Battle of Lake Erie (Battle of Put-in-Bay)

The Battle of Lake Erie was a naval battle fought by the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy on 10 September 1813 in western Lake Erie during the WAR OF 1812.

\u0093the niagara strikes back,\u0094 rindlisbacher
a close action view of the climax in the battle of lake erie. with his former flagship damaged and offering surrender, perry transferred his command to the fresh brig Niagara, turned her downwind, and raked the bows of the British navy with double-shotted rounds let go at point-blank range. The British never recovered, and surrendered themselves a few minutes later (\u0093The Niagara Strikes Back\u0094 by Peter Rindlisbacher).
\u0093battle of lake erie\u0094 (2), rindlisbacher
six british ships met nine american ships in a decisive encounter on western lake erie, 10 sept 1813. in the early stage of the battle, the longer-range guns of the british and their concentration of fire pounded the american flagship Lawrence into a wreck, declaring surrender. This scene shows the turning point, as the American Perry has shifted his command to a fresh ship and bears down on the weakened British line. His famous victory came about a half-hour later (\u0093Battle of Lake Erie (2)\u0094 by Peter Rindlisbacher).
War of 1812
us admiral perry, the battle of put-in-bay (lake erie)
us admiral oliver perry at put-in-bay during the battle of lake erie, at the moment when he rowed his way through enemy fire from the severely damaged St Lawrence to the Niagara (painting by William Henry Powell, courtesy United States Senate).
Put-in-Bay, Battle of
After gallant resistance by the Royal Navy, the British fleet was forced to surrender. The Americans controlled Lake Erie for the rest of the war (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Library).

The Battle of Lake Erie was a naval battle fought by the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy on 10 September 1813 in western Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Also known as the Battle of Put-in-Bay, the event was unique in the annals of naval combat for it was fought on an inland, freshwater sea, and it marked a turning point in the affairs of the 2 competing powers in the continental heartland and in waters above Lake Erie. It also had an impact on the First Nations, notably on the ill-fated pan-Aboriginal alliance headed by the Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh.

British forces under Major General Isaac Brock took Detroit at the outset of the war, and in doing so secured their flank into the Ohio country. This gave them immense advantages, as did the capture of Fort Michilimackinac on Lake Huron. Lake Erie was vital to the British as a supply route for their western army, the trade of the North West Company and for their Aboriginal allies. Subsequently, the British and Americans built naval squadrons on Lake Erie.

Engagement at Put-in-Bay

The British squadron sailed forth from its base in Amherstburg, Upper Canada, and found the American fleet at dawn at anchor in Put-in-Bay of the Bass Islands (Ohio). The out-gunned and smaller British fleet consisted of 6 naval vessels (Detroit, Queen Charlotte, Lady Prevost, General Hunter, Little Belt and Chippeway) and was under the command of Commodore Robert Barclay. The American fleet consisted of 9 vessels (Lawrence, Niagara, Caledonia, Ariel, Somers, Porcupine, Tigress, Scorpion and Trippe) under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Wind direction and speed soon did not favour the British. When the Americans put to sea, they were advantageously situated to windward of the British vessels. The fleets formed up in such a way that the more powerful vessels on either side were opposite each other.

The Battle

At 11:45 am, the action started when Barclay in the Detroit opened with long guns. Perry in the Lawrence, supported by 2 schooners, attacked the Detroit and soon thereafter, attacked the Queen Charlotte. The American brigs' heavy and long gunnery wreaked havoc on the British vessels. The Detroit was lost and all other vessels damaged, their sails entangled or otherwise out of the action. The Lawrence was also heavily damaged, and thus Perry shifted his flag to the Niagara. The battle ceased at 2:30 pm. All British ships were captured and all the surviving officers and men made prisoner. British losses numbered 41 dead, 94 wounded and 306 captured. American casualties were 27 dead and 96 wounded. The captured pennants of the British ships were taken to Annapolis, Maryland, to be put on display.

Reasons for American Victory on Lake Erie

The reasons for the American victory were determined at Barclay's court martial as a lack of resources - both equipment and personnel - as well as the superiority of the American squadron and the unfortunate early fall of the British higher-ranking officers in the action. The court martial noted Barclay's great exertions in readying his ships for action and stated that he was fully justified in taking his squadron into action. He and his surviving officers and men were honourably acquitted.

Consequences of the Battle of Lake Erie

The victory gave the Americans the command of Lake Erie and with it freedom of action in subsequent military operations. Major General Henry Procter, the senior British commander, with few means of getting supplies, ordered Fort Amherstburg burned and fell back up the Thames River. Tecumseh, who was allied with Procter, understood what the naval defeat meant to his pan-Aboriginal alliance, and also fell back in company with the British army. US Major General William Henry Harrison gave chase and met up with Procter and Tecumseh near Moraviantown. During the Battle of Moraviantown, the British suffered another defeat and Tecumseh was killed.

Units of the American fleet, stronger than ever, sailed north into Lake Huron and in 1814 undertook various operations there, searching out surviving enemy shipping (the Nancy was destroyed at the Nottawasaga River; see Nancy Island Historic Site), raiding Sault Ste Marie and attempting unsuccessfully to recapture Fort Michilimackinac. The flagship Niagara became emblematic of American naval prowess and is now part of the museum at Erie, Pennsylvania.


Further Reading

  • Barry M. Gough, Fighting Sail on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay: The War of 1812 and Its Aftermath (2002) and Through Water, Ice & Fire: Schooner Nancy of the War of 1812 (2006); Robert Malcomson and Thomas Malcomson, H.M.S. Detroit: The Battle for Lake Erie (1990); Victor Suthren, The War of 1812 (1999).