Battle of Lake Erie

Battle of Lake Erie

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Lake Erie

caption="Battle of Lake Erie" by William H. Powell, painted 1865, shows Oliver Hazard Perry transferring from US Brig "Lawrence" to US Brig "Niagara"
partof=the War of 1812
date=September 10, 1813
place=Lake Erie, near Put-in-Bay, Ohio
result=Decisive American Victory
combatant1=flag|Great Britain
combatant2=flag|United States|1795
commander1=flagicon|Great Britain Robert Heriot Barclay
commander2=flagicon|United States|1795 Oliver Hazard Perry
flagicon|United States|1795 Jesse Elliot
strength1=2 ships
2 brigs
1 schooner
1 sloop
strength2=5 schooners
3 brigs
1 sloop
casualties1=41 killed
93 wounded
306 captured
Entire squadron captured
casualties2=27 killed
96 wounded
One brig heavily damaged

The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on September 10, 1813 in Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio during the War of 1812. Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of Great Britain’s Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the remainder of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit and win the Battle of the Thames to break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh.



When the war broke out, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie. They had a small force of warships there; the sloop of war "Queen Charlotte" and the brig "General Hunter". The brig "Lady Prevost" was under construction and was put into service a few weeks after the outbreak of war. These vessels were controlled by the Provincial Marine, which was a military transport service rather than a naval service, but the Americans lacked any counter to the British armed vessels. Their only warship on Lake Erie, the brig "Adams", was pinned down in Detroit by British batteries in Sandwich on the opposite side of the Detroit River. Major-General Isaac Brock used this superiority to defeat an American army at the Siege of Detroit.

The British took over the "Adams" when Detroit was surrendered, renaming her HMS "Detroit". Together with the brig "Caledonia" which had been commandeered from the Canadian North West Company, she was boarded and captured near Fort Erie on October 9, by American sailors and United States Marines under the command of Lieutenant Jesse Elliot. "Detroit" went aground on an island in the middle of the Niagara River and was set on fire to prevent it being recaptured. "Caledonia" was taken to the navy yard at Black Rock and commissioned into the United States Navy. [Elliott to Hamiliton, Oct. 9th, 1812 in Dudley, William S. ed. "The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History" vol. 1: 327–331.] Also present at Black Rock were the schooners "Somers", "Tigress" and "Ohio" and the sloop-rigged "Trippe", which had all been purchased by the United States Navy and were being converted into gunboats.Roosevelt, p.141] While the British held Fort Erie and the nearby batteries which dominated the Niagara River, all these vessels were pinned down and unable to leave Black Rock.

Late in 1812, the Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton had received long-time American lake mariner Danial Dobbins, who had escaped capture at Detroit and brought information on the British forces on Lake Erie. Dobbins recommended Presque Isle, the present day city of Erie, Pennsylvania as a naval base on the lake. (“"Presqu’isle"” is French for “peninsula,” literally “almost an island”). Dobbins was despatched to build four gunboats there, although Lieutenant Elliot objected to the lack of facilities. [Elting, p.90] Commodore Isaac Chauncey had been appointed to command of the United States naval forces on the Great Lakes. He made one brief visit to Presque Isle and recommended collecting materials for a larger vessel, but then proceeded to Lake Ontario where he thereafter concentrated his energies.


In January 1813, William Jones (the newly-appointed Secretary of the Navy) had ordered the construction of two brig-rigged corvettes at Presque Isle, and transferred shipwright Noah Brown there to take charge of construction. Other than their rig, the two brigs were close copies of the contemporary USS "Hornet". Although the armament for the ships came from foundries on Chesapeake Bay, and were moved to Presque Isle only with great difficulty, the Americans could obtain other materials and fittings from Pittsburgh, which was expanding as a manufacturing center. (The Americans were fortunate in that some of their largest cannon had been despatched shortly before raiding parties under Rear-Admiral George Cockburn destroyed a foundry at Frenchtown on the eastern seaboard. [Forester, p.136] )

Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had earlier been appointed to command on Lake Erie, through lobbying by the Senior Senator from Rhode Island. [Forester, p.143] . He arrived at Presque Isle to take command at the end of March. Having arranged for the defence of Presque Isle, he proceeded to Lake Ontario to obtain reinforcements of seamen from Commodore Isaac Chauncey. After commanding the American schooners and gunboats at the Battle of Fort George, he then went to Black Rock where the American vessels had been released when the British abandoned Fort Erie at the end of May. Perry had them towed by draught oxen up the Niagara, an operation which took six days, and sailed with them along the shore to Presqu'Isle.

Meanwhile, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay was appointed to command the British squadron on Lake Erie. Another British officer had already endangered his career by refusing the appointment as success appeared unlikely. [Forester, p.137] Barclay missed a rendezvous with the "Queen Charlotte" at Point Abino and was forced to make the tedious journey to Amherstburg overland, arriving on June 10. He brought with him only a handful of officers and seamen. When he took command of his squadron, the crews of his vessels numbered only seven British seamen, 108 officers and men of the Provincial Marine (whose quality Barclay disparaged), 54 men of the the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and 106 soldiers, effectively landsmen, from the 41st Foot. [Hitsman, p.166] Nevertheless he immediately set out in the "Queen Charlotte" and the "Lady Prevost". He first reconnoitred Perry’s base at Presque Isle and determined that it was defended by 2,000 Pennsylvania militia, with batteries and redoubts. He then cruised the eastern end of Lake Erie, hoping to intercept the American vessels from Black Rock. The weather was hazy, and he missed them. [Ernest A. Cruikshank, "The Contest for Command of Lake Erie in 1812-13", in Zaslow, p.93]

During July and August Barclay received two small vessels which had been constructed at Chatham [Ernest A. Cruikshank, "The Contest for Command of Lake Erie, 1812-13", in Zaslow, p.90] and attempted to complete the ship-rigged corvette HMS "Detroit" at Amherstburg. Because the Americans controlled Lake Ontario and occupied the Niagara Peninsula in early 1813, supplies for Barclay had to be carried overland from York. The American victory earlier in the year at the Battle of York resulted in guns (24-pounder carronades) intended for the "Detroit" falling into American hands. [C.P.Stacey, "Another look at the Battle of Lake Erie, in Zaslow, p.108] The "Detroit" had to be completed with a miscellany of guns from the fortifications of Amherstburg. It was alleged that these guns lacked flintlock firing mechanisms and matches, and that they could be fired only by snapping pistols over powder piled in the vent holes. (Nevertheless, they were very effectively served during the battle).

Barclay repeatedly requested men and supplies from Commodore James Lucas Yeo, commanding on Lake Ontario, but received very little. The commander of the British Army on the Detroit frontier, Major-General Henry Procter, was similarly starved of soldiers and munitions by his superiors. He declined to make an attack on Presque Isle unless he was reinforced, and instead he incurred heavy losses in an unsuccessful attack on Fort Stephenson, which he mounted at the urgings of some of his Indian warriors. [Hitsman, pp.167-168]

Blockades of Presque Isle and Amherstburg

By mid-July, the American squadron was almost complete, although not yet fully manned (Perry claimed to have only 120 men fit for duty). The British squadron maintained a blockade of Presque Isle for ten days from July 20 to July 29. The harbour had a sandbar across its mouth, with only convert|5|ft|m of water over it, which prevented Barclay sailing in to attack the American ships (although Barclay briefly skirmished with the defending batteries on July 21), but also prevented the Americans leaving in fighting order. Barclay had to lift the blockade on July 29 because of shortage of supplies and bad weather. [It has also been suggested that Barclay left to attend a banquet in his honour, or that he wished the Americans to cross the bar and hoped to find them in disarray when he returned. Elting, p.90] Perry immediately began to move his vessels across the sandbar. This was an exhausting task. The guns had to be removed from all the boats, and the largest of them had to be raised between “camels” (barges or lighters which were then emptied of ballast). When Barclay returned four days later, he found that Perry had nearly completed the task. Perry’s two largest brigs were not ready for action, but the gunboats and smaller brigs formed a line so confidently that Barclay withdrew to await the completion of the "Detroit".

Perry had received 130 extra sailors under Lieutenant Elliot, who had been despatched by Chauncey. [Forester, p.140] Although Perry described some of them as "wretched", at least 50 of them were experienced sailors drafted from the USS "Constitution", then undergoing a refit in Boston. [ [, "Ironsides on the Lake"] .] Perry also had a few volunteers from the Pennsylvania militia.

His vessels first proceeded to Sandusky, where they received further contingents of volunteers from Major General William Henry Harrison's army. [Elting, p.96] After twice appearing off Amherstburg, Perry established an anchorage at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. For the next five weeks, Barclay was effectively blockaded and unable to move supplies to Amherstburg. His sailors, Procter’s troops, and the very large numbers of Indian warriors and their families there quickly ran out of supplies. After receiving a last-minute reinforcement of two naval officers, three warrant officers and thirty-six sailors transferred from a transport temporarily laid up in Quebec [Hitsman, p.170] under Lieutenant George Bignall, Barclay had no choice but to put out again and seek battle with Perry.


On the morning of September 10, the Americans saw Barclay's vessels heading for them, and got under way from their anchorage at Put-in-Bay. The wind was light. Barclay initially held the weather gauge, but the wind shifted and allowed Perry to close and attack. Perry hoped to get his two big brigs, his flagship US Brig "Lawrence" and US Brig "Niagara" into carronade range quickly, but in the light wind his vessels were making very little speed and the "Lawrence" was battered by the assortment of long guns mounted in the "Detroit" for at least 20 minutes before being able to reply effectively. When "Lawrence" was finally within carronade range, her fire was not as effective as Perry hoped, her gunners apparently having overloaded the carronades with shot.Roosevelt, p. 147.]

