Battle of Lake Erie Page 3.

Battle of Lake Erie 2
Battle of Lake Erie

NPS Photo

By 2:30 p.m. the flagship was a floating wreck; every gun on her engaged side was disabled and four of every five men fit for duty were either killed or wounded. Perry was facing the dismal prospect of surrender.

Then, as he gazed across to the Niagara, still out of range and relatively undamaged, the commodore made a fateful decision. Collecting four unwounded men Perry manned the flagship's first cutter and rowed through a hail of shot to the Niagara. Miraculously Perry and his boat crew reached the Niagara unscathed.

Following a brief conversation the flotilla commander dispatched Elliott in the same small boat to hurry along the lagging gunboats. Perry then prepared the Niagara for immediate action, put the helm up, and sailed toward the British line.

The British, though they had pounded the Lawrence into a crippled hulk, had suffered terribly. During the engagement Barclay was severely wounded, plus the captain and first lieutenant of every British vessel was incapacitated. The English fleet was now commanded by junior officers - brave men, but with little or no experience maneuvering ships in the chaos of combat. When they observed the Niagara bearing down on their line the British attempted to wear ship - to turn their vessels around to bring the unused starboard broadsides to bear. Orders were issued, but amidst the tumult of battle the battered Detroit and Queen Charlotte collided, becoming helplessly entangled.

Taking full advantage of the enemy blunder, Perry steered the Niagara through the jumbled British battle line. Unleashing both broadsides, the American commodore ravaged the vulnerable British ships. As the Niagara pressed through the British line Perry backed the maintop sail, holding the Niagara stationary while her belching carronades decimated the enemy decks. The wind had also picked up by this time, allowing the sluggish gunboats to rush forward and rake the enemy from astern.

 
Battle of Lake Erie 3
Battle of Lake Erie

NPS Photo

A few minutes after 3 p.m. the British bowed to the inevitable, the four largest vessels surrendering one by one. The gunboats Chippawa and Little Belt sheered off and tried to escape, but they were tracked down and snared by the Scorpion and Trippe. The entire British fleet had been captured.

The vessels anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to William Henry Harrison. Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote, "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".

The Battle of Lake Erie proved one of the most resounding triumphs of the War of 1812. The victory secured control of the lake, forcing the British to abandon Fort Malden and retreat up the Thames River. Harrison's army pursued, decisively defeating the small British army and its allied Indian force on October 5, 1813 at the Battle of the Thames. And later, during the peace talks, the dual victories of Lake Erie and the Thames insured that the states of Ohio and Michigan would remain the sovereign territory of the United States of America.
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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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