History: The War Of 1812
On June 18, 1812, President James Madison declared war with Great Britain, and the United States took on the greatest naval power the world had known. The cause of the war was the restriction of trade by the British, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen, and America’s desire to expand its territory and influence.
Initially, results of military actions were at best mixed for the American forces. They faced fierce opposition by combined British, Canadian, and Native American forces, and were subjected to the humiliating defeat of William Hull by Sir Isaac Brock and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh without a shot fired on August 16, 1812. Into this ill-conceived, ill-conducted morass a brave young naval officer would arrive in Lake Erie, who at 27 years of age was already a 14-year naval veteran. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, ambitious and patriotic, was dispatched to command a modest fleet of ships, and assigned the task of breaking the British stranglehold in the Northwest. His counterpart, the seasoned British Commander, Robert Barclay.
At 7:00 a.m. on September 10, 1813, Perry’s squadron sailed from Put-In-Bay. Perry, in command of the Lawrence hoisted his battle flag to the flagships main truck just before the engagement with the British, west of Rattlesnake Island. The blue banner was emblazoned with the crudely inscribed words, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, an admired friend of
Perry who was killed on June 1, 1813 during an engagement with British naval forces. Perry’s flag ship bore the name of his fallen hero. During the fierce battle that ensued between the American and British ships, the Lawrence was reduced to a smashed, burning, broken hulk.
Perry, amid the fierce fire fight, gathered his battle flag, and left the Lawrence’s smoldering ruins in one of the ships cutters, and rowed to the Niagara where he ordered its Captain to join the battle. A terrible toll was inflicted on both sides of the battle. The cannon, grapeshot, and rifle fire together with the splintered ships timbers that impaled her seamen, produced carnage resulting in the death or severe wounding of every commander of every British ship. The decks on both sides were slippery with the blood of their seamen.
By nightfall the British surrendered to the young Captain, and Perry sent a dispatch to General William Henry Harrison recounting the details of the battle. He ended the dispatch with the words, “We Have Met the Enemy, And They Are Ours.”
Upon their surrender, the British officers offered up their swords, which was the military custom of the time. Their American counterparts declined the swords in recognition of the gallant and brave efforts of their enemies.
The monument on Put-In-Bay memorializes the battle, and under its floor are interred the remains of three British and three American officers killed during the battle. Truly, a fitting tribute to the brave men of the “BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE”