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And Oliver H. Perry

by Sharon Myers: The year 2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This is the latest in a series of columns that the Stow Sentry is publishing featuring local stories about the war.

The amazing Battle of Lake Erie took place Sept. 10, 1813, led by Oliver Hazard Perry who was only 28 years old when he won the Battle of Lake Erie.

Perry started his career as a midshipman at the age of 14. He was born in South Kingston, R.I. the son of a navy captain and first went to sea on a ship commanded by his father. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant at the age of 17. At 22 he was chosen to supervise the construction of gunboats in Newport, R.I.

By the age of 24, he commanded the schooner Revenge. The ship was wrecked off the coast of Rhode Island and Perry was suspended, pending the hearing that cleared him in 1811.

Who was this dashing young man who was capable of inspiring tremendous loyalty in those who served under him? He was considered by his contemporaries to be so lucky that a phenomenon was to be named "Perry's Luck" after him. Perry had personal integrity and moral rectitude. He had a reputation of calm collectedness, but was often impatient of poor performance. He was a brilliant strategic leader.

At the time of the outbreak of war with Great Britain, Perry commanded the squadron of gunboats he had built five years earlier. In early 1813 he was assigned to command the Lake Erie squadron and was ordered to sail the squadron's small boats past the British guns at Fort Erie and out into the lake itself. His duty was to eliminate British control of Lake Erie, which was a prerequisite for retaking Detroit. He was promoted to Master Commander in September 1812.

To man the fleet, he was sent men who lacked training and discipline and were in ill health. He sought crewmen elsewhere -- 60 volunteered from Pennsylvania. Lt. Jesse Elliott, who was in charge of the Niagara, and 101 officers and seamen were ordered to join Perry in August 1813. David Bunnell, a deserter was put on Perry's flagship, the Lawrence. Perry had more than 400 men and 130 soldiers from Harrison's Army in Sandusky. Perry named his flagship the Lawrence after his friend, James Lawrence, who died during the capture of the Chesapeake.

The drama of the Battle of Lake Erie is breathtaking. Keep in mind that typhoid fever hit Perry's crew days before the battle, including Perry!

At daybreak, Perry's outlook at Put-in-Bay reports the surprise approach of the British. Perry sets sail to meet the enemy. It will take longer to make contact than fight the Battle.

At 11 a.m. Perry hoists his famous battle flag with the Lawrence's inspirational dying words "Don't give up the ship" Perry's signal for action after ordering his crew fed and given a double order of grog. The decks were sprinkled with sand to soak up the blood that will occur from battle.

11:45 a.m. the ships are still over a mile apart, but the British open fire. Their guns have a longer range than ours.

At 11:55 a.m. Perry opens fire with our shorter range guns. The Lawrence and the British Detroit exchanged fire for more than two hours. A typical engagement between wooden sailing ships lasted less than an hour. The extent of time the two ships engaged is extraordinary. The Lawrence and the Detroit closed to within point blank range -- 330 yards -- which made it difficult to miss.

By 2:30 p.m. any observer would say that Perry has lost the battle -- his flagship, The Lawrence, is a helpless wreck. The carnage on board the Lawrence was incredible. The surgeon on board the Lawrence reported that during the action he cut off six legs. Twenty-two men lay dead and another 61 wounded out of a crew of 103. Perry wouldn't give up. He takes a small row boat and standing with his battle flag draped over his shoulder, he is rowed hazardously for 15 minutes and a half mile through shot and shell to the Niagara.

At 2:45 p.m. Perry takes command of the Niagara, hoists his battle flag and heads for the enemy fleet.

At 2:53 p.m. Perry reopens the battle.

By 3 p.m. the British ship is battered to its knees and surrenders. The entire British flotilla was in American hands -- one of the rare times in British history. Observers who viewed the vessels after the battle couldn't believe how anyone survived.

Perry dashes off to General William Henry Harrison the stirring words that have become our heritage, "We have met the enemy and they are ours: Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem. O.H. Perry."

It is said that the cannonading in the Battle of Lake Erie was plainly heard in Summit County and as far away as Detroit. A messenger arrived from Cleveland and warned the women and children to go to Pittsburgh if Perry was defeated. On Sept. 10, 1813 Commodore Perry defeated and captured the British Fleet, and within a month the army invaded Canada and defeated the British Army and Indians under Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames. This ended the war as far as Ohio was concerned. By winning Lake Erie, the U.S. secured the line of supply for General Harrison's Detroit campaign. Perry became Harrison's adviser on naval matters and a member of his general staff. He also became a national hero.

Contact Sharon Myers, President, William Wetmore Chapter Daughters of 1812, at 330-794-5099.

The year 2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This is the tenth in a series of columns that the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press is publishing featuring local stories about the war, and Part II of a column which we published in the Sept. 23, 2012 edition.

Before we leave the Battle of Lake Erie, where was Capt. Elliott for those 2-plus hours that Perry and his crew were being battered by the British? Why was Elliott keeping the Niagara back beyond the line of fire all this time and not coming to the aid of his commander? Some say that Elliott's mistake was that he failed to place service to the squadron as his highest priority. He failed to exhibit the best of naval professionalism. His envy of Perry led to Elliott's negligence.

Elliott took offense at the implications of nonsupport in Perry's report to the secretary of the navy. For the next 30 years he tried to amend the impression that he wasn't a contributor to the victory of Lake Erie. Over the winter of 1813, Elliott and his pals made up their own version of the battle. Elliott tried to solicit support from the British prisoners and they flatly turned him down stating that in the Royal Navy his conduct would have resulted in court-martial and hanging. His pettiness and vindictiveness reached its highest level in his treatment of the veterans of the Lawrence sending them to the isolated, frigid hardship post at Put-in-Bay for the winter of 1813.

Eventually Elliott challenged Perry to a duel, which Perry refused. This led Perry to decide to file a formal court-martial against Elliott. Wishing to avoid any more scandal, President Monroe and Navy Secretary Thompson offered Perry the rank of commodore and a diplomatic mission to South America in exchange for dropping charges against Elliott, putting an official end to the controversy, although it is still debated. It was while Perry was consulting with Venezuela's Simon Bolivar about piracy in the Caribbean, that Perry contracted yellow fever aboard ship and before they could reach Trinidad, he passed away on Aug. 23, 1819 (his 34th birthday). He was buried in the Port of Spain, but his remains were taken back to RI in 1826.

The Battle of Lake Erie was the most important battle fought on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812. It changed the balance of power in the West and enabled the U.S. to recover all it lost in 1812. With the end of the War of 1812, the Great Lakes never again saw naval warfare. Author P.P. Cherry states "The British Lion cowered before the American Eagle and joy and peace and thankfulness settled over the brooding, trembling troubled border land of the Western Reserve." Commodore Oliver Perry embodied the same spirit that has protected our country and moved it forward through more than two centuries.

Poisonous malaria, generated by luxuriant vegetation everywhere filled the valleys of the rivers. The valleys of the Huron and the Cuyahoga, where the troops were, were notorious for ague and fever and September was the worst of the year. The irregular sleep, sun exposure and fog at night and insufficient rations increased the possibility of illness. Most of Perry's men, including Perry himself, were sick with "lake fever" during the Battle of Lake Erie. Life was not easy for the pioneers.

In 1814, the British troops set the White House on fire in retaliation for burning Upper Canada's Parliament Buildings in the Battle of York. Much of Washington was also affected by these fires.

British troops also ransacked the White House and took numerous objects. First Lady Dolley Madison rescued a painting of George Washington. A Canadian man returned a jewelry box in 1939 to President Roosevelt, claiming that his grandfather had taken it from Washington. Most of the stolen objects were lost when a convoy of British ships sank en route to Halifax on Nov. 24, 1814 during a storm.

British prisons Melville Island and Halifax Harbor were barbarous and brutal. Dartmoor, in Devonshire, held 6,500 Americans and was damp and dreary. Seaman David Bunnell of the Battle of Lake Erie became a prisoner of War in 1814 on Lake Huron and spent time in Dartmoor.

On Sept. 14, 1814 Francis Scott Key, who was aboard a ship several miles out to sea, could barely make out an American flag waving over Fort McHenry. British ships were withdrawing from Baltimore, and Key realized that the United States had survived the battle and stopped the British advance. Moved by the sight, he wrote a song celebrating that star-spangled banner as a symbol of America's triumph and endurance.

William Noland was born in 1800 in Baltimore, Md. and died Feb. 18, 1885 of lung fever after a long illness. He was at Washington when the British seized the city and burned the Capital serving in the D.C. Militia, 1st Regiment. He learned the blacksmith trade and worked for some time in the Armory at Harper's Ferry for the Government. He came to Ohio in 1828 and worked on the Ohio Canal as a contractor and ran one of the first boats upon it for a few years, from Portsmouth to Cleveland. He was in Akron when there was nothing but wilderness. He was married twice and was father of 13 children. He is buried in Glendale Cemetery.

There will be a display of the War of 1812 at the Main Branch of the Summit County Library on Main Street in Akron during the month of October.

Contact Sharon Myers, President, William Wetmore Chapter Daughters of 1812 at 330-794-5099.

 

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