The Battle of Lake Erie,
sometimes referred to as the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10
September, 1813, in Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio during the War of 1812.
Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of
Great Britain’s Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the
remainder of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit
and win the Battle of the Thames to break the Indian confederation of
Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the war of 1812.
When the war broke out, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie.
They already had a small force of warships there: the sloop of war Queen
Charlotte and the brig General Hunter. The brig Lady Prevost was under
construction and was put into service a few weeks after the outbreak of war.
These vessels were controlled by the Provincial Marine, which was a military
transport service rather than a naval service. Nevertheless, the Americans
lacked any counter to the British armed vessels. The only American warship on
Lake Erie, the brig Adams, was pinned down in Detroit by the British
batteries at Sandwich on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.
Major-General Isaac Brock used this superiority to defeat an American army at
the Siege of Detroit.
The British took the Adams when Detroit was surrendered, renaming her HMS
Detroit. Together with the brig Caledonia, which had been commandeered from
the Canadian North West Company, she was boarded and captured near Fort Erie
on 9 October, by American sailors and United States Marines under the command
of Lieutenant Jesse Elliot. Detroit went aground on an island in the middle
of the Niagara River and was burned to prevent her being recaptured.
Caledonia was taken to the navy yard at Black Rock and commissioned into the
United States Navy. Also present at Black Rock were the schooners Somers and
Ohio and the sloop-rigged Trippe, which had all been purchased by the United
States Navy and were being converted into gunboats. While the British held
Fort Erie and the nearby batteries which dominated the Niagara River, all
these vessels were pinned down and unable to leave Black Rock.
Late in 1812, Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of the Navy had received long-time
American lake mariner Daniel Dobbins, who had escaped capture at Detroit and
brought information on the British forces on Lake Erie. Dobbins recommended
Presque Isle (present-day Erie, Pennsylvania) as a naval base on the lake.
(“Presqu’isle” is French for “peninsula,” literally “almost an island”).
Dobbins was despatched to build four gunboats there, although Lieutenant
Elliot objected to the lack of facilities. Commodore Isaac Chauncey had been
appointed to command of the United States naval forces on the Great Lakes. He
made one brief visit to Presque Isle on 1 January, 1813 where he approved
Dobbins' actions and recommended collecting materials for a larger vessel,
but then returned to Lake Ontario where he thereafter concentrated his
In January 1813, William Jones (the newly-appointed Secretary of the Navy)
had ordered the construction of two brig-rigged corvettes at Presque Isle,
and transferred shipwright Noah Brown there to take charge of construction.
Other than their rig and crude construction (for example, using wooden pegs
instead of nails because of shortages of the latter), the two brigs were
close copies of the contemporary USS Hornet. The heaviest armament for the
ships came from foundries on Chesapeake Bay, and were moved to Presque Isle
only with great difficulty. (The Americans were fortunate in that some of
their largest cannon had been despatched shortly before raiding parties under
Rear-Admiral George Cockburn destroyed a foundry at Frenchtown on the eastern
seaboard.) However, the Americans could obtain other materials and fittings
from Pittsburgh, which was expanding as a manufacturing center, and smaller
guns were borrowed from the Army.
Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had earlier been appointed to command
on Lake Erie, through lobbying by the Senior Senator from Rhode Island. He
arrived at Presque Isle to take command at the end of March. Having arranged
for the defence of Presque Isle, he proceeded to Lake Ontario to obtain
reinforcements of seamen from Commodore Isaac Chauncey. After commanding the
American schooners and gunboats at the Battle of Fort George, he then went to
Black Rock where the American vessels had been released when the British
abandoned Fort Erie at the end of May. Perry had them towed by draught oxen
up the Niagara, an operation which took six days, and sailed with them along
the shore to Presque Isle.
Meanwhile, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay was appointed to command the
British squadron on Lake Erie. Another British officer had already endangered
his career by refusing the appointment as success appeared unlikely. Barclay
missed a rendezvous with the Queen Charlotte at Point Abino and was forced to
make the tedious journey to Amherstburg overland, arriving on 10 June. He
brought with him only a handful of officers and seamen. When he took command
of his squadron, the crews of his vessels numbered only seven British seamen,
108 officers and men of the Provincial Marine (whose quality Barclay
disparaged), 54 men of the the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and 106 soldiers,
effectively landsmen, from the 41st Foot. Nevertheless he immediately set out
in the Queen Charlotte and the Lady Prevost. He first reconnoitred Perry’s
base at Presque Isle and determined that it was defended by 2,000
Pennsylvania militia, with batteries and redoubts. He then cruised the
eastern end of Lake Erie, hoping to intercept the American vessels from Black
Rock. The weather was hazy, and he missed them.
During July and August Barclay received two small vessels which had been
constructed at Chatham and attempted to complete the ship-rigged corvette HMS
Detroit at Amherstburg. Because the Americans controlled Lake Ontario and
occupied the Niagara Peninsula in early 1813, supplies for Barclay had to be
carried overland from York. The American victory earlier in the year at the
Battle of York resulted in guns (24-pounder carronades) intended for the
Detroit falling into American hands. The Detroit had to be completed with a
miscellany of guns from the fortifications of Amherstburg. It was alleged
that these guns lacked flintlock firing mechanisms and matches, and that they
could be fired only by snapping pistols over powder piled in the vent holes.
(Nevertheless, they were very effectively served during the battle).
Barclay repeatedly requested men and supplies from Commodore James Lucas Yeo,
commanding on Lake Ontario, but received very little. The commander of the
British troops on the Detroit frontier, Major-General Henry Procter, was
similarly starved of soldiers and munitions by his superiors. He declined to
make an attack on Presque Isle unless he was reinforced, and instead he incurred
heavy losses in an unsuccessful attack on Fort Stephenson, which he mounted
at the urgings of some of his Indian warriors.
Blockades of Presque Isle and Amherstburg
By mid-July, the American squadron was almost complete, although not yet
fully manned (Perry claimed to have only 120 men fit for duty). The British
squadron maintained a blockade of Presque Isle for ten days from 20 July to
29 July. The harbour had a sandbar across its mouth, with only 5 feet (1.5 m)
of water over it, which prevented Barclay sailing in to attack the American
ships (although Barclay briefly skirmished with the defending batteries on 21
July), but also prevented the Americans leaving in fighting order. Barclay
had to lift the blockade on 29 July because of shortage of supplies and bad
weather. Perry immediately began to move his vessels across the sandbar. This
was an exhausting task. The guns had to be removed from all the boats, and
the largest of them had to be raised between “camels” (barges or lighters
which were then emptied of ballast). When Barclay returned four days later,
he found that Perry had nearly completed the task. Perry’s two largest brigs
were not ready for action, but the gunboats and smaller brigs formed a line
so confidently that Barclay withdrew to await the completion of the Detroit.
Perry had received 130 extra sailors under Lieutenant Elliot, who had been
despatched by Chauncey. Although Perry described some of them as
"wretched", at least 50 of them were experienced sailors drafted
from the USS Constitution, then undergoing a refit in Boston. Perry also had
a few volunteers from the Pennsylvania militia.
His vessels first proceeded to Sandusky, where they received further
contingents of volunteers from Major General William Henry Harrison's Army of
the Northwest. After twice appearing off Amherstburg, Perry established an
anchorage at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. For the next five weeks, Barclay was
effectively blockaded and unable to move supplies to Amherstburg. His
sailors, Procter’s troops, and the very large numbers of Indian warriors and
their families there quickly ran out of supplies. After receiving a
last-minute reinforcement of two naval officers, three warrant officers and
thirty-six sailors transferred from a transport temporarily laid up in Quebec
under Lieutenant George Bignall, Barclay had no choice but to put out again
and seek battle with Perry.
On the morning of 10 September, the Americans saw Barclay's vessels heading
for them, and got under way from their anchorage at Put-in-Bay. The wind was
light. Barclay initially held the weather gauge, but the wind shifted and
allowed Perry to close and attack. Both squadrons were in line of battle,
with their heaviest vessels near the centre of the line. Perry hoped to get
his two big brigs, his flagship Lawrence and Niagara, into carronade range
quickly, but in the light wind his vessels were making very little speed and
the Lawrence was battered by the assortment of long guns mounted in the
Detroit for at least 20 minutes before being able to reply effectively. When
Lawrence was finally within carronade range, her fire was not as effective as
Perry hoped, her gunners apparently having overloaded the carronades with
Astern of the Lawrence, the Niagara, under Elliot, was slow to come into
action and remained far out of effective carronade range. It is possible that
Elliott was under orders to engage his opposite number, the Queen Charlotte,
and that the Niagara was obstructed by the Caledonia, but Elliot's actions
would become a matter of dispute between him and Perry for many years. Aboard
the Queen Charlotte, the British ship opposed to the Niagara, the commander
(Robert Finnis) and First Lieutenant were both killed. The next most senior
officer, Lieutenant Irvine of the Provincial Marine, found that both the
Niagara and the American gunboats were far out of range, and passed the brig
General Hunter to engage Lawrence at close range.
