1813 on the Lakes: Lake Erie
Having moved his ships onto Lake Erie in late July, Oliver Hazard Perry began laying plans for achieving mastery of the region. The British squadron on the lake lacked supplies and men, but on September 10 Lieutenant Robert H. Barclay, R.N., could no longer delay his attack. After two and a half hours Perry had to abandon his disabled flagship Lawrence for another vessel in order to continue the battle. A half an hour later he had succeeded. The words of Perry’s reports of his victory have become often-quoted mantras of naval history. To Major General William Henry Harrison of the Army he wrote, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.…” To Secretary of the Navy William Jones he wrote, “It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms of the United States a signal victory….” In gratitude, Perry was promoted from Master Commandant to Captain, retroactive to the day of the battle.
As commander of the lake forces, Isaac Chauncey’s conservative nature had governed his approach in the distribution of men, causing a rift between himself and Oliver Hazard Perry, his junior in rank. Perry requested removal from the Lake Erie command, and in the aftermath of his victory, William Jones granted his request and returned him to Rhode Island until a ship became available. The rebuilding of the Lake Erie fleet, heavily damaged in the battle was left to Master Commandant Jesse D. Elliott.
As on the other two lakes, Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s year was mainly focused on building his fleet. The British were similarly engaged, but during the sailing season of 1813 the two forces never met in a serious battle.
The victory of Lake Erie allowed Major General William Henry Harrison to recapture Amherstburg and Detroit and to pursue the British army further into Canada. The Native American allies of the British began to desert them and on 5 October the leader Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames. Territorial gains across the Canadian border slipped away as winter set in and American enlistments expired. British forces easily recaptured all the taken ground in the Niagara region and burned the towns of Lewiston, Buffalo, and Black Rock.