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From that day till the
12th the American fleet endeavored to force a general action, which
the other steadily, and properly, refused. The persistent efforts of
the one to close, and of the other to avoid, led to a movement round
the lake, ending by the British entering Amherst Bay, five miles west
of Kingston. On one occasion, off the Genesee on September 11, a
westerly breeze carried the United States squadron within
three-quarters of a mile of the enemy, before the latter felt it. A
cannonade and pursuit of some hours followed, but without decisive
result. There seems traceable throughout Chauncey's account a distinct
indisposition to what is called technically "a general chase;" to
press on with part of the squadron, trusting to the slower vessels
coming up soon enough to complete the work of the faster. He was
unwilling thus to let his fleet loose. "This ship" (the "General
Pike"), "the 'Madison,' and the 'Sylph,' have each a schooner
constantly in tow, yet the others cannot sail as fast as the enemy's
squadron, which gives him decidedly the advantage, and puts it in his
power to engage me when and how he chooses." In such a situation
success can be had only by throwing the more rapid upon the enemy as
an advance guard, engaging as they get within range, relying upon
their effecting such detention that the others can arrive in time to
their support. To this recourse, though in halting fashion, Chauncey
finally came on what proved to be his last collision with Yeo,
September 28.

_From the engraving by D. Edwin after the painting by J. Woods._]

_From the engraving by H.R. Cook after the Painting by A. Buck._]


[40] Yeo to Croker, May 26, 1813. Admiralty In-Letters, Records Office.

[41] Captains' Letters, Navy Department.

[42] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 439.

[43] Between July, 1812, and March 25, 1813, Prevost received
re-enforcements amounting in all to 2,175 regulars. His total force
then, for all Canada, excluding militia, was 9,177; of which 2,000 were
provincial corps. British Records Office.

[44] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 441.

[45] Chauncey to Navy Department, March 8, 12, and 16, 1813. Captains'

[46] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 442.

[47] Captains' Letters.

[48] Captains' Letters, Nov. 5, 1814.

[49] Captains' Letters, May 7, 1813.

[50] Ibid., May 15.

[51] Canadian Archives. C. 678, p. 332.

[52] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 445.

[53] Ibid., p. 449. Armstrong's italics.

[54] Barclay's Narrative before the British Court Martial on the Battle
of Lake Erie. British Records Office.

[55] Prevost to Bathurst, Canadian Archives.

[56] Mackenzie's Life of Perry, vol. i. p. 148.

[57] Barclay's Narrative.

[58] Brown's and Prevost's Reports of this affair may be found in Niles'
Register, vol. iv. pp. 260, 261. That of Yeo is in the Canadian
Archives; M. 389, 6, p. 22.

[59] Captains' Letters, June 11, 1813.

[60] Captains' Letters.

[61] The account of these transactions is summarized from American State
Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. pp. 445-449. For Vincent's report of
the Stony Creek affair see Cruikshank's Documentary History of the
Campaign on the Niagara Frontier, 1813, Part II, p. 8.

[62] Smyth's Précis of Wars in Canada, p. 137.

[63] Scott's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 94.

[64] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. pp. 450, 451.

[65] Formerly the "Prince Regent."

[66] Yeo's Report of the Vessels on the Lakes, July 15, 1813. British
Records Office.

[67] Woolsey to Chauncey, June 20 and 21, 1813. Captains' Letters.

[68] Chauncey to the Department, July 5, 1813. Captains' Letters.

[69] Captains' Letters. Navy Department MSS.

[70] "History of the Royal Navy," edited by Sir W.L. Clowes, vol. iii.
p. 411.

[71] That is,--row

[72] Chauncey's Report of this cruise is in Captains' Letters, Aug. 13,
1813. Also, in Niles' Register, vol. iv. p. 421.

[73] James, Naval Occurrences. Appendix, p. lxxiv.



