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.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.
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.
Author BARRY GOUGH
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).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Fort Malden National Historic Site
This Parks Canada website is dedicated to the Fort Malden National Historic Site in Ontario.
Robert Heriot Barclay
A biography of British naval officer Robert Heriot Barclay. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Battle of Lake Erie: Building the Fleet in the Wilderness
An illustrated account of the challenges of constructing war ships for service on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. Also chronicles key events in the Battle of Lake Erie from an American perspective. From the Naval History & Heritage Command in the US.
Hamilton and Scourge National Historic Site
See a concise description of equipment and techniques used to construct British and American wooden sailing ships during the War of 1812. Click on the menu on the left for additional detail about the history of the Hamilton and the Scourge, two schooners lost during a Lake Ontario storm in 1813. A City of Hamilton website.
Oliver H. Perry
A brief biography of American navy commander Oliver Hazard Perry, who scored a decisive victory over the British fleet in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. Click on the image for an enlarged view. From the "Ohio History Central" website.
The Commodore and I: a Cruise with Oliver Hazard Perry
An article about scholarly research into the life and military career of the legendary US Navy commander Oliver Hazard Perry. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The Western Theatre in the War of 1812
An article about apparent deficiencies in Canadian and British historiography concerning events and notable figures in the "western theatre" of the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The War of 1812 and the Tourist Encounter in Upper Canada
See a series of 1840 watercolour paintings depicting scenes of various sites related to the War of 1812 created by British military artist Lieutenant Philip John Bainbrigge. Includes an illustration of the original Brock's Monument and other structures that no longer exist. Also provides an account of Bainbrigge's travels through the region. Click on each image for a larger view. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
American Commodores in the War of 1812
An in-depth article about titles and ranks bestowed upon British and American naval officers in the War of 1812. From the journal "The Northern Mariner."
The Mentor: The War of 1812
Scroll down the page for illustrations from a 1916 publication depicting various encounters between British and American military officers who served in the War of 1812. The accompanying descriptions are written from an American perspective. From gutenberg.org.
The HMS General Hunter: The Voyage Continues
A brief note about plans to raise and display the HMS General Hunter of War of 1812 fame. Click on the "Larry LePage's Presentation" link for additional details. From the saugeentimes.com website.