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Yet it is not too much to say
that the confidence which carried Perry on to decisive victory has in
it inevitably something of that assurance of success which is akin to
contempt of the enemy, and that it was the precise quality in which
Chauncey, throughout his own career on the lakes, showed himself
deficient, and consequently failed. His plan at that moment, as he
himself said in a letter to Perry of July 14, was "to seek a meeting
with Sir James Yeo as soon as possible, in order to decide the fate of
this lake, and join you immediately after." This was an intelligent
project: to beat one enemy first, and then carry his force over to
beat the other; but never, when in presence of his antagonist, could
he despise him sufficiently to cut his gunboats adrift, and throw one
or two vessels into the midst of the fire, as Perry rushed his own
ship in, had her cut to pieces,--and won. It is even worse to respect
your enemy too greatly than to despise him. Said Farragut, speaking of
an officer he highly valued: "Drayton does not know fear, but he
believes in acting as if the enemy never can be caught unprepared;
whereas I believe in judging him by ourselves, and my motto in action
is, '_L'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace!_'"
This described Perry in battle.

Although Chauncey closed with expressions of confidence which might be
considered conciliatory, Perry experienced an annoyance which was
natural, though excessive. He was only twenty-eight, quick of temper,
though amiable, and somewhat prone to see more offence than was
intended. When the letter reached him, the squadron had just crossed
the bar; the most critical movement of the campaign, had the enemy
been duly watchful. Having accomplished this, he had before him only
the common vicissitudes of naval warfare. Nevertheless, under his
first impulse of resentment, he applied to be removed from the
station,[77] giving as his reason, not the quality of men sent,
concerning which indeed he had said, "I am pleased to see anything in
the shape of a man," but that "I cannot serve under an officer who has
been so totally regardless of my feelings." He then summarized the
difficulties with which he had contended, and added, "The critical
state of General Harrison was such that I took upon myself the
responsibility of going out with the few young officers you had been
pleased to send me," (Elliott, the second in command, did not arrive
till the squadron was over the bar), "with the few seamen I had, and
as many volunteers as I could muster from the militia. I did not
shrink from this responsibility; but, Sir, at that very moment I
surely did not anticipate the receipt of a letter in every line of
which is an insult." He then renewed his request. "I am willing to
forego that reward which I have considered for two months past almost
within my grasp." Fortunately for the renown of the service, from
which one of its finest actions might have been lost, it was
impossible to grant his application until after the battle had made
the question of the command on Lake Erie one of very minor
importance. The secretary replied to him with words in which rebuke
and appreciation were aptly blended. "A change of commander, under
existing circumstances, is equally inadmissible as it respects the
interest of the service and your own reputation. It is right that you
should reap the harvest which you have sown."[78]

_From the painting by Gilbert Stuart in the possession of O.H.
Perry, Esq._]

After the Frenchtown disaster[79] of January 22, 1813, the Army of the
Northwest under General Harrison had remained strictly on the
defensive throughout the spring and summer. The tenure of its position
on the Maumee River depended upon Fort Meigs, built during the winter
just above the Rapids, some twenty miles from the lake. Thirty miles
east of Meigs was Fort Stephenson at the mouth of the Sandusky River,
protecting the approaches to Sandusky Bay, near which were Harrison's
headquarters at the time Perry's squadron was ready to move. Fort
Stephenson by its situation contributed also to secure the
communications of the Maumee line with Central Ohio, and was an
obstacle to an enemy's approach by land to Erie, a hundred and fifty
miles further east. It was not, however, a work permanent in
character, like Meigs; and neither post could be considered secure,
because inadequately garrisoned. Fortunately, the general tenor of the
instructions received by Procter from Prevost conspired with his own
natural character to indispose him to energetic measures. His force of
regulars was small; and he had not the faculty, which occasional white
men have shown, to arouse vigorous and sustained activity in the
Indians, of whom he had an abundance at call. The use of them in
desultory guerilla warfare, which was prescribed to him by Prevost,
became in his hands ineffective. Nevertheless, from the number known
to be under his command, and the control of the water enabling him to
land where he would, the threat of savage warfare hung over the
frontier like a pall, until finally dissipated by Perry's victory.

