Edward L. Mooney
Naval History and Heritage Command
Oliver Hazard Perry commanded the victorious American fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie.
Billowing smoke enveloped the battling ships, obscuring the results from the spectators standing on shore only a few miles away. Samuel Brown, one witness, later remarked, “The spectacle was truly grand and awful. The firing was incessant for the space of three hours ...” On September 10, 1813, the American navy under command of Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British at the Battle of Lake Erie. This victory was an important part of the War of 1812 because it allowed America to gain control of Lake Erie, preventing the British from penetrating the middle of the United States. Before this triumph, American troops had suffered multiple defeats at the hands of the British and, as a result, their morale was diminishing.
When the War of 1812 was declared in June, the U.S. was poorly prepared for military or naval campaigns. The hostility of the British and some Native American tribes required the U.S. to send military forces into the Michigan Territory. American General William Hull, an inept leader, took over this expedition. He surrendered Detroit to British General Isaac Brock along with the entirety of the Michigan Territory. The concession of these territories opened up the whole northwestern frontier of Ohio, as well as northwestern Pennsylvania, to incursion by the British and their Native American allies.
The surrender of Detroit on August 16, 1812 was a harsh blow to the Americans. President James Madison realized the significance of reclaiming the lost territory and recognized that it was necessary to control Lake Erie as a crucial line of communication and trade. The British fleet’s occupation of Lake Erie threatened supply lines and a decrease in adequate roads for the transportation of American troops. The lake was also an important strategic defense because of possible British invasion from the North. The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River offered avenues of assault if the British controlled them, making Lake Erie a vital link in America’s plans to win the war.
Naval History and Heritage Command
The Lawrence suffered great damage in the battle. Here, she is seen after being raised in 1875.
Once President Madison recognized the value of Lake Erie, he ordered the construction of a fleet. The U.S. Navy Secretary appointed Captain Isaac Chauncey as Commodore of the Great Lakes. Master Commandant Perry was chosen to command the Lake Erie fleet. When the Americans arrived at Erie, there was no American fleet at all while the British already had eight vessels. Daniel Dobbins, Perry’s shipwright, chose Presque Isle (modern day Erie) as the construction site because of the restricted entrance to the harbor which would keep the squadron safe from attack. The naval construction was a complex process to begin in 1813. At this time, Erie was a small village with no industrial capabilities and Perry had to acquire materials from elsewhere. Yet, by August, Perry had nine ships, the brigs Lawrence and Niagara being the largest.
Early in the morning of September 10, 1813, Perry got word that the British were advancing to attack the American fleet. The British commander, Robert H. Barclay, led a squadron of six vessels towards Perry’s squadron of nine. The battle lasted from 11:45 A.M. until 3:00 P.M. At 11:45am the Detroit, the British flagship, started firing on the Lawrence. The Lawrence suffered considerably as she bore down on the enemy. It took 20 minutes for Lawrence to get in range to return fire. Lieutenant Jesse Elliott, captaining the Niagara, failed to engage the British. Tristam Burges, author of The Battle of Lake Erie, wrote that the Niagara was supposed to engage the Queen Charlotte at close-range, but instead Elliott ordered his lieutenant to cease firing with the carronades and fire with the long twelves only. Since the Queen Charlotte could not reach the Niagara with her carronades, she went to the aid of the Detroit and helped to destroy the Lawrence.
Without the Niagara fighting alongside it, the Lawrence was engaged in battle too far away for other vessels to come support it. During this time the enemy’s fire was directed almost exclusively at the Lawrence and for more than 2 hours the Lawrence took heavy damage until it was completely disabled. The other ships that could were engaging from long range, but they could not divert any of the fire from the Lawrence. President Theodore Roosevelt, in his book Naval War of 1812, commented that “the Niagara, the most efficient and best-manned of the American vessels, was almost kept out of the action by her captain’s misconduct.”
Percy Moran / Library of Congress
Commodore Perry transfers his flag to the Niagara in Percy Moran's painting.
The fight went on at long range between the other ships. Three British ships, Lady Provost, Queen Charlotte, and Detroit, were almost destroyed. British Commander Barclay was so severely injured that he had to quit the deck and leave his ship in command of Lieutenant George Inglis. On board the Lawrence, over eighty percent of the crew were already killed or wounded. The first lieutenant of the Lawrence, Yarnall, was wounded three times but faithfully remained on deck.
Perry had to quit the Lawrence because of the extreme condition of the ship. Once Lieut. Elliott finally brought the Niagara forward, Perry transferred his flag and boarded the Niagara. Perry sent Elliott to bring up the gunboats trailing behind. There was little resistance as Oliver Perry took the Niagara and broke the crumbling British line and forced the Royal Navy to surrender. As the Niagara approached, the British ships attempted to prepare themselves but amidst the chaos two of the ships collided. Perry took advantage of the disorder of the British and fired upon them. The American gunships had caught up by this time also and were able to provide support for the Niagara and help decimate the remainder of the British fleet.
A little after 3:00 pm, a white flag was raised on the Hunter. Some boats tried to escape but were captured by command of Lieutenant Thomas Holdup. Master Commandant Perry transferred back to the Lawrence, determined to receive the British surrender on the original flagship. After the surrender of the British fleet, Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the American fleet, dispatched one of the most famous messages in military history to Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison. It read: “Dear Gen’l: 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.” On the Lawrence, 22 men were killed and 61 were wounded, while the Niagara only suffered three wounded men and two killed because of its absence from the majority of the bloodshed.
J.J. Barralet/Benjamin Tanner, 1814
Library of Congress
An 1814 engraving depicts Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie.
The English loss was more severe according to historian James Barnes. The English had 94 men wounded and 41 killed. Perry treated all the wounded equally, British and American. “Captain Perry has behaved in the most humane and attentive manner, not only to myself and officers, but to all the wounded,” wrote British Captain Barclay. His actions were admirable even after the action of battle was finished. Perry was promoted from Master Commandant to Captain after his victory. Perry and Elliott received gold medals from Congress. Silver medals were given to all of the commissioned officers.
