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Erie, Lake, battle on.

Who should be masters of Lake Erie was an important question to be solved in 1813. The United States government did not fulfil its promise to Hull to provide means for securing the naval supremacy on Lake Erie. The necessity for such an attainment was so obvious before the close of 1812 that the government took vigorous action in the matter. Isaac Chauncey was in command of a little squadron on Lake Ontario late [258]

Perry's battle flag.

in 1812, and Capt. Oliver Hazard Perry, a zealous young naval officer, of Rhode Island, who was in command of a flotilla of gunboats on the Newport station, offered his services on the Lakes. Chauncey desired his services, and on Feb. 17 Perry received orders from the Secretary of the Navy to report to Chauncey with all possible despatch, and to take with him to Sackett's Harbor all of the best men of the flotilla at Newport. He sent them forward, in companies of fifty, under Sailing-Masters Almy, Champlin, and Taylor. He met Chauncey at Albany, and they journeyed together in a sleigh through the then wilderness to Sackett's Harbor. In March Perry went to Presque Isle (now Erie, Pa.) to hasten the construction and equipment of a little navy there designed to co-operate with General Harrison in attempts to recover Michigan. Four vessels were speedily built at Erie, and five others were taken to that well-sheltered harbor from Black Rock, near Buffalo, where Henry Eckford (q. v.)had converted merchant-vessels into war-ships. The vessels at Erie were constructed under the immediate supervision of Sailing-Master Daniel Dobbins, at the mouth of Cascade Creek. Early in May (1813) the three smaller vessels were launched, and on the 24th of the same month two brigs were put afloat. The whole fleet was finished on July 10, and consisted of the brig Lawrence, twenty guns; brig Niagara, twenty guns; brig Caledonia, three guns; schooner Ariel, four guns; schooner Scorpion, two guns and two swivels; sloop Trippe, one gun; schooner Tigress, one gun; and schooner Porcupine, one gun. The command of the fleet was given to Perry, and the Lawrence, so named in honor of the slain commander of the Chesapeake, was his flag-ship. But men and supplies were wanting. A British squadron on the lake seriously menaced the fleet at Erie, and Perry pleaded for materials to put his vessels in proper order to meet danger. “Think of my situation,” he wrote to Chauncey— “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.”

Perry, anxiously waiting for men to man his little fleet at Erie, was partially gratified by the arrival there of 100 men from Black Rock, under Captain Elliott, and early in August, 1813, he went out on the lake before he was fairly prepared for vigorous combat. On Aug. 17, when off Sandusky Bay, he fired a signalgun for General Harrison, according to agreement. Harrison was encamped at Seneca, and late in the evening of the 19th he and his suite arrived in boats and went on board the flag-ship Lawrence, where arrangements were made for the fall campaign in that quarter. Harrison had about 8,000 militia, regulars and Indians, at Camp Seneca, a little more than 20 miles from the lake. While he was waiting for Harrison to get his army ready to be transported to Fort Malden, Perry cruised about the lake. On a bright morning, Sept. 10, the sentinel watching in the main-top of the Lawrence cried, “Sail, ho!” It announced the appearance of the British fleet, clearly seen in [259] the northwestern horizon. Very soon Perry's nine vessels were ready for the enemy. At the mast-head of the Lawrence was displayed a blue banner, with the words of Lawrence, the dying captain, in large white letters “Don't give up the

Put-in-bay—smoke of battle seen in the distance.

ship.” The two squadrons slowly approached each other. The British squadron was commanded by Com. Robert H. Barclay, who fought with Nelson at Trafalgar. His vessels were the ship Detroit, nineteen guns, and one pivot and two howitzers; ship Queen Charlotte, seventeen, and one howitzer; brig Lady Prevost, thirteen, and one howitzer; brig Hunter, ten; sloop Little Belt, three; and schooner Chippewa, one, and two swivels. The battle began at noon, at long range, the Scorpion, commanded by young Sailing-Master Stephen Champlin, then less than twenty-four years of age, firing the first shot on the American side. As the fleets drew nearer and nearer, hotter and hotter waxed the fight. For two hours the Lawrence bore the brunt of battle, until she lay upon the waters almost a total wreck —her rigging all shot away, her sails cut into shreds, her spars battered into splinters, and her guns dismounted. One mast remained, and from it streamed the national flag. The deck was a scene of dreadful carnage, and most men would have struck their flag. But Perry was hopeful in gloom. His other vessels had fought gallantly, excepting the Niagara, Captain Elliott, the stanchest ship in the fleet, which had kept outside, and was unhurt. As she drew near the Lawrence, Perry resolved to fly to her, and, renewing the fight, win the victory. Putting on the uniform of his rank, that he might properly receive Barclay as his prisoner, he took down his broad

Position of the two squadrons just before the battle.

pennant and the banner with the stirring words, entered his boat, and, with four stout seamen at the oars, he started on his perilous voyage, anxiously watched by [260]

Perry's despatch.

those he had left on the Lawrence. Perry stood upright in his boat, with the pennant and banner partly wrapped about him. Barclay, who had been badly wounded, informed of Perry's daring, and knowing the peril of the British fleet if the young commodore should reach the decks of the Niagara, ordered big and

The Perry medal.

little guns to be brought to bear on the little boat that held the hero. The voyage lasted fifteen minutes. Bullets traversed the boat, grape-shot falling in the water near covered the seamen with spray, and oars were shivered by cannon-balls, but not a man was hurt. Perry reached the Niagara in safety. Hoisting his pennant over her, he dashed through the British line, and eight minutes afterwards the colors of the enemy's flag-ship were struck, all but two of the fleet surrendering. These attempted to escape, but were pursued and brought back, late in the evening, by the Scorpion, whose gallant commander (Champlin) had fired the first and last gun in the battle of Lake Erie. Assured of victory, Perry sat down, and, resting his naval cap on his knee, wrote to Harrison, with a pencil, on the back of a letter, the famous despatch: “We have met the enemy, and they are [261] ours—two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.” The name of Perry was made immortal. His government thanked him, and gave him and Elliott each a gold medal. The legislature of Pennsylvania voted him thanks and a gold medal; and it gave thanks and a silver medal to each man who was engaged in the battle. The Americans lost twenty-seven killed and ninety-six wounded. The British loss was about 200 killed and 600 made prisoners. At about nine o'clock in the evening of the day of the battle, the moon shining brightly, the two squadrons weighed anchor and sailed into Put-in-Bay, not far from Sandusky, out of which the American fleet had sailed that morning. The last survivor of the battle of Lake Erie was John Norris, who died at Petersburg, Va., in January, 1879.

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