The Cleveland area, specifically its many waterways, has been witness to truly incredible times in American history. For today’s Daily Feed, dive into the most historic moment along Cleveland’s Lake Erie: The epic Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry took command of US Naval battle group. Their mission: to intercept and destroy a British task force on Lake Erie. The task at hand was a rather massive one. Instead of a few British ships, Perry’s force would be engaging an entire naval squadron.
Fifteen minutes before noon, the cannon fire began as the US fleet engaged the British force. While the English took heavy losses early in the battle, Perry’s flagship, the Lawrence, was damaged to the point of no longer being combat able. Upon seeing the distressed American battleship, the British commander requested that Perry lower his flag and surrender. That flag, which flew atop the Lawrence for the entire opening of the engagement, famously read “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”
Instead of a white flag, Perry and his officers personally fired one last salvo from the Lawrence. They then boarded small boats and under heavy cannon fire transferred to the USS Niagara. With his command now transferred to the Niagara, Perry was able to split the line of the British ships. With cannon fire coming from every direction, this strategy doomed the remaining Royal Navy’s vessels. The guns fell silent at 2:30 p.m. as the British commander surrendered to Perry. Rather than accepting the formal surrender aboard the Niagara, Perry instead did so aboard the Lawrence.
Following the victory, Perry sent the now famous message to General William Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
While the numbers of the battle were relatively small on the scale of war, the strategic value was immense. The engagement secured US control of Lake Erie and was the first time that an entire British naval squadron surrendered. The victory also opened up an opportunity for the US to invade Canada, at the time a British territory. Considering that the crown had no interest in expansion of the war, this threat was one of the major reasons it came to an end.