The danger to British control of the water, and thereby to the
maintenance of their position in the northwest, if the American fleet
now building should succeed in getting upon the lake, was perfectly
apparent, and made Erie a third and principal point of interest. At
the time of Perry's arrival, March 27, the place was entirely
defenceless, and without any organization for defence, although the
keels of the two brigs were laid, and the three gunboats well advanced
in construction. By a visit to Pittsburgh he obtained from an army
ordnance officer four small guns, with some muskets; and upon his
application the local commander of Pennsylvania militia stationed at
Erie five hundred men, who remained till the vessels crossed the bar.
Under this slender protection went on the arduous work of building and
equipping a squadron in what was substantially a wilderness, to which
most of the mechanics and material had to be brought half a thousand
miles from the seaboard, under the difficulties of transport in those
days. The rapid advance in the preparations aroused the disquietude of
the British, but Procter had not the enterprising temper to throw all
upon the hazard, for the sake of destroying an armament which, if
completed, might destroy him; while the British inferiority of force
on Lake Ontario and the Niagara peninsula, together with the movement
of Chauncey and Dearborn resulting in the capture of York, April 27,
effectually prevented intervention from that quarter in the affairs of
Lake Erie. At this time Procter made his first effort of the season,
directed against Fort Meigs, which he held besieged for over a
week,--from May 1 to May 9. Although unable to capture it, the
mismanagement of an American relief force enabled him to inflict a
very severe loss; a corps of eight hundred and sixty-six men being cut
to pieces or captured, only one hundred and seventy escaping. The
chief points of interest in this business are the demonstration of the
weakness of the American frontier,--the principal defence of which was
thus not merely braved but threatened,--and the effect of control of
the water. By it Procter brought over gunboats which ascended the
river, and guns of a weight not to be transported by land. The lake
also secured his communications.

After the failure before Meigs, Procter turned his attention more
seriously to the situation at Erie, and demanded re-enforcements to
enable him to attack the place.[80] Prevost, being commander-in-chief
for all Canada, recognized the expediency of the move, and wrote him,
June 20, that he had directed General De Rottenburg at Niagara, to
push on re-enforcements and supplies; but Prevost was in Kingston, and
De Rottenburg, immediately responsible for Niagara, wrote declining to
weaken his force. He was already inferior to the United States army
under Boyd, which was then confronting him, resting upon Fort George;
and there was the prospect also that Chauncey might regain control of
the lake. Instead of co-operation for offence, he transmitted
arrangements for retreat in case of a disaster to Yeo on Ontario.
Procter enclosed this letter to the commander-in-chief, remarking
pathetically that he was fully confident of receiving aid from him,
but intentions were of no avail. Had the force ordered been sent, he
felt sure of destroying the fleet at Erie, thus securing the command
of the lake, which would have benefited also the centre [Niagara]
division. He should now, he said, make an attempt upon Sandusky; Erie
was impossible without re-enforcements. At the same time, July 13,
Captain Barclay was about to sail for Long Point, on the Canada shore
directly opposite Erie, to embark one hundred troops, and then to
endeavor to retain the American fleet in port until the required
assistance could be sent. The new British ship "Detroit" was nearly
ready for launching at Amherstburg, and could be equipped and gunned
there; but seamen were absolutely needed.

In accordance with these plans Barclay went with his squadron to Long
Point. There the desired soldiers were refused him; and, as also no
seamen were forthcoming, he wrote on July 16 a letter directly to Sir
George Prevost, "lest Sir James Yeo should be on the lake,"
representing the critical state of affairs, owing to the inadequate
equipment of his vessels, the want of seamen, and the advanced
preparations of the Americans to put afloat a force superior to his.
July 20 he appeared off Erie, where Perry's fleet was still in the
harbor, waiting for men. How imminent the exposure of the American
flotilla at that moment, and how great the British opportunity,
appears from the recently published memoirs of a prominent
resident.[81] "An English fleet of five vessels of war was at that
time cruising off the harbor, in full view. That fleet might at any
time have sent in its boats during a dark night, and the destruction
of the whole American fleet was almost inevitable; for Perry's force
was totally inadequate to its defence, and the regiment of
Pennsylvania militia, stationed at Erie expressly for the defence of
the fleet, refused to keep guard at night on board.

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