The Americans’ decisive victory on Lake Erie crushed the British naval strength and elevated the martial reputation of the U.S. Navy. The Battle of Lake Erie also allowed America to retake much of the Michigan Territory lost earlier in the war, to relieve Ohio and Indiana Territory from Native American raids, and to participate in the destruction of the Tecumseh Indian confederacy. The victory made Oliver Hazard Perry a national hero and secured Lake Erie under American control. It gave the Americans a morale boost which was necessary following the previous string of defeats that the US had suffered. The Battle of Lake Erie was the first in a line of victories which secured America’s defense against the British. These triumphs inspired the American citizens with hope.
Before this victory, Americans were afraid of an invasion from the Northwest. The British had troops in Michigan, Ohio, and Canada, and were capable of launching an offensive at any moment. Theodore Roosevelt later wrote,
To the North we are still hemmed in by the Canadian possessions of Great Britain; but, since 1812, our strength has increased so prodigiously, both absolutely and relatively, while England’s military power has remained almost stationary, that we need now be under no apprehensions from her land-forces; for, even if we checked in the beginning, we could not help conquering in the end by sheer weight of numbers, if by nothing else.
The Battle of Lake Erie was an extremely important naval campaign because it boosted the morale of the American troops and gave them security from an invasion from the North. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The victory of Lake Erie was most important, both in its material results and in its moral effect. It gave us complete command of all the upper lakes, prevented any fears of invasion from that quarter, increased our prestige with the foe and our confidence in ourselves…” This victory affected the entire nation. It led to the eventual winning of the war in 1815 and triggered the events that caused America to finally free itself of Britain’s rule. “From the Revolution onward a basic aim of American statesmen had been to achieve freedom of action so that the United States could choose war or peace as its interests might dictate. With the settlement of 1815 this aim became a reality to a degree that the early statesmen had hardly dared to hope,” writes Harry L. Coles in his book, War of 1812. The victory of the War of 1812 granted the U.S. its freedom from Britain allowing it to flourish as an independent country. Without the victory on Lake Erie, this independence might have never happened and without Perry’s courage and kindness this victory might not have been secured.
Detroit Publishing Co./Library of Congress
In the wake of victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry was honored throughout the country, including this monument at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, the site closest to the naval battle.
“One hundred and seventy-five years after the event, we still look back upon the Battle of Lake Erie, which as naval battles go was a relatively insignificant affair, as a demonstration of human courage and ingenuity,” wrote W.A.B. Douglas in his essay, The Honor of the Flag Had Not Suffered: Robert Heriot Barclay and the Battle of Lake Erie. Even though the Battle of Lake Erie contributed greatly to the turning point of the War of 1812, the naval battle itself was relatively routine. The most outstanding parts of the battle were the courageous actions taken by the commanding officers. Perry fought on the Lawrence with the rest of his crew for over two hours in horrible conditions. Perry commented that, “In this situation she (Lawrence) sustained the action upwards of two hours, within canister shot distance, until every gun was rendered useless, and a greater part of the crew either killed or wounded.” Perry demonstrated himself admirably throughout the battle, setting of the final shot himself.
His courage and kindness over this encounter has been the cause of his resounding fame. The citizens of south central Pennsylvania named a county in his honor; memorials were erected in Trinidad, Rhode Island, New York, and Erie to honor the brave Americans who took part in the Battle of Lake Erie; their courageous actions resulted in the end of hostile relations between Britain and America.
- Altoff, Gerard T. Deep Water Sailors Shallow Water Soldiers. Put-in-Bay: The Perry Group, 1993.
- Altoff, Gerard T. Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie. Put-In-Bay, Ohio: Perry Group, 1999.
- Barnes, James. Naval Actions of the War of 1812. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896.
- Brown, Samuel R. Views of the Campaigns of the North-Western Army: Comprising, Sketches of the Campaigns of Generals Hull and Harrison; a Minute and Interesting Account of the Naval Conflict on Lake Erie; Military Anecdotes--Abuses in the Army--Plan of a Military Settlement—View of the Lake Coast from Sandusky to Detroit. Philadelphia: Griggs and Dickinsons, 1815.
- Burges, Tristam. Battle of Lake Erie: With Notices of Commodore Elliot’s Conduct in the Engagement. Boston: B. B. Mussey, 1839.
- Coles, Harry L. War of 1812. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1965.
- Dillon, Richard. We Have Met the Enemy: Oliver Hazard Perry, Wilderness Commodore. New York: McGraw–Hill, 1978.
- Dobbins, W. W. The Battle of Lake Erie, and Reminiscences of the Flagships “Lawrence” and “Niagara” 3rd ed. Erie: Ashby Printing Company, 1929.
- Mahan, Alfred T. Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812. Vol. 1. London: S. Low, Marston & Company, Limited, 1905.
- Malcomson, Bob. HMS Detroit: The Battle for Lake Erie. St. Catharines, Ont: Vanwell, 1990.
- Paine, Ralph D. The Fight for a Free Sea: A Chronicle of the War of 1812. New Haven: Yale UP, 1920.
- Roosevelt, Theodore. Naval War of 1812 or, The History of the United States Navy During the Last War with Great Britain, To Which is Appended an Account of the Battle of New Orleans. St. Clair Shores, MI: Scholarly, 1970.
- Skaggs, David Curtis. “Lake Erie, Battle of.” Encyclopedia of the New American Nation. Ed. Paul Finkelman. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 267-268.
- Skaggs, David Curtis. Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage, and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy (Library of Naval Biography) (Library of Naval Biography). New York: US Naval Institute, 2006.
- Skaggs, David Curtis. Signal Victory the Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 1997.
- War on the Great Lakes: Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1991.
History of the battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813): and reminiscences of the flagship “Lawrence”
Dobbins, W. W. (William W.), 1800?-1877
Special Collections, Kelvin Smith Library
The link is here
HISTORY OF THE Battle of lake Erie, (September l0, 1813,) AND REMINISCENCES OF THE Flagship “Lawrence,” BY CAPT. W. W. Dobbhins. ERIE, PA.: Ashby & Vincent, Printers, Stationers and Binders. 1876. Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1876 by T. J. VI ERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington. ASHBY &VINCENT, Printers, Binders and Stationers, ERIE, PA.
My father, Sailing Master Daniel Dobbins, was a pioneer in the construction of the squadron, and served actively upon the upper lakes during the war. From conversations during his lifetime, as also memoranda and other papers left by him—in connection with the accounts given by McKenzie, Cooper and losing, I have compiled this little book.
I hope the reader will excuse the commonplace style of composition, as it is the effort of an illiterate sailor.
W. W. DOBBINS.
HISTORY OF THE Battle of Lake Erie, AND REMINISCENCES OF TEE Flagship “Lawrence.”
On the American side of the line, say from Black Rock on the Niagara River, to Sault St. Mary’s River, the outlet of lake Superior, things were in a poor condition to go to war with our neighbor. A sparsely settled country, with all the wants and deprivations incident thereto, full of wandering tribes of Indians,the object of whom was, with few exceptions, to watch the chances, and were ready the moment war commenced, to plunder and massacre. To show how deficient we were in the way of postal communication, the first news of the declaration of war along the frontier west of Black Rock, N. Y., was through Canadian dispatches to their several posts. When Mackinaw was taken, the first notice of the declaration of war was a heavy force of British and Indians landing upon the eastern and uninhabited portion of the island in the night, and capturing the post without the firing of a gun.
But I have digressed from my proposed account of Perry’s Victory, and will now begin with a short account of the early work of constructing and fitting out the squadron. In giving this matter, it is, in a measure, necessary to relate some of the incidents; and as Captain Daniel Dobbins, of Erie, was a pioneer in the construction of most of the vessels, it is well to give his early connection therewith.
In July, 1812, Captain Dobbins was at Mackinaw in command of a merchant vessel named the Salina, belonging to himself and a merchant of Erie, named R. S. Reed, and (who,together with a relative named W. W. Reed, were on board the vessel) was taken at the surrender of that post. His vessel,and one other of the captured, were made cartels to convey the prisoners and non-combatants to Cleveland, Ohio. Upon their arrival at Detroit, they were taken possession of by General Hull, and again fell into the hands of the enemy, on the surrender of that important post. Captain Dobbins now obtained a pass for himself and the two Reeds through the influence of Colonel Nichols, of his Majesty’s service, (an old acquaintance previous to the war) and accompanied Colonel Lewis Cass and Captain Saunders, who were in charge of paroled prisoners surrendered at Detroit and at Van Horn’s defeat, including the wounded—to i)e transported across the head of the lakes in open boats, to Cleveland. Passing from island to island, they arrived safely at Cleveland on the third day, after a perilous voyage. Here, Cass and Saunders were in honor bound to destroy the boats, and Capt. D. navigated a small sloop bound down the lake. After alarming the inhabitants along the coast at the sight of a vessel, be she ever so small, after they had heard of Hull’s surrender, he arrived safely at Erie. After remaining a few days with his family, he was sent with dispatches to Washington City by General David Mead, who was then in command of that post, and gave the first authentic information of the surrender of Mackinaw and Detroit at the seat of Government, having passed Colonel Cass,who was the bearer of dispatches from General Hull, sick by the way. Immediately upon his arrival a Cabinet meeting was held, to whom he gave a full account of matters, including the situation of the frontier, and the most suitable point for a naval depot upon the upper lakes. He recommended Erie, which was adopted. He was then solicited to accept a sailing master’s position in the navy, which he accepted, and was at once ordered to Erie with instructions to immediately commence the construction of gun boats, which work he speedily began late in October following. Upon his arrival at Erie, was ordered to report to Commodore Chauncey at Sackett’s Harbor,or to the commanding officer at Black Rock, for further instructions ; which order he obeyed and received the following reply:
“Black Rock, Oct. 2d, 1812.”Sir:—Your letter of the 13th ultimo, directed to Commodore Chauncey or the commanding officer on Lake Erie, I have received, together with its enclosed—a copy of your instructions from the Honorable the Secretary of the Navy, each of which, together with a copy of this letter, I have enclosed to him for his consideration.
“It appears to me utterly impossible to build gun boats at Presqu ‘ile. There is not a sufficient depth of water on the bar to get them into the lake. Should there be water, the place is at all times open to the attacks of the enemy, and in all probability when ready for action, ultimately will fall into the hands of the enemy, and be a great annoyance to our forces building and repairing at this place. From a slight acquaintance I have with our side of the lake, and with what information I have obtained from persons who have long navigated it, I am under the impression Lake Erie has not a single harbor calculated to fit out a naval expedition; and the only one convenient, I am at present at, which is in between Squaw Island and the Main, immediately in the mouth of Niagara River. I have no further communication to make upon the subject. Probably in a few days I shall be in possession of Commodore Chauncey’s impressions, when you shall again hear from me.
With esteem, yours, &c., “J. D. ELLIOTT, U. S. N. “Sailing Master Daniel Dobbins.”Mr. Dobbins (that being the modest title applied to sailing master) at once replied as follows, viz:
“Erie, Oct. 11th, 1812.”Dear Sir :—Yours of the second inst. is received. In regard to the idea entertained by you, that this place is not a suitable one to build gun boats at, allow me to differ with you. There is a sufficiency of water on the bar to let them into the lake, but not a sufficiency to let heavy armed vessels of the enemy into the bay to destroy them. The bay is large and spacious, and completely land-locked, except at the entrance.I have made my arrangements in accordance with my own convictions, for the purpose of procuring the timber and other material for their construction. I believe I have as perfect a knowledge of this lake as any other man on it, and I believe you would agree with me were you here, viz: That this is the place for a naval station.
“I remain yours, very respectfully, &c., “Daniel Dobbins, U. S. N. “Lieut. J. D. Elliott, U. S. N.”This letter from Elliott was the only information Mr. Dobbins got from that quarter; and not being satisfied, he hastened to Black Rock, where he found a Lieutenant Angus in command ;and as he (Angus) had not heard from Commodore Chauncey,or from any other source, of the building of gun boats at Erie(Presqu ‘ile) he was at a loss what course to pursue. Mr. Dobbins, however, employed a skillful ship carpenter—the only one to be obtained—and returned to Erie, determined to urge forward the work with such house carpenters and laborers as he could obtain. Feeling the importance of the occasion,and not receiving instructions from any quarter, he wrote the Department, asking for such, and for funds, having expended what he had at first received.
The work was now pushed as rapidly as possible, having received instructions and funds from the Department. The winter was a very severe one, which retarded the work in many respects. It being still urged at the Department that Black Rock was a more suitable place than Erie for a naval station, Mr. Dobbins wrote the Secretary upon the subject, of which the following is an extract:
“Erie, December 19th, 1812.To Hon. the Secretary of the Navy:
“Sir: *** In regard to the vessels cut down, and in an unfinished state at Black Rock, there can be but little confidence placed in their safety. The yard is within reach of the enemy’s batteries, and if finished, the vessels could be cut to pieces in passing up the rapids into the lake.” ***
It will be remembered that Commodore Chauncey commanded on Lake Erie as well as Ontario, and continued in command until after the battle, in fact, until April, 1814.
In a letter from Mr. Dobbins to the Department under date of March 14th, 1873, we find the following, viz: * * “The keels of the two sloops of war are ready to lay, with most of the timber on hand—the gun boats are ready for calking, and everything looks encouraging in that respect; and yet, I have my fears of the secret incendiary, as well as the prowling spy of the enemy, and in an unguarded moment our labor may be destroyed. As a substitute for a guard, I have made arrangements with the workmen in the yard to stand guard until I hear from you. Mr. Brown joins me in my opinion in regard to the danger, and the course I intend to pursue.” This guard, in connection with a well armed volunteer company commanded by Captain Thos. Forster, composed of sixty citizens,constituted for some time the only protection of the town and vessels on the stocks.
Commodore Perry arrived on the 27th from Black Rock,and at once assumed command. The defenceless condition of the vessels and the town at once claimed his attention, and he immediately sent for General Mead, the military commander in that portion of Pennsylvania; the result of which conference was the calling out of the military force under his command,or sufficient for a guard, and in a short time one thousand militia were in camp, which was ultimately reinforced by several hundred volunteers from the interior of the State.
Although Erie (Presqu ‘ile) had twice been occupied as a military post—first by the French as early as 1760, and subsequently by the United States in 1798, and where the latter had a stockade-fort with three small block-houses and other military fixtures—yet not a single piece of ordnance remained,and the only thing in the shape of a cannon was a small iron boat howitzer, with which the villagers celebrated the Fourth of July, and other occasions, belonging to General Kelso, it having been found by him on the beach of the lake, where probably it had been left by the wrecking of an armed French batteau. Nothing now remains of the French fort, but portions of some earthworks. The American fortifications, though gone to ruins, were put in condition and occupied.
In comparison with the great facilities for ship building of the present day, we can form but a remote idea of the difficulties Commodore Perry and his compeers had to encounter in building, and equipping, his squadron. All the carpenters and blacksmiths in the country having been employed by Mr. Dobbins in building the gun boats, and all the stores in the village ransacked for iron, and then forced to get the most of it from Pittsburgh, Commodore Perry found but little to work with, the great responsibility resting upon his shoulders, and the gigantic task before him. He, however, managed to get a small supply for immediate use from Pittsburgh and Buffalo. But the gallant young hero was equal to the task, and started into the work with all the energy and determination his future achievements demonstrated. He at once wrote the Secretary of the Navy what was immediately required, when carpenters and blacksmiths were ordered from Philadelphia. Mr. Dobbins was dispatched to Black Rock for seamen and chests of arms, and such ordnance as he could manage to transport, which was a heavy task, considering the bad condition of the roads incident to the breaking up of spring through a new country.
On the 30th of March, Sailing Master W. V. Taylor, a very skillful officer and thorough seaman, arrived from Sackett’s Harbor, with twenty officers and seamen. Perry now determined to leave him in command and proceed to Pittsburgh, to hasten the workmen en route from Philadelphia, and make further arrangements for supplies. Upon his arrival at Pittsburgh made arrangements for canvas for the sails to be brought from Philadelphia, including cables, anchors and other supplies. He met with a Captain A. R. Woolley, an intelligent ordnance officer of the army, from whom he received valuable aid and advice in the way of procuring armament, and matters pertaining to it, and from whom he obtained four small field pieces, and some muskets. Captain Woolley also volunteered to supervise the casting of the carronades and shot, and other requisites. Perry started on his return to Erie on the 7th of April, and on his arrival found the work upon the vessels rapidly progressing; though Mr. Dobbins had been able to get through with but one 12-pounder from Buffalo, and three chests of muskets,—floods, sweeping away of bridges, and almost impassable roads having to be overcome. Perry now,in conjunction with General Mead, had a redoubt thrown up at the point where the land lighthouse now stands; and Mr. Dobbins having in the meantime arrived from Buffalo with two long 12-pounders, they were mounted upon it. On Garrison Hill another was thrown up, with the four pieces obtained at Pittsburgh mounted thereon. Perry also had a rude blockhouse erected upon the bluff overlooking the yard where the large vessels were constructing, and where a brigade of troops were encamped. There was also another redoubt thrown upon the bluff commanding the yard where the gun boats were still on the stocks, with an encampment of troops to garrison it, and guns mounted as fast as they could be obtained from Buffalo.
The two “sloops of war” were built at the mouth of the Cascade Creek, about one mile above the village, as a greater depth of water could be obtained at this point for launching. The gun boats were constructed upon a wide beach of the bay,at a point now known as “Reed’s Dock,” near the village.
Mr. Dobbins having been awarded the task of transporting the heavy ordnance from Black Rock, or the temporary naval station at Gonjaquades Greek, just below that place, to Erie ;and after managing to get a few through by land, notwithstanding the almost impassable roads, and then by open boats, as soon as the ice in the lake was out sufficiently for a passage, called forth the best energies of Mr. Dobbins, as it was done in the face of the enemy, they being aware of what was going on; and as soon as the ice permitted, their spies were constantly on the lookout. As a sample of one of these hazardous trips,he started to bring up two long 32-pounders, weighing 3,600 pounds each. In the way of a craft, he was only able to procure an old “Derham boat,” so-called, which had been used to boat salt from Schlosser to Fort Erie; and after fitting her up as best he could, with timbers placed lengthwise in her bottom, got the guns on board, including a quantity of naval stores. When ready, tracked up the rapids of Niagara River and started for Erie, having a four-oared boat in company. He kept near the American shore, but dare not show his sail except at night. When off Cattaraugus, in the night, it came on to blow heavily from northwest, and in order to keep her off the beach, they made what sail they could with two planks for leaboards, and, after a struggle, succeeded in getting an offing. But their troubles were not ended: the great steering-oar unshipped, and the boat fell off into the trough of the sea. The heavy rolling soon carried away the step of the mast before they could get the sail down. But the repairs were soon made and they got sail on again, when it was found she was leaking badly, caused by the heavy rolling, with so much weight in her bottom, and likely to founder. As the old maxim has it, ” necessity is the mother of invention,” Mr. Dobbins took a coil of rope they had on board, and passing the rope round and round her, from forward to aft, and heaving the turns taut with a gunner’s hand spike, thus managing to keep her afloat, with all hands bailing. At daylight they found themselves some ten miles below Erie, with two of the enemy’s cruisers in sight in the offing to windward. However, the wind had veered more to the eastward, and they made port with a fair wind—their consort, having parted company with them in the night safely made port, and reported Mr. Dobbins’ boat lost.
Gangs of additional carpenters, blacksmiths, sailmakers, riggers, &c., soon arrived from New York and Philadelphia and the work went bravely on.
On the 27th of May, Fort George fell. The part Perry bore in this telling capture is a matter of history; and the first twig of the cluster of laurels, soon to adorn his brow.
On the 28th, the detachment of officers and men arrived at Schlosser, and were immediately embarked for Black Rock, where they arrived the next day; Perry had already arrived at Black Rock, having gone up by land. After the capture of Fort George, the enemy evacuated the Niagara frontier to a great extent, and Perry at once determined to get the vessels purchased by the Government and prepared for war purposes by Henry Eckford, and blockaded in Gonjaquades Greek by the batteries of the enemy on the opposite shore, up to Erie, if possible. At once the guns were dismounted on the batteries, and mounted upon the vessels, and the naval stores got on board. On the 6th of June, the vessels being ready, the tedious work of tracking them up the rapids commenced. This arduous task lasted a week. In addition to ox-teams and sailors, they had the assistance of two hundred soldiers, under the command of Captains Brevoort and Youngs. On the morning of the 13th, the last vessel got safely out of the rapids. The officers and soldiers detailed by General Dearbourn to assist in getting the vessels up the rapids, were, at the request of Perry, allowed to remain on board to assist in navigating and defending the vessels on their passage to Erie. This little flotilla was composed of the following vessels, viz: Brig ” Caledonia,” (prize) armament two long 24-pounders and one long 12-pounder; schooner “Samers,” (formerly ” Catherine “) two long 18-pounders; sloop “Trippe,” (formerly “Contractor”)one long 24-pounder; schooner “Ohio,” one long 24-pounder; schooner” Amelia,” one long 24-pounder.
I have not the names of the commanders at hand, except that the “Caledonia” was made the flagship for the time, and of course was commanded by Perry, the “Ohio” by Mr. Dobbins; the rest of the commanders were ordered from Erie.
On the evening of the 15th they sailed for Erie, but were driven back by a heavy wind the next day. On that evening they sailed again. Great vigilance was necessary in order to elude the fleet of the enemy then cruising at the foot of the lake, and constantly on the lookout for them. The British fleet consisted of the following vessels, viz: 4 Queen Charlotte,”armament 17 guns; “Lady Provost,” 13 guns; “Hunter,” 10 guns; “Little Belt,” 3 guns; schooner “Chippewa,” 1 gun. Had they encountered our little flotilla there would have been some warm work, but the disparity of force was too great,consequently, victory would have been with them, and British ascendancy on the upper lakes would have been prolonged. However, fortune favored the gallant Perry, and he managed to elude them. So near were they to meeting, that when off Dunkirk, the wind being light ahead, and the weather hazy, Perry anchored his vessels close in shore in order not to be seen from the offing. While there, a man made his appearance on the bank of the lake and made signals. Perry sent a boat for him, when he gave the information that the enemy had been at anchor the night before off the 20 mile creek below Erie, and sent on shore to get fresh supplies—that from an intermediate point he could see both fleets at the same time. But good luck was on our side; Perry with his little squadron entered the harbor of Erie, all safe, on the morning of the 19th of June. Every preparation and precaution had been attended to by the ever vigilant young hero. He had arranged a line of battle, when sailing abreast or in line; also a code of signals, which were as follows :
“One gun—Underway to get. Green at the fore—Form the order of sailing ahead. Green at the main—Form the order of sailing abreast. Green at the main peak—Form the order of battle on the starboard tack. Green in the fore rigging—Form the order of battle on the larboard tack. Green in the main rigging—Close more the present order. White at the fore—Open more the present order. White at the main—Tack. White at the main peak—Follow the motions of the flagship. Ensign at the main gaff—Engage the enemy.White at the main, with stop in the middle—Chase. Ensign in the fore rigging—Repair on board flagship, all Commanders. Green and white at the main gaff—Come within hail. It is expected Commanders will pay strict attention to the order of sailing. No property other than public, or passengers to be received on board any of the vessels under my command. O. H, PERRY.”When at the lower end of the lake, the British squadron usually rendezvoused at what is known as “Mohawk Bay” below Grand River. This is an indentation of the main, with a small island in front, and a long reef extending off to the eastward—making a fine lea, with sea room inside and good holding ground. From here they would sail to keep watch of the movements on the American side. They were rampant on hearing of Perry arriving safely at Erie with his little fleet, despite their vigilance.
The vessels to comprise the squadron were now all within the bay at Erie, and the equipping and arming went on rapidly. The court house had been converted into a sail loft; the sails were nearly completed, while the rigging was being fitted on board the vessels.
It will be remembered that Commodore Chauncey was the senior officer on Lake Erie as well as Ontario; and that everything of importance connected with building and equipping the squadron had to come through him, instead of coming direct to Perry from the Department. Thus the delay of many matters, particularly in procuring crews for the vessels.
The two “sloops of war”—afterward named “Lawrence” and “Niagara”—were built after the same models, being 100 feet straight rabbit, 110 feet between the perpendiculars, 30 feet beam, and 9 feet hold, flush deck, and pierced for 20 guns with two. stern ports. Mr. Brown, the efficient and enterprising master builder, gave them this shallow depth of hold in order to have a good heighth of “quarters” or bulwarks, and at the same time avoid showing a high side above the water, and also to secure a light draught of water. They were hastily constructed of such timber as came handy, though staunchly built. In the language of Mr. Brown to one of the workmen, who was somewhat particular in finishing his job,” We want no extras—plain work is all that is required; they will only be wanted for one battle; if we win, that is all that is wanted of them; if the enemy are victorious, the work is good enough to be captured.”
The schooner “Ariel” (of pilot boat model) and “Scorpion” were about 63 tons burden; the “Porcupine” and “Tigress” about 52 tons. The tonnage of the vessels brought from Black Rock were as follows, viz: Brig “Caledonia” (captured by-Lieutenant Elliot from under the guns of Fort Erie) was 85 tons; schooner “Somers,” 65 tons; sloop “Trippe,” 63 tons; schooner “Ohio,” 62 tons; schooner “Amelia,” 72 tons. This latter vessel was condemned on examination after reaching Erie, and sunk in the harbor.
The gun boats being completed, were launched about the last of April—immediately fitted out, armed, and rendezvoused with the other vessels in the vicinity of the yard where the sloops of war were on the stocks, to defend them in case of an attack.
There appears some discrepancy between authors and those who should have a correct knowledge of the date when the “Lawrence” and “Niagara” were launched. Mackenzie has it “on the 24th of May,” and most accounts have adopted that date. From circumstances, and in fact, direct data, as also the opinion of living witnesses who were connected with their construction, the “Lawrence” was launched on or about the 25th of June, and the “Niagara” on the 4th of July.
Full crews for the vessels was now the important matter, and up to the 25th of June, there had been but about one hundred and fifty men and officers received from Lake Ontario, the point they were expected from, and many of these were on the sick list. Perry was every day receiving communications from the Navy Department, urging him to hasten the equipment of his squadron, so as to act in conjunction with General Harrison, in a combined movement against the enemy by land and water. This was very perplexing to Perry, as he was short of officers and men; and to make matters worse, the 200 soldiers, with Captains Brevoort and Youngs, whom had gone up in the vessels from Black Rock to Erie, and Perry had made application to retain, and be distributed through the squadron as marines, were recalled to Black Rock. On the 10th of July, Perry had received a letter from General Dearbourn, saying,” by order of the War Department, the officers and soldiers must return,” excepting Captain Brevoort, whom he permitted to remain, as Captain B. had navigated the lakes several years in command of the brig “Adams” under the auspices of the War Department, and would be of great service. The troops were sent off immediately in boats under the command of Captain Youngs. This was a sad blow to Perry. However, after writing urgent letters to Chauncey, he got news of a draft of men and officers being forwarded, and on the 17th dispatched Mr. Dobbins with two boats—to be joined by others at Buffalo, and bring them to Erie. The following is the order:
“Erie, July 17th, 1813.” Sir :—You will repair to Buffalo with the two boats, and there wait until the officers and men destined for the vessels of war at this place, arrive. You will upon your arrival at Buffalo endeavor to collect, in conjunction with Mr. Carter, boats, in addition to the four belonging to the Navy, for the transportation of the men, say three or four hundred, from that place to Erie. The boats to be collected at Buffalo Greek. Great caution will be necessary on your way up, to prevent being intercepted by the enemy. Should they appear off this harbor, I will send an express to Cattaraugus and the 20 mile creek, to give you information.
“Very respectfully, &c., “O. H. PERRY. “Sailing Master Daniel Dobbins.”As an excuse for frequently mentioning the name of Sailing Master Dobbins, will state, that I have his papers and memoranda made at the time; and as he was actively engaged in getting up and equipping the squadron, and in operations on the upper lakes during the war, valuable information is obtained therefrom; including the fact that he was the only officer at the time who was familiar with the navigation and coast on both sides. Thus, he was invariably detailed for duty on all occasions away from Erie, requiring a knowledge of the navigation, locality, and people; as also a good proportion of self-reliance and experience. Perry’s officers were mostly young, without a knowledge of the lake navigation and the difficulties incident thereto, though at home upon the deck of a man-of-war at sea. The average age of Perry’s officers is given by Dr Usher Parsons, the medical officer of the flagship “Lawrence,”viz: “The average age of the commissioned officers of Perry’s squadron was less than twenty-three; the average age of the warrant officers was less than twenty years.”
The enemy made frequent visits near the roadstead off the harbor, and sometimes the ” Queen Charlotte” would visit alone. At other times the whole squadron would make the menace. On the 21st of July, they made one of these “calls,” when the gun boats ran down to the bar at the entrance, and exchanged shots with them, with but little effect, on our side at least, when they bade adieu, and squared away for Canada, probably to report.
Previous to the war the English had upon the lakes what they termed a “Provincial Marine;” the vessels had a light armament, and were used to transport troops, Indian goods,and frequently individual property, as there were but few merchant vessels at that period; several of the British squadron were of this class, though they had subsequently been refitted and armed.
Here again was a lack of knowledge of the frontier on the part of the Government. The naval force upon Lake Erie should at first have been placed under a separate command, as Chauncey had his hands full upon Lake Ontario, and of course could give but little attention to the operations on Lake Erie. Again, the men should have been sent direct from Philadelphia, instead of round by New York and Sackett’s Harbor to Erie—making nearly double the distance. Many of the carpenters, sailmakers, blockmakers, &c., came from Philadelphia, then why not the seamen? Had this course been pursued, Perry would have* been on the lake with his squadron and captured the enemy’s fleet before they could have got out their large ship, “Detroit;” as also have co-operated with Harrison, and relieved the western end of the lake o£the continued harassing they suffered. Once supreme upon the lake, the enemy would have withdrawn his forces to Maiden and the Detriot River. Perry having established a recruiting station on shore to enlist landsmen from the troops, with the permission of the commanding officer, had succeeded in getting about one hundred. In the meantime, Lieutenant John Brooks, Perry’s chief marine officer, had enlisted some forty men as marines. Perry now concluded he had enough—some three hundred, after landing the invalids—to cope with the enemy before they got their new ship (“Detroit”) out; and a further incentive for a forward move, was that there was a report that the enemy were endeavoring to concentrate a heavy force at Long Point, from where the troops were to be transported with the fleet to some point near Erie, where the troops and Indians were tobe landed and act in conjunction with their fleet in an attempt to destroy the village and vessels. Perry hastily informed the Department that he apprehended no danger of their getting possession of the vessels, provided they did capture the village,as the vessels were off at anchor in the bay, where their fleet could not enter, and he could defend them against an attack from the shore.
The enemy not being in the offing, and everything being ready for a move, Perry got his vessels under way and moved down to the entrance of the channel, when preparations were immediately made for getting the heavy vessels over the bar. This was on Sunday, August 1st. In the afternoon General Mead and staff visited the Lawrence, and were received with a salute. The General was much pleased with the warlike appearance of the vessels, particularly the “Lawrence” and”Niagara.” The General had rendered valuable services in various ways in the building of the squadron, and in preparations for their defense; and Perry availed himself of this opportunity to tender him hearty thanks, not only on his own account, but in behalf of the Navy Department.
The “Lawrence” and “Niagara” were twin vessels in every respect—built from the same models, fitted and armed alike,and were full-rigged brigs. At the present day they would be considered small, but at that period they were immense. The people from the interior, on hearing the report of the guns in firing the salute for General Mead, hastened to the village,expecting that the enemy was making an attack. The large vessels were a great curiosity, and looked formidable, in their eyes, in comparison with the small craft they had been accustomed to see; and the big guns were giants of destruction in their estimation. They felt proud of the formidable appearance of our war ships,” and rejoiced that we now had a naval force able to cope with the British fleet, which had so long controled the lakes, and menaced us so frequently—”Could meet the enemy and make them ours.” They felt that there would soon be an end to the frequent alarms, and the imaginary war-whoop of the Indian would no longer haunt their midnight slumbers. They could now go to their homes and feel a security they had not felt for the last year.
Early on the morning of the 2d, Mr. Dobbins took charge of the “Lawrence” as pilot, and kedged her to the entrance of the channel, he having sounded and buoyed it out the day before. The water was found to be quite low, in consequence of the east wind. The “Niagara” was then kedged up near the bar and moored with springs upon her cables, her port broadside facing the roadstead. The smaller vessels were then moored in a somewhat similar manner, and preparations made to defend the “Lawrence” while on the bar. The work of getting out the guns, ballast, and other heavy matter went on briskly on board the u Lawrence,” and in three hours everything was removed to the sand beach, the guns being rolled upon timbers so that they could be quickly reshipped should occasion require. The fallacious yarn of the guns being “hoisted out with the charges in them and placed in boats which were dropped astern,” is novel in the extreme, and does injustice to the intelligence of Perry. The absurdity, if not danger, of rousing loaded guns about in this way, particularly amongst the sand, must be obvious to any one, but more particularly to those familiar with handling and practicing with ordnance. This attempt to show extraordinary preparation for an attack condemns itself, as it is well known it takes but a few moments to load a gun with prepared ammunition. Again, it has been recorded that a “water battery of three long 12-pounders had been mounted upon the beach,” &c. This is also error; they were mounted in the redoubt on the bank of the lake, where the land lighthouse now stands, some 100 feet above the water,and completely commanding the channel. There was also the” field battery” on Garrison hill, directly abreast of the channel. The “camels” were immediately got alongside of the “Lawrence,” timbers placed athwart the vessel, with the ends resting upon the “camels,” and the necessary preparation made for lifting.
These “camels” were an invention of Mr. Brown; were oblong, with square ends, 90 feet long, 40 feet wide, and six feet depth of hold, with a strong deck. They had two holes cut through the bottom, six inches square, with curbs to guide the long plugs to the holes when required. The “camels” were placed one on each side, as before stated, the plugs taken out and the “camels” filled, the heavy timbers thrust through the port-holes, the blocking and lashing secured, when the holes were plugged up, and the pumps set at work. Thus, as the water was discharged, the vessel was lifted. Owing to continued easterly winds, causing low water, the operations with the “camels” had to be repeated before the “Lawrence” could be floated. After a laborious task, night and day, she was got over on the morning of the 4th, and towed out to her anchorage. As a sample of the never-flagging energy of Perry,by two o’clock P. M. everything was replaced, guns mounted,a salute fired, and she ready for action. The “Niagara” was now towed to the entrance of the channel, and preparations made to lighten her, while the “camels” were being prepared for their work.
Some authors have it, that “Perry sent out the schooners “Scorpion,” Sailing Master Champlain, and “Ariel,” Lieutenant Packett, to annoy the enemy at long shot, and keep them at bay,” &c. This is error; the above is correct. The absence of the enemy was more to the liking of the gallant Perry than their presence at this particular time. It would have been considered an absurdity to send two small schooners off into the lake to “annoy and keep at bay” the whole British fleet. Should they have got within range of the enemy, they must necessarily be within range of the enemy’s long guns; and a little crippling of the schooners would be sure to lead to capture, as the wind was ahead to return. Besides, by being delayed, they might have discovered the true position of our vessels;as the sun rose it would clear away the haze, with probably a shift of wind, when the vessels afloat would swing to the wind and show the position of the “Niagara.” This would be poor strategy, and Perry knew his business better than to adopt such. These facts have been stated to the writer by Mr. Dobbins—and he has heard other officers conversing upon the subject, including Lieutenant Packett. Besides all this, Mr. D., in a conversation with Lieutenant Rollett, a Provincial officer in his Majesty’s service, with whom he was acquainted previous to the war, says he “was attached to the “Lady Provost” at this time, and that they were deceived precisely in the same relation Perry had conjectured—that they well knew the purpose for which the “Ariel” had been sent out, and endeavored to deceive her until she was well out of sight on her return.”
The enemy having made off, the work of lightening on board the “Niagara” went on rapidly—in a few hours every-thing was on the beach, and the “camels” at work. In the meantime the wind had shifted to the westward, which raised the water, and the next day she was floated, armed, and fully equipped for battle. The schooners “Ohio” and “Amelia” were left inside for the present, the “Amelia” being condemned as unseaworthy.
Perry now had his squadron all safely in the lake, and, with the exception of the proper complement of men, was ready to meet the enemy.
When the British squadron had made their last visit but one to Erie, they went to Port Dover, on the Main, in the rear of Long Point, where Commodore Barclay and officers had been invited to dine with the inhabitants. In reply to a complimentary toast, Barclay said, “I expect to find the Yankee brigs hard and fast aground on the bar at Erie when I return; in which predicament it will be but a short job to destroy them.”The result of this “return” I have already stated. However,had he made the attempt, he would have found it more of a “job” than he anticipated.
The squadron being fully armed and equipped, but only about half manned, and many of these enlisted from the militia, and receiving, almost daily, communications from the Department and General Harrison urging him to move and co-operate with Harrison, and those from the Department almost amounting to censure, his state of mind can well be imagined. Overworked in both body and mind, it is astonishing that he did not breakdown under his troubles. However, he was determined to do his duty to his country, and make the best of the circumstances.
It was now ascertained through General Porter, of Black Rock, that the enemy were concentrating a force at Port Dover or Long Point, to be moved by, and act in conjunctionwith, their squadron in a move upon Erie. However, it failed for the want of a sufficiency of troops at the proper time.
Perry determined not to be idle while waiting for officers and men, and concluding he could cope with the enemy before they got their new heavy ship out, made ready to sail for Long Point and the Canada shore in pursuit. His vessels being but half manned, he got a supply of volunteers from the army, and* sailed at four o’clock A. M. on the 6th of August. The commanders of the several vessels on this short cruise were as follows, viz: “Lawrence,” (flagship) Commodore Perry; “Niagara,” Lieutenant Daniel Turner; “Caledonia,” Purser Humphrey Magrath; “Ariel,” Acting Lieutenant John Packet; “Scorpion,” Sailing Master Stephen Champlin; “Somers,” Sailing Master Thomas Almy; “Tigress,” Master’s Mate A. McDonald; “Porcupine,” Midshipman George Senat. The “Ohio” and “Trippe” were left behind for want of crews. Upon reaching Long Point, and seeing nothing of the enemy, stood for the mainland, and after sweeping the coast for some distance and making no discoveries returned to their anchorage at Erie and awaited the expected reinforcements.
Immediately preparations were made for another cruise, and during the 7th and 8th provisions and stores were got on board. It has been said by some authors, that a large amount of military stores for General Harrison’s army at Sandusky were taken on board. This is erroneous; there were but little, if any such at Erie, and furthermore, the vessels had only capacity for their own supplies, and berth-deck room for their crews—to say nothing of their expecting to meet the enemy on the cruise up the Lakes; and with the vessels hampered up with extra stores, of course their efficiency would be very much decreased.
Perry now hesitated about assuming the responsibility of encountering the enemy with his vessels but half manned,particularly as they would be soon reinforced by their new ship “Detroit,” and was discussing the matter with Purser Hamilton at his lodgings on shore, when Midshipman John B. Montgomery made his appearance and presented him a letter from Lieutenant Jesse D. Elliot, then on his way to join the squadron with a number of officers and ninety men. This was joyful news for Perry, and he immediately repaired on board, to dispatch the “Ariel,” Lieutenant Packet, down the coast to meet them and hasten their arrival. The “Ariel” returned on the 10th, and the officers and men were immediately distributed among the squadron. They proved to be a much superior class to those previously received, which was very gratifying to Perry. Elliot immediately superseded Turner in command of the “Niagara.”
At this time the commissions, which had been made out four some time, were received via. Commodore Chauncey. By these changes, Elliot became Master-Commander, (the same grade as Perry) Holdup, Packett, Yarnell, Edwards, and Conkling, were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant—they having been previously acting as such.
Mr. Dobbins, who had been actively engaged on general duty while getting the vessels over the bar, was now ordered to the “Ohio,” to “get her over the bar as soon as possible, and to engage three good pilots immediately.” The pilots engaged were Azial Wilkinson, James Lee, and one other, the name not remembered.
The squadron now being ready sailed on a course to the head of the lake on the morning of the 12th of August, and consisted of the following vessels, including their commanders and armament, viz: ” Lawrence,” (flagship) eighteen 32-pound canonades and two long 12-pounders, Commodore 0. H. Perry; “Niagara,” same armament, Captain Jesse D. Elliot; “Caledonia,” three long 12-pounders, Purser Humphrey Magrath; “Ariel,” four long 12-pounders, Lieutenant John Packett; “Trippe,” one long 32-pounder, Lieutenant Joseph E. Smith; “Tigress,” one long 32-pounder, Lieutenant A. H. M. Conkling; “Somers,” one long 24-pounder and one long 12-pounder, Sailing Master Thomas C. Almy; “Scorpion,” one long 24-pounder and one long 12-pounder, Sailing Master Stephen Champlin; “Ohio,” one long 24-pounder, Sailing Master Daniel Dobbins; “Porcupine,” one long 32-pounder, Midshipman George Senat. The order of sailing, attack, recognition in the night, c., was fully and ingeniously arranged, much to the credit of so young a commander.
On the 16th, the squadron arrived off Cunningham’s (Kelly’s)Island, without having seen or heard of the enemy. The wind was ahead, and as the vessels were working up there was a small schooner discovered coming out of Put-in-Bay, when the “Scorpion,” being a fast sailor, gave chase, and would have captured her, but, unfortunately, grounded on a reef off Middle Boss Island, and the little craft made good her escape to Canada. She proved afterwards to be the “Ottawa,” previously captured at Maumee, and was cruising among the islands to watch the motions of our vessels.