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Otsego Herald

October 3, 2013

Great Naval Victory


At 45 minutes past two the signal was given for “close action.” The Niagara being very little injured, I determined to pass through the enemy’s line, bore up and passed ahead of their two ships and a brig, giving a raking fire to them from the starboard guns and to a large schooner and sloop, from the larboard [port] side at half pistol shot distance.

The smaller vessels at this time having got within grape and canister distance, under the direction of captain Elliott, and keeping up a well directed fire, the two ships, a brig and a schooner, surrendered, a schooner and a sloop making a vain attempt to escape....

[Perry names those crew members of his little fleet who showed especial gallantry] Of Capt. Elliott already so well known to the government, it would be almost superfluous to speak. In this action he evinced his characteristic bravery and judgment, and, since the close of the action, has given me the most able and essential service.....

COMMENT: This was in many ways the most important battle of the War of 1812. By defeating the small British naval force on Lake Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) took command of Lake Erie. It was the first time in naval history that an entire British naval squadron (admittedly a small one) had been forced to surrender to an enemy. By taking control of Lake Erie, Perry broke the British military supply line, and forced the rather incompetent British Major Gen. Henry Proctor (1763-1822) to abandon Fort Detroit and retreat eastward through Upper Canada towards Niagara, suffering an ignominious defeat at the Battle of the Thames on Oct.5, in which the famous Indian leader Tecumseh was killed.

Commodore Perry became an instant American hero, praised especially for having gallantly moved from the damaged USS Lawrence to the USS Niagara in a small boat under constant enemy fire. Although Perry had praised the conduct of Captain Jesse Elliott (1782-1845) of the Niagara, some members of Perry’s crew denounced him for cowardice in not coming to the rescue. This led to a sometimes vicious squabble between the two families which lasted for years. When James Fenimore Cooper published his great “History of the Navy of the United States of America” in 1839, he tried to avoid the dispute—earning himself the enmity of the Perry family and the probably unwanted support of Captain Elliott.

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Otsego Herald
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