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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 26

Chapter XXVI.

Engagement between the hostile Squadrons on Lake Erie, commanded by Commodores Barclay and Perry—Com­modore Perry transfers his Flag, in the Heat of Action, in an open Boat—British Squadron surrenders—Re­marks—Retreat of the British Forces from Detroit and Amherstburg—Action at Moravian Village—General Proctor continues his Retreat to Ancaster—Remarks.

During these operations on the ocean, the American armies intended for the invasion of Canada, had been for the most part quietly resting on their arms, waiting for the fitting out of a fleet which was then in a forward state, to contest the dominion of Lake Erie, with Com­modore Barclay. In the latter part of August this fleet was ready to sail, consisting of nine vessels of various sizes carrying in all fifty-nine guns, the command of which was confided to Commodore Perry:

The British fleet, under Commodore Barclay, consist­ing of six vessels of various sizes, and carrying an aggregate of sixty-nine guns, on the morning of the 10th of September, descried the American squadron at anchor in Put-in-bay, near the head of Lake Erie. The British commodore immediately crowded sail and bore down upon the enemy, which Commodore Perry discovering, weighed anchor and got under way to meet him.

The hostile squadrons formed lines of battle about ten o'clock, A. M.—but in consequence of the calm which that morning prevailed on the lake, it was forty-five minutes past eleven before the ships could approach within range of shot. On the enemy's flag ship, the Lawrence, (which was ahead of the squadron,) nearing, the Detroit, the flag ship of Commodore Barclay, opened a heavy fire, in opposition to which, the distance being so great, the Lawrence could not bring her carronades to bear. Commodore Perry, however, continued to approach his antagonist, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which he labored. The Queen Charlotte, by this time, had come up and opened her fire upon the American commodore; yet Perry, undismayed by his hazardous situation, steadily maintained his course, not even wait­ing for his smaller vessels to come up—until within pistol shot of his adversaries, he commenced a fire in turn. He still continued to advance as if he intended to board the Detroit, until the sides of the Lawrence were in a number of places perforated with shot, his decks literally swept of his crew, and almost every gun rendered useless.

In this crisis of the engagement, the other American vessels, which had been delayed by the calm, began to to approach; and Captain Perry, discovering that the Lawrence was becoming completely untenable, embark­ed with the greatest coolness into an open boat, in the midst of a tremendous cannonade, and transferred his flag to the Niagara, after which the Lawrence drifted into the British line and surrendered.

So soon as Perry raised his flag in the Niagara, he ordered his smaller vessels to close with the British squadron: he then broke through the line and laid him­self alongside the Detroit, where he poured in such tremendous broadsides, that, together with the injury she had already sustained, compelled her to surrender. The other vessels had all ere this closed into action; and having maintained such an incessant fire upon the Queen Charlotte as obliged her to follow the example of the Detroit, to which destiny the whole fleet was in a few moments compelled to submit.

This victory was certainly signal and decisive on the part of the Americans. The intrepid conduct of Cap­tain Perry through the whole day, called forth the admiration of Captain Barclay with the whole officers and crews of his fleet; but his conduct after the engage­ment was no less conspicuous for kindness and humanity towards the prisoners. To this the brave and generous Barclay sets his seal in the following declaration—that, "the conduct of Perry towards the captive officers and seamen was sufficient to immortalize him."

The loss of the British squadron, in this engagement, in killed and wounded, amounted to one hundred and thirty-five, forty-one of whom were of the former, among whom were Captain Finnis and the first Lieutenant of the Queen Charlotte. In this action, Captain Barclay's only remaining hand was disabled, having previously lost the other in the service of his king and country. The loss of the Americans in killed and wounded amounted to one hundred and twenty-three, twenty-six of whom were killed.

It would be impossible to conceive in what extraordi­nary and extravagant language this victory was extolled throughout the United States. The circumstance, too, of Captain Barclay having an advantage of ten guns over the enemy, was a matter of too much importance to make the story take well, to be once lost sight of. Nothing, however, was said of the greater number of small craft which the enemy possessed—vessels upon which, when brought to close quarters, it is next to a moral impossibility to bring the guns of a larger vessel to bear, while they at the same time possess all the power of annoying them. But the principal disadvantage under which Commodore Barclay had to encounter the enemy, was not in the number of ships. The American government had, for a length of time, been engaged in the most extensive and vigorous preparations for the equipment of a naval force on Lake Erie, which should afford to that nation the ascendency on that interior ocean, Being now fully convinced that before a conquest could be made of Upper Canada, they must command the lake—hence the long inactive state of the American army destined for that service. Commodore Barclay had not in his whole fleet fifty seamen*, and even a number of these were only rated ordinary seamen, the deficiency of whom was supplied by soldiers drafted chiefly from the Newfoundland fencible regiment, whose very situation in life, as soldiers, precluded them from any knowledge of the management of a ship, or even of the technical phrases of naval officers. However good those men might be in the field in their original capa­city as soldiers, their ignorance of the duty to be performed as sailors, in all the hurry and bustle of a sea fight, must have had a strong and powerful tenden­cy to reduce them, at least, to one half the strength which their number would import. In opposition to this, the United States government, in its preparations for prosecuting the war on the Canadian frontier, select­ed crews to man the fleet on Lake Erie, of the ablest and most skilful seamen in the United States navy. It was determined by that government that Canada should fail before its arms, and therefore nothing was left undone which could be done to promote this object. The con­summate diligence with which Perry's squadron had been equipped with seamen and necessaries for the im­portant service for which it was intended, could not fail of securing to him the victory, even over a force of much more potency than that under the command of Commodore Barclay. The victory once gained. Gene­ral Harrison, who was daily receiving reinforcements at Fort Meigs, waited to give the coup de grace to the enterprise.

After the capture of the British squadron on Lake Erie, Forts Amherstburg, Detroit and the adjacent posts became untenable by the British, and were conse­quently abandoned. Before General Proctor had evacuated the positions which he occupied on that part of the frontier he destroyed the magazines and forts together with all such public stores as he could not car­ry with the army.

During these transactions, General Harrison having received reinforcements amounting to seven or eight thousand men, including four thousand volunteers from the state of Kentucky under Samuel Shelby the gover­nor of that state, made a descent upon Canada. Com. Perry conveyed all the troops, artillery and stores, in his flotilla, from the mouth of the Miami to the Canadian shore, except the dragoons who were to advance by land and so order their march that they might arrive in the neighborhood of Malden at the same time with the in­fantry.

General Harrison, on his arrival, having found the different posts evacuated, invested General Mc. Arthur with the chief command of those garrisons, and prepared to pursue the retreating army up the river Thames with a force of three thousand men, including Colonel Johnson's corps of dragoons consisting of one thousand.

So soon as General Proctor understood that Harrison was in pursuit of him, he formed a position on the right bank of the River Thames, near the Moravian village, and there awaited his approach. On the 5th of October the enemy made his appearance in great force. General Proctor had formed his troops into line, to the number of five or six hundred. The Indians under Tecumseh, to the amount of twelve hundred, occupied a swampy thick brushwood to the right of General Proctor's position.

The first movement which was made, after a few volleys, the enemy's cavalry charged the British line, which completely decided the issue of the day: the line gave way at the charge; and the enemy's cavalry formed in the rear to commence with the rifle, when the British troops surrendered. To the left of the enemy's position, which was opposed to the Indians, the battle raged with more obstinacy. This part of the enemy's line had even given way until a column under Gover­nor Shelby was brought up to its support. The Indians, encouraged by the presence of Tecumseh, fought with an enthusiasm bordering on desperation, until the fall of that great aboriginal hero, when the Indians visibly gave way until they had entirely left the field

General Proctor with his staff continued their retreat until they arrived at the village of Ancaster, about ten miles distant from Burlington Heights, where they re­mained a few days to collect the scattered remains of the army, which amounted to nearly two hundred men.

Before the American army returned to Detroit, they consigned to the flames the Moravian village, pretending to justify their savage conduct by offering it as a retalia­tion for what they called the massacre at the River Raisin.

During General Harrison's absence from Detroit, a few of the Indian tribes tendered their services to Gene­ral Mc. Arthur, to raise the hatchet against the enemies of the United States by whom they were readily ac­cepted.

In the action at Moravian village, the British lost, in killed, wounded and missing, about three hundred and sixty-nine, three hundred of whom were prisoners. The loss of the enemy, in killed and wounded, was about fifty.

The success of the American arms on Lake Erie and its surrounding shores, had so intoxicated and bewildered the enemy, that, in their subsequent movements, nothing but conquest and victory were calculated upon—no allowance whatever was made for a failure in any one point. "Canada must now be ours," was the exulting and arrogant language of that deluded people.

General Wilkinson was called from the south to as­sume the command of the American forces in the north, in the room of General Dearborn, which now with General Hampton's division amounted to about eighteen thousand men, to which General Harrison's division was ordered to be added. Such were the gigantic and formidable preparations for the capture of Montreal, where the American soldiers were promised, as an ad­ditional incitement, good winter quarters.

*About seven to each vessel.

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.