Astern of the "Lawrence", the "Niagara", under Elliot, was slow to come into action and remained far out of effective carronade range. It is possible that Elliott was under orders to engage his opposite number, the "Queen Charlotte", and that the "Niagara" was obstructed by the "Caledonia" but Elliot's actions would become a matter of dispute between him and Perry for many years. Aboard the "Queen Charlotte", the British ship opposed to the "Niagara", the commander (Robert Finnis) and First Lieutenant were both killed, but the next most senior officer, Lieutenant Irvine of the Provincial Marine, finding both the "Niagara" and the American gunboats far out of range, passed the "General Hunter" to engage "Lawrence" at close range.

Although the American gunboats at the rear of the American line of battle steadily pounded the British ships with raking shots from their long guns from a distance, "Lawrence" was eventually reduced to a wreck. Four-fifths of the brig's crew were killed or wounded. Both of the fleet’s surgeons were sick with lake fever, [ [ Archaic Medical Terms English List L] .] so the wounded were taken care of by the assistant, Usher Parsons. When the last gun on the "Lawrence" became unusable, Perry decided to transfer his flag. He was rowed a half mile (1 km) through heavy gunfire to the "Niagara" while the "Lawrence" was surrendered. (It was later alleged that he left the "Lawrence" after the surrender; but Perry had actually taken down only his personal pennant, in blue bearing the motto, "Don't give up the ship", the last reported words of Captain James Lawrence of the frigate USS Cheasapeake.)

When the Lawrence surrendered, firing died away briefly. [Forester, p.146] The "Detroit" collided with "Queen Charlotte", both ships being almost unmanageable with damaged rigging and almost every officer killed or severely wounded. Most of the smaller British vessels were also disabled and drifting to leeward. [Ernest A. Cruikshank, "The Contest for Command of Lake Erie, 1812-13", in Zaslow, p.100] The British nevertheless expected the "Niagara" to lead the American schooners away in retreat. [Forester, p.147] Instead, once aboard "Niagara", Perry dispatched Elliot to bring the gunboats into closer action, while he steered "Niagara" at Barclay’s damaged ships, helped by the strengthening wind.

"Niagara"’s broadsides severely wounded Barclay. Although the crews of "Detroit" and "Queen Charlotte" managed to untangle the two ships [Earnest A. Cruickshank, "The contest for the command of Lake Erie in 1812–1813", p.102] they were surrounded by the "Niagara" and the American schooners and could no longer offer any effective resistance, and both ships surrendered. The smaller British vessels tried to flee but were overtaken and also surrendered.

Although Perry won the battle on the "Niagara", he received the British surrender on the deck of the recaptured "Lawrence" to allow the British to see the terrible price his men had paid.


Each side suffered over 100 casualties. The vessels were anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to General William Henry Harrison, commander of the Army of the Northwest. Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote:


ee also

*List of conflicts in the United States


*“The Dobbins Papers.” Severance, Frank H. ed. Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society v. 3 (Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Historical Society, 1905)
*cite book
first=John R.
title=Amateurs to Arms: A military history of the War of 1812
publisher=Da Capo
location=New York

*cite book
last = Emerson
first = George D. (Compiled by)
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Perry's Victory Centenary — Report of The Perry's Victory Centennial Commission, State of New York
publisher = J. B. Lyon Company
date = 1912
location = Albany
url =
doi =
id =

*Mahan, Alfred T.. "Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812". 1905.
*cite book
last = Miller
first = Arthur P. Jr.
authorlink =
coauthors = Miller, Marjorie L.
title = Pennsylvania Battlefields and Military Landmarks
publisher = Stackpole Books
date = 2000
location = Mechanicsburg, PA
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-8117-2876-5

* Roosevelt, Theodore. "The Naval War of 1812". The Modern Library, New York. ISBN 0-375-75419-9
*cite book
last = Skaggs
first = David
authorlink =
coauthors = Atloff, Gerard
title = A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812–13
publisher = Naval Institute Press
date = 1997
location =
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 1-5575-0892-5

*cite book
last = Symonds
first = Craig
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Decision at Sea
publisher = Oxford University Press
date = 2005
location =
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-1951-7145-4

* Zaslow, Morris (ed). "The Defended Border". Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0-7705-1242-9

External links

* [ Perry's account of the Battle of Lake Erie]
* [ "Log of the Battle of Lake Erie"] by Sailing Master William Taylor
* [ US Brig "Niagara"]
* [ Barclay's court martial records and correspondence]

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