The Battle of Lake Erie in 1813: Summary & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

The Battle of Lake Erie was a pivotal event in the War of 1812. Read all about this historical event through a summary and fact set and then complete a short quiz to see what you learned.

Overview

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was a sort of follow-up to the American Revolution. If the Revolution was the game, this war would be the overtime period, even though the British had given up and the Americans were the Revolution's clear winner.

During the War of 1812, the British Navy, long considered the world's best, tried many times to take over the Great Lakes region. This area includes Lake Erie and its many islands, bordering Ohio and Pennsylvania. At the start of the war, the British took control of Detroit (Michigan was a territory then), thus enabling them to attack Ohio and surrounding areas from nearly any side. The lakes were vital for supplying British land troops with weapons, food, and other needs.

Map of Lake Erie Islands/Great Lakes inset
Lake Erie Islands

American army and navy forces were stationed all along the coast of Lake Erie, waiting for a time when they could engage the British and push them out of the Great Lakes region. Their presence meant that the British had to be sneaky to sail to Detroit, and the Americans knew if they could get the British to stop supplying troops there, they would retreat.

Summary of Battle

Going into the battle, both sides were nearly the same in terms of numbers of ships and cannons. Their leaders, however, were quite different. Commander Oliver Hazard Perry (U.S.) was a sailor with a troubled past and was a newer leader, while Commander Robert Barclay (Britain) was a very experienced sailor and leader.

Robert Barclay (GB) - left; Oliver Hazard Perry (US) - right
Oliver Hazard Perry and Robert Barclay

The story of the Battle of Lake Erie reads like a good book read sitting by the fire. Imagine you were there and keeping a journal of the event as you fought on the American side. This basically illustrates how the events of the battle unfolded:

September 10, 1813, Dawn - Rose early today because lookouts report British vessels near Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island of Lake Erie. Suddenly there was yelling as our Master Commander Oliver Hazard Perry called us to battle.

7:00am - Boarded ships and headed out on the water to engage the British. Mother Nature apparently has other plans; the wind has pushed us the other way.

10:00am - Mood is improving; it seems Mother Nature changed her mind. We were able to head towards the enemy.

11:44am- Commander Perry raised a flag on his ship, the Niagara, and it said 'Don't Give up the Ship!' We knew then we would be victorious!

11:45am - Whoa! That was close! That British ship off the port bow just fired on us! The Battle of Lake Erie has begun!

12:15pm - Just sailed past the first line of British ships; took heavy damage, but we pushed forward and gained an advantage.

2:30pm - So much for that advantage. The British destroyed many of our ships. I saw Commander Perry's ship nearly destroyed. Rumors spread about surrender; but we know that Perry is too proud for that.

2:45pm - Just found out that most of the senior leaders of the British navy have been killed. Perry called on us to swarm what remains of the British fleet.

3:00pm - Finally, the British surrendered. I found out that Commander Perry wrote to General William Henry Harrison, 'We have met the enemy, and they are ours.' Victory for the Americans!

Facts on the Battle of Lake Erie

Perrys Victory and International Piece Memorial at Put-In-Bay, South Bass Island, Ohio
Perry Monument

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