The Battle of Lake Erie
An Overview of the Battle of Lake Erie
By September of 1813, the American fleet under Oliver Hazard Perry had gained the upper hand on Lake Erie. Perry was effectively blockading the British at Amherstburg on the Detroit River. For British Army Commander Henry Procter and his naval counterpart Robert Barclay, the situation was getting desperate. Without control of the lake, food supplies at Amherstburg were running dangerously low. There was no more money to pay the army its wages and the navys sailors had been reduced to half-rations. Despite being outnumbered, the British squadron had no choice but to risk everything in all-out battle against the American fleet.
On September 9, Barclay sailed out of Amherstburg with the intention of unblocking the Lake Erie supply line. He met Oliver Hazard Perrys squadron at Put-in-Bay the next day. The ensuing confrontation was a dramatic naval battle which would come to figure prominently in the mythology of the war.
After almost four hours of intense cannon fire, individual acts of heroism, and much human suffering, the British surrendered. On Perrys flagship the Lawrence only 20 out of 103 men escaped the engagement without being killed or wounded. Captain Barclay was wounded badly in his good shoulder and thigh.
The battle ended in unequivocal victory for the Americans. It was the first time in history that an entire British fleet was defeated and captured by the enemy.
Immediately after the battle Perry sat down to scribble the dispatch that became the most-quoted phrase of the war: We have met the enemy and they are ours.
The American naval victory paved the way for William Henry Harrisons successful invasion of Upper Canada. Having lost access to Lake Erie, Procter was forced to abandon Amherstburg and withdraw up the Thames Valley. Harrison caught up with the British-First Nations force at Moraviantown, where he destroyed Procter and Tecumsehs army.