XXII: Military Affairs

The Battle of Lake Erie

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie. 
Courtesy U.S. Senate Collection.
      The Battle of Lake Erie ended in a crushing victory for the Americans over the British naval forces in the War of 1812. The control of Lake Erie and neighboring Lake Ontario assumed paramount importance in the war, as the British outposts in Upper Canada depended on the two waterways for logistical support. The engagement itself took place on September 10, 1813 near South Bass Island and close to Put-in-Bay at the western end of the lake. The American commander,Oliver Hazard Perry, outnumbered his opponent nine ships to six, and his force was more heavily armed and better manned as well. Yet, Perry nearly squandered his advantages by forging ahead in his flagship, the 20-gun brig Lawrence, prematurely engaging the British line before the rest of his squadron was in a supporting position.   At the height of the battle, though, he clambered into a small cutter and had himself rowed over to Lawrence’s sister ship, the Niagara. Taking personal command of the brig, he steered her into the thick of the fray. The addition of the Niagara’s undamaged gun batteries turned the tide and led to the surrender of the entire British squadron.
            The Battle of Lake Erie stands out as one of the few decisive encounters in a war otherwise known for its inconclusiveness.   Perry’s triumph restored the Michigan Territory to American hands and secured Ohio’s exposed frontier from attack for the rest of the war. The battle also contributed to the collapse of Tecumseh’s confederacy in the Old Northwest, a process that was largely completed by the rout of an Anglo-Indian army at the River Thames in October 1813. 
Jeff Seiken
The Ohio State University
David Curtis Skaggs and Gerard T. Altoff, A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-13 (1997); William Jeffrey Welsh and David Curtis Skaggs, eds., War on the Great Lakes: Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie (1991).