Although the American gunboats at the rear of the American line of battle
steadily pounded the British ships in the centre of the action with raking
shots from their long guns from a distance, Lawrence was reduced by the two
British ships to a wreck. Four-fifths of the Lawrence's crew were killed or
wounded. Both of the fleet’s surgeons were sick with lake fever, so the
wounded were taken care of by the assistant, Usher Parsons. When the last gun
on the Lawrence became unusable, Perry decided to transfer his flag. He was
rowed a half mile (1 km) through heavy gunfire to the Niagara while the
Lawrence was surrendered. (It was later alleged that he left the Lawrence
after the surrender; but Perry had actually taken down only his personal
pennant, in blue bearing the motto, "Don't give up the ship", the
last reported words of Captain James Lawrence of the frigate USS Chesapeake.)
When the Lawrence surrendered, firing died away briefly. The Detroit collided
with Queen Charlotte, both ships being almost unmanageable with damaged
rigging and almost every officer killed or severely wounded. Barclay was
severely wounded and his first Lieutenant was killed, leaving Lieutenant
Inglis in command. Most of the smaller British vessels were also disabled and
drifting to leeward. The British nevertheless expected the Niagara to lead
the American schooners away in retreat. Instead, once aboard Niagara, Perry
dispatched Elliot to bring the schooners into closer action, while he steered
Niagara at Barclay’s damaged ships, helped by the strengthening wind.
Niagara broke through the British line ahead of the Detroit and Queen Charlotte
and luffed up to fire raking broadsides from ahead of them, while the
Caledonia and the American gunboats fired from astern. Although the crews of
Detroit and Queen Charlotte managed to untangle the two ships they could no
longer offer any effective resistance. Both ships surrendered at about 3:00
pm. The smaller British vessels tried to flee but were overtaken and also
Although Perry won the battle on the Niagara, he received the British
surrender on the deck of the recaptured Lawrence to allow the British to see
the terrible price his men had paid.
The British lost 41 killed and 94 wounded. The surviving crews, including the
wounded, numbered 306. The Americans lost 27 killed and 96 wounded, of whom 2
The vessels were anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister
Island when Perry composed his now famous message to Harrison. Scrawled in
pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote:
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner
and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
Perry next sent the following message to the Secretary of the Navy, William
Brig Niagara, off the Western Sister,
Head of Lake Erie September 10, 4 P. M.
Sir:- It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms of the United States a
signal victory over their enemies on this lake. The British squadron,
consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop, have this
moment surrendered to the force under my command after a sharp conflict.
I have the honor to be, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
O. H. Perry
The British army under Proctor had made preparations to abandon their
positions even before Procter knew the result of the battle. In spite of
exhortations from Tecumseh, Procter began to retreat on 27 September. Lacking
supplies, Tecumseh's natives had no option but to accompany him.
Once his vessels and prizes were patched up, Perry ferried 2,500 American
soldiers to Amherstburg and Detroit which were captured without opposition,
while Harrison moved overland with 1,000 mounted troops. Harrison caught up
with Procter's retreating force and defeated them on 5 October at the Battle
of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed.
The Americans controlled Lake Erie for the remainder of the war. This
accounted for much of the Americans’ successes on the Niagara peninsula in
1814 and also removed the threat of a British attack on Michigan, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, or Western New York. However, an expedition to recover Mackinac
Island on Lake Huron failed, and the Americans lost eight of their smaller
vessels and prizes. (Four were destroyed when the British captured Black Rock
at the end of 1813, and four were boarded and captured in separate incidents
on Lake Erie and Lake Huron.)
After the war, the U.S. Navy intentionally sank both the Lawrence and Niagara
in Misery Bay in Lake Erie; the battle damage they had suffered was too
extensive to repair. In 1875, the Lawrence was raised and moved to
Philadelphia, where she was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
Later that year, the ship burned when the pavilion that housed it caught
fire. Although Niagara was raised and restored in 1913, she subsequently fell
into disrepair. She was eventually disassembled, and portions of her were
used in a reconstructed Niagara, which is now on view in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The Perry Monument within Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial
now stands at Put-in-Bay, commemorating the men who fought in the battle.
After the war, there was a bitter quarrel between Perry and Elliot over their
respective parts in the action, mostly fought at second hand in the press. On
the British side, Barclay was exonerated of any blame by a court-martial but
was too badly injured to see service again for several years.
Reasons for the American victory
Most historians attribute the American victory to what Theodore Roosevelt
described as, "Superior heavy metal". Perry's leadership,
particularly in the latter stages of the action, is also mentioned as a
factor. The British historian C.S. Forester commented, "...it was as
fortunate for Americans that the Lawrence still possessed a boat that would
float, as it was that Perry was not hit."