While the movements last related in the preceding chapter were in
progress, the contest for Lake Erie was brought to a final decision.
After the successful transfer of the vessels from Black Rock to Erie,
June 18, Perry remained upon the upper lake superintending all
administrative work; but in particular pressing the equipment of the
two brigs ordered by Chauncey the previous winter. To one of these, on
which Perry intended to embark his own fortunes, was given the name of
"Lawrence," the captain of the "Chesapeake," whose death, heroic in
defeat, occurred at this period. The other was called the "Niagara."
They were sister vessels, of five hundred tons, constructed for war,
and brig-rigged; that is, with two masts, and carrying square sails on
both. Their armaments also were alike; eighteen 32-pounder carronades,
and two long 12-pounder guns. They were thus about equivalent in
fighting force to the ocean sloops-of-war, "Wasp" and "Hornet," which,
however, were three-masted. The remainder of the force would now be
called a scratch lot. Three were schooner-rigged gunboats, built for
the navy at Erie; the remainder were the vessels brought from Black
Rock. Of these, one was the brig "Caledonia," formerly British,
captured by Elliott the previous autumn; the others were purchased
lake craft. When finally taking the lake, August 6, the squadron
consisted of the two brigs, of the Black Rock division,--"Caledonia,"
"Somers," "Tigress," "Ohio," and "Trippe,"--and of three other
schooners,--"Ariel," "Scorpion," and "Porcupine,"--apparently those
built at Erie; ten sail, all of which, except the "Ohio," were in the
final decisive battle.

On July 23 the vessels were rigged, armed, and ready for service, but
there were not men enough to man them. How little exacting Perry was
in this matter, and how eager to enter upon active operations, is
shown by a letter from his superior, Chauncey, to the Secretary of the
Navy, dated July 8: "I am at a loss," he says, "to account for the
change in Captain Perry's sentiments with respect to the number of men
required for the little fleet at Presqu' Isle; for when I parted with
him on the last of May, we coincided in opinion perfectly as to the
number required for each vessel, which was one hundred and eighty for
each of the new brigs, sixty for the 'Caledonia,' and forty for each
of the other vessels, making in all seven hundred and forty officers
and men. But if Captain Perry can beat the enemy with half that
number, no one will feel more happy than myself."[74] Chauncey having
supreme control over both lakes, all re-enforcements from the seaboard
were sent to him; and as he had his own particular enemy on Ontario to
confront, it was evident, and natural, that Perry would be least well
served. Hence, after successive disappointments, and being of more
venturous temper than his superior, it is not surprising that he soon
was willing to undertake his task with fewer men than his unbiased
judgment would call necessary.

The clash of interests between the two squadrons, having a common
superior but separate responsibilities, is seen by a comparison of
dates, which shows operations nearly simultaneous. On July 23 the Erie
squadron was reported "all ready to meet the enemy the moment they are
officered and manned;" on July 20 the "General Pike" was ready, and
on the 21st the Ontario squadron sailed from Sackett's Harbor. On
August 5 Perry had his vessels across the bar at Erie, and next day
stood out into the lake. On the 7th Chauncey and Yeo met for their
first encounter. On the 8th the two Ontario schooners, "Hamilton" and
"Scourge," were lost with nearly all on board; and on the 10th the
"Julia" and "Growler" were captured. After this, it may be imagined
that Chauncey with difficulty parted with men; and in the midst of his
second collision with Yeo the battle of Lake Erie occurred. In it, of
the one hundred and eighty men deemed necessary by Chauncey, Perry's
brig had one hundred and forty-two, of whom thirty were sick; while
the squadron, with nearly all its vessels present, instead of the
intended seven hundred and forty, had but four hundred and ninety. Of
this total, nearly one hundred were received from the army on August
31, only nine days before the action. For the most part these were
strangers to shipboard. Barring them, Perry's fighting force was
barely more than half that required by Chauncey's estimate.

Indirectly, and notwithstanding Perry's disposition to make the best
of his difficulty, this condition came near causing his withdrawal
from the lake service; a loss which, had it occurred, might have
reversed the issues, for in few general actions has the personality of
the commander counted for so much, after the battle joined. In a
letter of July 26 to Chauncey, he had written: "The men that came by
Mr. Champlin are a motley set, blacks, soldiers, and boys. I cannot
think you saw them after they were selected."[75] Chauncey replied,
somewhat testily, "I regret you are not pleased with the men sent you;
for, to my knowledge, a part of them are not surpassed by any seamen
we have in the fleet; and I have yet to learn that the color of the
skin, or the cut and trimmings of the coat, can affect a man's
qualifications or usefulness." To this he added a warning not much
short of a reproof: "As you have assured the secretary that you should
conceive yourself equal or superior to the enemy, with a force in men
so much less than I had deemed necessary, there will be a great deal
expected from you by your country, and I trust they will not be
disappointed in the high expectations formed of your gallantry and
judgment. I will barely make an observation, which was impressed upon
my mind by an old soldier; that is, 'Never despise your enemy.'"[76]

This advice was sound, rightly weighed.

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