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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. 'I told the boys
to go, Captain,' said the worthless colonel of the regiment, 'but the
boys won't go.'" Like American merchant ships, American militia obeyed
or disobeyed as they pleased. Two hundred soldiers, loaned by Dearborn
when the Black Rock flotilla came round, had been recalled July 10. On
the 23d and 30th re-enforcements were received from Chauncey, in all
one hundred and thirty men. With these, and some landsmen enlisted on
the spot for four months, the force of the squadron, estimated to
require seven hundred and forty men, was raised to three hundred; but
having lately received two pressing letters from the Navy Department,
urging General Harrison's critical need of co-operation, Perry
determined to go out. Most opportunely for his purpose, Barclay
disappeared on the 30th, Friday, which thus for him made good its
title to "unlucky." He was absent until August 4, and was by the
Americans believed to have gone to Long Point. Before his Court
Martial he merely stated that "I blockaded as closely as I could,
until I one morning saw the whole of the enemy's force over the bar,
and in a most formidable state of preparation." The Court did not
press inquiry on the point, which perhaps lay beyond its instructions;
but the double failure, to intercept the Black Rock division on its
way to Erie,[82] and to prevent the crossing of the bar, were serious
strategic misadventures when confronting superior numbers. Perry's
preparations for the passage had been for some time completed, but
information of contemplated movements travelled so easily from shore
to shore that he gave no indication of immediate action until Sunday.
On that day the officers were permitted to disperse in town as usual,
but afterwards were hastily summoned back, and the vessels moved down
to the bar, on which the depth ordinarily was from five to seven feet,
much less than needed for the "Lawrence" and "Niagara." This obstacle,
hitherto a protection against naval attack, now imposed an extremely
critical operation; for to get over, the brigs must be lightened of
their guns and their hulls lifted upon floats. So situated, they were
helplessly exposed to destruction, as far as their own powers went.

From point to point the mouth of the harbor, where the outer bar
occurs, was eight tenths of a mile wide. As shown by a sketch of the
period, the distance to be travelled on the floats, from deep water
within to deep water without, was a mile; rather less than more. On
Monday morning, August 2, the movement of the vessels began
simultaneously. Five of the smaller, which under usual conditions could
pass without lightening, were ordered to cross and take positions
outside, covering the channel; a sixth, with the "Niagara," were
similarly posted within. The protection thus afforded was re-enforced
by three 12-pounder long guns, mounted on the beach, abreast the bar;
distant not over five hundred yards from the point where the channel
issued on the lake. While these dispositions were being made, the
"Lawrence's" guns were hoisted out, and placed in boats to be towed
astern of her; the floats taken alongside, filled, sunk, and made fast,
so that when pumped out their rising would lift the brig. In the course
of these preparations it was found that the water had fallen to four
feet, so that even the schooners had to be lightened, while the transit
of the "Lawrence" was rendered more tedious and difficult. The weather,
however, was propitious, with a smooth lake; and although the brig
grounded in the shoalest spot, necessitating a second sinking of the
burden-bearing floats,--appropriately called "camels,"--perseverance
protracted through that night and the day of the 3d carried her
outside. At 8 A.M. of the 4th she was fairly afloat. Guns, singly light
in weight as hers were, were quickly hoisted on board and mounted; but
none too soon, for the enemy appeared almost immediately. The
"Niagara's" passage was more easily effected, and Barclay offered no
molestation. In a letter to the Department, dated August 4, 1813, 9
P.M., Perry reported, "I have great pleasure in informing you that I
have succeeded in getting over the bar the United States vessels, the
'Lawrence,' 'Niagara,' 'Caledonia,' 'Ariel,' 'Scorpion,' 'Somers,'
'Tigress,' and 'Porcupine.'" He added, "The enemy have been in sight
all day." The vessels named, with the schooner "Ohio" and the sloop
"Trippe," constituted the entire squadron.

[Illustration: PLAN OF ERIE HARBOR 1814
Copied from Captain's Letters, 1814, vol. 3, page 23, with letter
from Capt. A. Sinclair. May 6, 1814. A.H.E. Verified, Chas. W.
Stewart.]

While Perry was thus profitably employed, Procter had embarked on
another enterprise against the magazines on the American front of
operations. His intention, as first reported to Prevost, was to attack
Sandusky; but the conduct of the Indians, upon the co-operation of
whom he had to rely, compelled him to diverge to Fort Meigs. