SHAKO: Battle of Lake Erie, 1813

September 11, 2013 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

Perry Triumphant

The Battle of Lake Erie (via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell (via Wikipedia)

We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” With those immortal words, Oliver Hazard Perry summarized his smashing victory over a British-Canadian squadron at Put-In-Bay at the western end of Lake Erie.

On September 10, 1813, Perry — commanding nine U.S. ships — defeated and captured a squadron of six British ships. The painting above, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol, illustrates one of the most dramatic moments in the four-hour-long naval engagement.

Perry’s flag ship, the 20-gun brig, USS Lawrence, was virtually shot to splinters and most of her crew killed or wounded. Perry transferred his command to the Niagara — another 20-gun brig a half mile away — rowing there under heavy gunfire. He took with him his personal pennant, a large blue flag with the motto: “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” Those were the last words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend  who was killed when his frigate, the USS Chesapeake, was taken in battle by the HMS Shannon in June.

Perry took the Niagara on the offensive, firing on the two largest British ships, the 17-gun sloop Queen Charlotte and the 19-gun, Detroit. Most of the senior British officers were killed or wounded leaving less experienced men in command. The two British ships collided and became entangled in each other’s rigging. Perry sailed up and fired broadside after broadside. Even though they had fewer ships, the British squadron had more canons, 63 to the Americans’ 54. But most of the U.S. guns were heavy carronades which were more effective at close range. Shortly after 3 p.m. the four largest British ships surrendered. Two small gunboats tried to flee but they were captured.

Here is the full message that Perry sent to Army Gen. William Henry Harrison after the battle on the lake:

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

With this victory, the United States took control of Lake Erie and threatened Detroit, which the British and their Indian and Canadian were forced to evacuate later in September. The victory on the lake also set events in motion for the decisive Battle of the Thames in Canada a month later.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.


Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, SHAKO, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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