On the British side, William Bell served as constructor and built the
Detroit, which was the best-built ship on the Lake. However, the Detroit was
built slowly, in part due to Bell's perfectionism, and indeed it was the only
purpose-built British warship constructed on Lake Erie during the war. This
building imbalance, given the fact that six American ships were built in the
same time frame, was another important cause of the American victory
(although it might be argued that, even if Barclay had possessed more hulls,
he would have been unable to obtain armament and crews for them).
The battle itself was close-run. Because of failing winds and Elliot's
inaction (perhaps caused by confusion over orders), Perry’s superior squadron
straggled into action, and as a result, Perry’s flagship was forced to fight
against unequal odds. A draw might have been possible, though a complete
British victory was unlikely. In the event, the portion of the American
squadron which had not been engaged in the early part of the action was later
able to overwhelm the damaged British ships with their depleted and exhausted
USS Lake Erie (CG 70) was laid
down 6 March 1990 by Bath Iron Works, Bath ME; launched 13 July 1991; and commissioned
24 July 1993.
She was assigned to Pearl Harbor HI. Lake Erie deployed with the
Constellation (CV-64) battle group on 10 November 1994 and spent most of
December in the Western Pacific. The battle group entered the Arabian Gulf 11
January 1995. The battle group's arrival strengthened U.S. presence in the
gulf and supports U.N. initiatives in the region, including Operation
Southern Watch. In March, Lake Erie took part in a two-week, anti-submarine
warfare (ASW) exercise in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman (5-19 February).
The purpose of Exercise Sharem 110 was to gather data and evaluate tactics to
counter the growing third-world diesel submarine threat. Throughout the
exercise, Topeka (SSN-754) simulated a diesel submarine, while Lake Erie and
Vandegrift (FFG-48) rounded out the surface forces. The first week of the
exercises took place in the southern Persian Gulf. The second week was held
outside the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf of Oman. The ships of the
Constellation Battle Group returned to their home ports in May.
She took part in Pacific Joint Task Force Exercise (PACJTFEX) 97-1, from
10-21 February 1997 off the Southern California coast. PAC JTFEX 97-1 is part
of a series of exercises previously named "FLEETEX." The new name
reflects the increasing focus on preparing naval forces for joint operations
with other U.S. military services.
During a deployment with the Constellation Battle Group, Chosin (CG-65)
turned over the duties of being regional Air Defense Commander to Lake Erie
in July 1997. In early August 1997, Lake Erie was involved in two major
Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD) exercises in the Arabian Gulf named
"Arabian Skies". During the exercises, the Constellation Battle
Group demonstrated a viable TBMD capability using the existing command and
control architecture. Lake Erie, with the Constellation (CV-64) Battle Group,
then departed 5th Fleet's Area of Responsibility (AOR) on 17 August 1997 on
schedule to continue its routine six-month deployment in the waters of the
Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Constellation Battle Group entered the Arabian
Sea on 16 May. After departing the Arabian Gulf, the Constellation Battle
Group concluded its tour in the 5th Fleet with a joint-combined exercise with
military forces from Pakistan. Dubbed Inspired Siren 97-2 and Inspired Alert
97-2, the exercises incorporated both surface combatants and air components,
respectively. The purpose of this four-day training mission was to exercise
the joint-combined naval and air capabilities of both countries, improve
their respective levels of readiness and interoperability, and enhance
military relations between the two nations.
In August 1998, modifications were made aboard Lake Erie and Port Royal,
which consisted of modifications to the Aegis weapons system on board
Ticonderoga-class cruisers; a modification, known as linebacker, and which
uses specialized computing and radar software and hardware to provide
improved tracking and reporting capabilities, and when coupled with the
Standard Missile-2 Block IVA, intercept Tactical Ballistic Missiles (TBM).
Ballistic missile testing afforded Port Royal and other participants an
opportunity to flex the capabilities of the current Aegis weapon system
against a live ballistic missile target and gave a representation of how the
modified system tracks and destroys TBMs.
Lake Erie and Port Royal were then to conduct at sea testing, develop core
doctrine and tactics, and serve as focal points for putting the TBMD
technology in the hands of the warfighters in the rest of the fleet. Sailors
on board both ships were also to provide early feedback to the technical
community and influence the final design of the TBMD system. Successful
Linebacker sea trials at the Pacific Missile Range, Kauai, Hawaii took place
in the fall of 1998.
On 17 December 1999, Lake Erie returned to its homeport at Pearl Harbor Naval
Station after completing a six-month deployment to the western Pacific and
Arabian Gulf. The guided missile cruiser had deployed with the Constellation
(CV-64) Battle Group.
In March 2000, the US Navy began ALI live fire tests and had successfully
conducted the first Controlled Test Vehicle. Shiloh (CG-67) had conducted the
first ALI live firing test in September 1999 and had successfully demonstrated
the launch and flight sequence through third stage separation as well as
verified flight stability at extreme altitude. Though the original plan had
been to conduct all Flight Test Round shots from Shiloh, the need for further
testing conflicted with that ship's operational schedule. Therefore, it was
decided by the CNO to shift to the Lake Erie to conduct the next firings in
the ALI testing program. Lake Erie, already equipped with Area Linebacker
modifications, was, as of 2 March 2000, receiving ALI equipment modifications
in Pearl Harbor and was to conduct system checks and training to support the
planned test firings.
In early July 2000, the US Navy announced that Lake Erie had been designated
the Navy's theater-wide test ship for the AEGIS Lightweight Exoatmospheric
Projectile intercept flight-test series. For the next two years, Lake Erie
would be dedicated to conducting these critical tests. Lake Erie's homeport
in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, made the ship's participation in tests at the
Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai cost-effective with the Navy
anticipating that the ship would not deploy operationally again for about two
In January 2001, Lake Erie conducted the Aegis Light Exo-Atmospheric
Projectile (LEAP) Intercept Flight Test Round (FTR-1A) mission in the
mid-Pacific using the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii. Equipped
with Aegis LEAP Intercept (ALI) computer programs and hardware, Lake Erie
launched an SM-3 missile demonstrating third stage airframe stability and control
through nominal kinetic warhead fourth stage separation. The SM-3 is the
Navy's new exo-atmospheric missile developed to counter theater ballistic
missile (TBM) threats outside the atmosphere.
On 9 February 2001, Lake Erie sortied from Pearl Harbor to assist along with
Coast Guard boats and cutters with rescue efforts after a surfacing U.S.
submarine, the Greenville (SSN-772), struck a Japanese fishing vessel at
approximately 1:45 p.m. (HST) about nine miles south of the Diamond Head
crater off Honolulu, Hawaii. The fishing vessel, named Ehime Maru, rapidly
flooded and sank within 10 minutes in 1,800 feet of water. Twenty-six of 35
aboard were rescued. The Ehime Maru had been on a fishing and research
mission when the Greeneville rapidly surfaced and collided with its stern.
The fast-attack submarine was, at the time, conducting an "emergency
ballast tank blow," a procedure used to bring subs to the surface in the
event of an emergency, although in this case it was used for training, on a
one-day cruise with 16 military and civilian guests.
On 25 January 2002, the Missile Defense Agency and the Navy conducted a
successful flight test in the continuing development of a Sea-Based Midcourse
(SMD) Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). Flight Mission-2 (FM-2)
involved the launch of a developmental Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) and kinetic
warhead (KW) interceptor from Lake Erie and an Aries target missile launched
from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on the island of Kauai,
Hawaii. The target was launched at 9 p.m., EST, January 26. About eight
minutes later, Lake Erie, equipped with Aegis Lightweight Exo-atmospheric
Projectile (LEAP) computer programs and equipment, and having tracked the
target with the Aegis SPY-1 radar and developed a fire-control solution,
launched the newly-developed SM-3. The SM-3 acquired, tracked and diverted
toward the target, demonstrating SM-3 fourth-stage Kinetic Warhead (KW)
guidance, navigation and control. Although not a primary objective, during
this early developmental test, the KW was aimed at the target, resulting in a
hit-to-kill intercept at approximately 9:18 p.m., EST.
The primary objective of this test was to evaluate SM-3 fourth-stage Kinetic
Warhead guidance, navigation and control, with extensive engineering
evaluation data collected for analyses in preparation for future flight
tests. It was the fourth in a planned series of nine developmental test
flights for the SMD program. The mission also included the first fully
operational SM-3 with a live Solid Divert and Attitude Control System to
steer the KW into the target.
On 18 June 2003, exo-atmospheric missile testing suffered a failure but on 11
December Lake Erie reported a successful intercept from an SM-3 missile fired
off Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands four minutes after the target was launched.
On 14 February 2008 the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the Lake
Erie and two other ships would attempt to hit the dead satellite USA 193 in
the north Pacific just prior to burn up during a period after February 20
using a modified SM-3 missile. On 21 February 2008, at approximately 3:30
UTC, the missile was fired and later confirmed to have struck the satellite.
The military intended that the kinetic energy of the missile would rupture
the hydrazine fuel tank allowing the toxic fuel to be consumed during