On June 18, 1812 President James Madison declared war on 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.
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 being fired in August 16, 1812.
Into this ill-conceived, ill-conducted morass a brave 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 counter part, seasoned British Commander, Robert Barclay.
At 7 a.m. on September 10, 1813, Perry’s squadron sailed out of Put-in-Bay. Perry in command of the Lawrence hoisted his battle flag to the flagships main truck just before the engagement west of Rattlesnake Island. The large blue banner was emblazoned with the crudely inscribed words, ‘DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP”, the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend of commodore Perry who was killed on June 1, 1813. Perry’s flagship was named for the fallen Lawrence. A fierce sea battle was engaged, during which the Lawrence was reduced to a smashed and broken hulk.
Perry gathered his battle flag and left the Lawrence in one of the ships cutters, and rowed to the Niagara where he ordered the captain to go to battle.
The battle inflicted a terrible toll on both sides. The cannon fire, grapeshot, rifle fire, and the splintered ships timbers that impaled her seamen, produced carnage resulting in the death or wounding of every commander of every British ship. The decks of the ships on both sides were slippery with the blood of their men.
By nightfall the British surrendered to the young commodore. 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 offered up their swords, which was the military custom. Their American counter-parts declined the arms in recognition of the gallant and brave effort of their enemies.
The monument on Put-in-Bay memorializes the battle, and under the monuments floor are interred the remains of three British and three American officers. Truly, a fitting tribute to the brave men of the “BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.”
The signing of the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815 officially ended the war.