, Captain Elliott was enabled to bring his vessel, the NIAGARA, gallantly into close action. I immediately went on board of her, when he anticipated my wishes, by volunteering to bring the schooners, which had been kept astern by the lightness of the wind, into closer action. It was with unspeakable pain that I saw, soon after I got on board the NIAGARA, the flag of the LAWRENCE come down; although was perfectly sensible that she had been defended to the last, and that, to have continued to make a show of resistance would have been a wanton sacrifice of the remains of her brave crew. But the enemy was not able to take possession of her, and circumstances soon permitted her flag again to be hoisted. At forty-five minutes past two the signal was made for "closer action." The NIAGARA being very little injured, I determined to pass through the enemy's line; bore up, and passed ahead of their two ships and a brig, saving a raking fire to them, from the starboard guns, and to a large schooner and sloop from the larboard side, at half pistol shot distance. The smaller vessels, at this time, having got within grape and canister distance, under the direction of Captain Elliott, and keeping up a well directed fire, the two ships, a brig, and schooner, surrendered, a schooner and sloop making a vain attempt to escape.
Those officers and men who were immediately under my observation, evinced the greatest gallantry; and I have no doubt that all others conducted themselves as became American officers and seamen.  (

Both sides met to bury the dead and recite from the Book of Common Prayer at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island.  Perry's Victory Monument stands proudly on this island, reminding us of the battle that took place nearby.

The Lake Erie waters are filled with celebrations commemorating this event.  A few of the web sites are included below, which will give one a lively sense of being there:

Yesterday, we were able to view one of the tall ships which was in port to take part in this weekend of celebration.  I expected the ship to be huge, but was amazed at how small it really was.

The Hindu

For those not familiar with Lake Erie, it is the most shallow of the five Great Lakes, and the storms that can happen in an instant can be devastating.  I am amazed at how this battle was won.

Today, the pensions associated with the soldiers and sailors from this war are being digitized at the National Archives.  It takes money, and all are welcome to contribute: