Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820

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Author: Oliver Hazard Perry  | Date: 1813

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Perry’s Own Account of the Batter of Lake Erie

Letter from Perry at Erie to Commodore Chauncey
at Sackett’s Harbor, Lake Ontatio, July 19th, 1813

THE enemy’s fleet of six sail are now off the bar of this harbor. What a golden opportunity if we had men! Their object is no doubt either to blockade or attack us, or to carry provisions and reinforcements to Malden. Should it be to attack us, we are ready to meet them. I am constantly looking to the eastward; every mail and every traveler from that quarter is looked to as the harbinger of the glad tidings of our men being on their way. I am fully aware how much your time must be occupied with the important concerns of the other lake. Give me men, sir, and will acquire both for you and myself honor and glory on this lake, or perish in the attempt. Conceive my feelings; an enemy within striking distance, my vessels ready, and not men enough to man them. Going out with those I now have is out of the question. You would not suffer it were you here. I again ask you to think of my situation: the enemy in sight, the vessels under my command more than sufficient, and ready to make sail, and yet obliged to bite my fingers with vexation for want of men. I know, my dear sir, full well, you will send me the crews for the vessels as soon as possible; yet a day appears an age. I hope that the wind or some other cause will delay the enemy’s return to Malden until my men arrive, and I will have them.

Letter from Perry at Erie to Commodore Chauncey
at Sackett’s Harbor, July 23d, 1813

I have this moment had the very great pleasure of receiving yours by Mr. Champlin, with the seventy men. The enemy are now off this harbor with the Queen Charlotte, Lady Prevost, Chippeway, Erie and Friend’s Good Will. My vessels are all ready. For God’s sake, and yours, and mine, send me men and officers, and I will have them all in a day or two. Commodore Barclay keeps just out of the reach of our gunboats. I am not able to ship a single man at this place. I shall try for volunteers for our cruise. Send on the commander, my dear sir, for the Niagara. She is a noble vessel. Woolsey, Brown, or Elliott I should like to see amazingly. I am very deficient in officers of every kind. Send me officers and men, and honor is within our grasp. The vessels are all ready to meet the enemy the moment they are officered and manned. Our sails are bent, provisions on board, and, in fact, everything is ready. Barclay has been bearding me for several days; I long to have at him. However anxious I am to reap the reward of the labor and anxiety I have had on this station, I shall rejoice, whoever commands, to see this force on the lake, and surely I had rather be commanded by my friend than by any other. Come, then, and the business is decided in a few hours. Barclay shows no disposition to avoid the contest.

Letter from Perry at Erie to General William Henry
Harrison on the Sandusky, Ohio, August 5th

I have had the honor to receive your letter of the twenty-eighth of July this morning, and hasten, in reply, to inform you that I have succeeded in getting one of the sloops-of-war over the bar. The other will probably be over to-day or to-morrow. The enemy is now standing for us with five sail. We have seven over the bar; all small, however, except the Lawrence. I am of opinion that in two days the naval superiority will be decided on this lake. Should we be successful, I shall sail for the head of the lake immediately to cooperate with you, and hope that our joint efforts will be productive of honor and advantage to our country. The squadron is not much more than half manned; but, as I see no prospect of receiving reenforcements, I have determined to commence my operations. I have requested Captain Richardson to dispatch an express to you the moment the issue of our contest with the enemy is known. My anxiety to join you is very great, and, had seamen been sent to me in time, I should now, in all probability, have been at the head of the lake, acting in conjunction with you.

[Postscript.] Thank God, the other sloop-of-war is over. I shall be after the enemy, who is now making off, in a few hours. I shall be with you shortly.

To General Harrison, Sept. 10, 1813

Dear General,

We have met the enemy, and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop. Yours, with very great respect and esteem,

O. H. PERRY.

Perry’s Official Account
To the Secretary of the Navy

ON the morning of the tenth instant at sunrise, the enemy were discovered from Put-in-Bay, where I lay at anchor with the squadron under my command. We got under way, the wind light at southwest and stood for them. At ten A.M. the wind hauled to southeast and brought us to windward; formed the line and bore up. At fifteen minutes before twelve, the enemy commenced firing; at five minutes before twelve, the action commenced on our part. Finding their fire very destructive, owing to their long guns, and its being mostly directed at the Lawrence, I made sail, and directed the other vessels to follow, for the purpose of closing with the enemy. Every brace and bowline being soon shot away, she became unmanageable, notwithstanding the great exertions of the sailing master. In this situation she 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.

Finding she could no longer annoy the enemy, I left her in charge of Lieutenant Yarnall, who, I was convinced, from the bravery already displayed by him, would do what would comport with the honor of the flag. At half-past two, the wind springing up, Captain Elliott was enabled to bring his vessel, the Niagara, gallantly into close action; I immediately went on board of her, when he anticipated my wish by volunteering to bring the schooners, which had been kept astern by the lightness of the wind, into close action. It was with unspeakable pain that I saw, soon after I got on board the Niagara, the flag of the Lawrence come down, although I was perfectly sensible that she had been defended to the last, and that to have continued to make a show of resistance would have been a wanton sacrifice of the remains of her brave crew. But the enemy was not able to take possession of her, and circumstances soon permitted her flag again to be hoisted. At forty-five minutes past two, the signal was made for "close action." The Niagara being very little injured, I determined to pass through the enemy’s line, bore up and passed ahead of their two ships and a brig, giving a raking fire to them from the starboard guns, and to a large schooner and sloop, from the larboard side, at half pistol-shot distance. The smaller vessels at this time having got within grape and canister distance, under the direction of Captain Elliott, and keeping up a well directed fire, the two ships, a brig, and a schooner, surrendered, a schooner and sloop making a vain attempt to escape.

Those officers and men who were immediately under my observation evinced the greatest gallantry, and I have no doubt that all others conducted themselves as became American officers and seamen. Lieutenant Yarnall, first of the Lawrence, although several times wounded, refused to quit the deck. Midshipman Forrest (doing duty as lieutenant) and Sailing Master Taylor were of great assistance to me. I have great pain in stating to you the death of Lieutenant Brooks of the marines, and Midshipman Laub, both of the Lawrence, and Midshipman John Clark, of the Scorpion; they were valuable and promising officers. Mr. Hambleton, purser, who volunteered his services on deck, was severely wounded late in the action. Midshipmen Claxton and Swartwout, of the Lawrence, were severely wounded. On board the Niagara, Lieutenants Smith and Edwards and Midshipman Webster (doing duty as sailing master) behaved in a very handsome manner. Captain Brevoort, of the army, who acted as a volunteer, in the capacity of a marine officer, on board that vessel, is an excellent and brave officer, and with his musketry did great execution. Lieutenant Turner, commanding the Caledonia, brought that vessel into action in the most able manner, and is an officer that in all situations may be relied upon. The Ariel, Lieutenant Packett, and Scorpion, Sailing Master Champlin, were enabled to get early into action, and were of great service. Captain Elliott speaks in the highest terms of Mr. Magrath, purser, who had been dispatched in a boat on service, previous to my getting on board the Niagara; and, being a seaman, since the action has rendered essential service in taking charge of one of the prizes. Of Captain Elliott, already so well known to the Government, it would be almost superfluous to speak. In this action he evinced his characteristic bravery and judgment, and since the close of the action has given me the most able and essential assistance.

I have the honor to enclose you a return of the killed and wounded, together with a statement of the relative force of the squadrons. The captain and first lieutenant of the Queen Charlotte, and first lieutenant of the Detroit, were killed. Captain Barclay, senior officer, and the commander of the Lady Prevost, severely wounded. The commanders of the Hunter and Chippeway slightly wounded. Their loss in killed and wounded I have not yet been able to ascertain; it must, however, have been very great.

British Official Account of the Battle of Lake Erie

The Report of Captain Barclay

THE last letter, dated the 6th instant, informed you that, unless certain intimation was received of more seamen being on their way to Amherstburg, I should be obliged to sail with the squadron, deplorably manned as it was, to fight the enemy (who blockaded the port), to enable us to get supplies of provisions and stores of every description; so perfectly destitute of provisions was the port that there was not a day’s flour in store, and the crews of the squadron under my command were on half allowance of many things, and, when that was done, there was no more. Such were the motives which induced Major-General Proctor (whom by your instructions I was directed to consult, and whose wishes I was enjoined to execute, as far as related to the good of the country) to concur in the necessity of a battle being risked, under the many disadvantages which I labored, and it now remains for me, the most melancholy task, to relate to you the unfortunate issue of that battle, as well as the many untoward circumstances that led to that event. No intelligence of seamen having arrived, I sailed on the 9th instant, fully expecting to meet the enemy next morning, as they had been seen among the islands; nor was I mistaken.

Soon after daylight they were seen in motion in Put-in-Bay, the wind then at south-west and light, giving us the weather gauge, I bore up with them, in hopes of bringing them to action among the islands, but that intention was soon frustrated by the wind suddenly shifting to the southeast, which brought the enemy directly to windward. The line was formed according to a given plan, so that each ship might be supported against the superior force of the two brigs opposed to them. About ten the enemy had cleared the islands and immediately bore up, under easy sail, in a line abreast, each brig being also supported by the small vessels. At a quarter before 12 I commenced the action by a few long guns; about a quarter past, the American Commodore, also supported by two schooners, one carrying four long 12 pounders, the other a long 32 and 24 pounder, came close to action with the Detroit; the other brig of the enemy, apparently destined to engage the Queen Charlotte, supported in like manner by two schooners, kept so far to windward as to render the Queen Charlotte’s 20 pounder carronades useless, while she was, with the Lady Prevost, exposed to the heavy and destructive fire of the Caledonia, and four other schooners, armed with heavy and long guns, like those I have already described. Too soon, alas! was I deprived of the services of the noble and intrepid Captain Finnis, who soon after the commencement of the action fell, and with him fell my greatest support; soon after Lieutenant Stokes, of the Queen Charlotte, was struck senseless by a splinter, which deprived the country of his services at this very critical period. As I perceived the Detroit had enough to contend with, without the prospect of a fresh brig, provincial Lieutenant Irvine, who then had charge of the Queen Charlotte, behaved with great courage, but his experience was much too limited to supply the place of such an officer as Captain Finnis, hence she proved of far less assistance than I expected.

The action continued with great fury until half past two, when I perceived my opponent drop astern, and a boat passing from him to the Niagara (which vessel was at this time perfectly fresh), the American Commodore seeing that as yet the day was against him (his vessel having struck soon after he left her) and also the very defenseless state of the "Detroit," which ship was now a perfect wreck, principally from the raking fire of the gun boats, and also that the Queen Charlotte was in such a situation that I could receive very little assistance from her, and the Lady Prevost being at this time too far to leeward, from her rudder being injured, made a noble, and alas! too successful an effort to regain it, for he bore up, and, supported by his small vessels, passed within pistol shot, and took a raking position on our bow, nor could I prevent it, as the unfortunate situation of the Queen Charlotte prevented us from wearing; in attempting it we fell on board her; my gallant first Lieutenant, Garland, was now mortally wounded, and myself so severely that I was obliged to quit the deck. Manned as the squadron was, with not more than 50 British seamen, the rest a mixed crew of Canadians and soldiers, and who were totally unacquainted with such a service, rendered the loss of officers more sensibly felt, and never in any action was the loss more severe, every officer commanding vessels, and their seconds, was either killed or wounded so severely as to be unable to keep the deck.

Lieutenant Buchan, in the Lady Prevost, behaved most nobly, and did everything that a brave and experienced officer could do in a vessel armed with 12 pound carronades, against vessels carrying long guns. I regret to state that he was severely wounded. Lieutenant Bignal, of the Dover, commanding the Hunter, displayed the greatest intrepidity; but his guns being small (two four and six pounders) he could be of much less service than he wished. Every officer in the Detroit behaved in the most exemplary manner. Lieutenant Inglis showed such calm intrepidity, that I was fully convinced that, on leaving the deck, I left the ship in excellent hands; and for an account of the battle after that I refer you to his letter, which he wrote me for your information.—Mr. Hoffmeister, purser of the Detroit, nobly volunteered his services on the deck, and behaved in a manner that reflects the highest honor on him. I regret to add that he is very severely wounded in the knee. Provincial Lieutenant Purvis, and the military officers, Lieutenants Garden, of the Royal Newfoundland Rangers, and O’Keefe of the 41st regiment, behaved in a manner which excited my warmest admiration; the few British seamen I had, behaved with their usual intrepidity, and as long as I was on deck the troops behaved with a calmness and courage worthy of a more fortunate issue to their exertions.

The weathergage gave the enemy a prodigious advantage, as it enabled them not only to choose their position, but their distance also, which they did in such a manner as to prevent the carronades of the Queen Charlotte and Lady Prevost from having much effect; while their long guns did great execution, particularly against the Queen Charlotte. Captain Perry has behaved in a most humane and attentive manner, not only to myself and officers, but to all the wounded. I trust that, although unsuccessful, you will approve of the motives that induced me to sail under so many disadvantages, and that it may be hereafter proved that under such circumstances the honor of His Majesty’s flag has not been tarnished. I enclose the list of killed and wounded.

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Chicago: Oliver Hazard Perry, "Perry’s Own Account of the Battle of Lake Erie," Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820 in America, Vol.5, Pp.169-180 Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFZ3PAYE3AJIYWE.

MLA: Perry, Oliver Hazard. "Perry’s Own Account of the Battle of Lake Erie." Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820, in America, Vol.5, Pp.169-180, Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFZ3PAYE3AJIYWE.

Harvard: Perry, OH, 'Perry’s Own Account of the Battle of Lake Erie' in Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820. cited in , America, Vol.5, Pp.169-180. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFZ3PAYE3AJIYWE.