Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, with many of his sailors being free blacks, confronted the British squadron of six vessels, commanded by the one-armed Commodore Robert Barclay, who had helped defeat Napoleon’s fleet. Strong winds prevented Perry from getting into a safe position. Long-range British cannons crippled his flagship, USS Lawrence, killing most of his crew. Faithful to his battle flag, “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP,” the 28-year-old Perry and his men courageously rowed a half mile through heavy gunfire to the USS Niagara. The wind suddenly changed directions and Perry sailed directly across the British line, firing broadside. After 15 minutes, the smoke cleared to reveal that all of Barclay’s ships had been disabled. This was the first time in history that an entire British naval squadron had surrendered.
As a result, the British abandoned Fort Malden. U.S. General William Henry Harrison was then able to recapture Detroit and defeat the British, with their Indian ally Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, at the Battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813. The Northwest Territory was now secure for America. To the sailors on deck Captain Perry remarked:
“The prayers of my wife are answered.”
In his dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry wrote:
“It has pleased the Almighty to give the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this lake.
The British squadron, consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop have this moment surrendered to the force of my command after a sharp conflict.”
President James Madison stated in his 5th Annual Message, December 7, 1813:
“It has pleased the Almighty to bless our arms…On Lake Erie, the squadron under the command of Captain Perry having met the British squadron of superior force, a sanguinary conflict ended in the capture of the whole.”
Hailed for his decisive victory over a Royal Navy squadron on Lake Erie in September 1813 and best known for his after-action report proclamation We have met the enemy and they are ours, Oliver Hazard Perry was one the early U.S. Navy’s most famous heroes. In this modern, scholarly reassessment of the man and his career, Professor David Skaggs emphasizes Perry’s place in naval history as an embodiment of the code of honor, an exemplar of combat courage, and a symbol of patriotism to his fellow officers and the American public. It is the first biography of Perry to be published in more than a quarter of a century and the first to offer an even-handed analysis of his career. After completing a thorough examination of primary sources, Skaggs traces Perry’s development from a midshipman to commodore where he personified the best in seamanship, calmness in times of stress, and diplomatic skills. But this work is not a hagiographic treatment, for it offers a candid analysis of Perry’s character flaws, particularly his short temper and his sometimes ineffective command and control procedures during the battle of Lake Erie. Skaggs also explains how Perry’s short but dramatic naval career epitomized the emerging naval professionalism of the young republic, and he demonstrates how the Hero of Lake Erie fits into the most recent scholarship concerning the role of post-revolutionary generation in the development of American national identity. Finally, Skaggs explores in greater detail than anyone before the controversy over the conduct of his Lake Erie second, Jesse Duncan Elliott, that raged on for over a quarter century after Perry’s death in 1819.
A gripping and absorbing narrative, yet an easily understood and highly readable account of the Old Northwest’s most significant military event. The focus of the book is the naval conflict itself. Reviewed in detail are the armament and tactical maneuverings of the two squadrons; however, the stories of the American and British crewmen constitute the heart of this book. The book also relates the important events leading up to the Battle of Lake Erie. Described are the strategic significance of Lake Erie, the campaigns of the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest preceding the Battle of Lake Erie, plus the story of both the building and manning of the American squadron. Containing numerous maps and illustrations, it is a concise and fascinating account of the turning point of the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest.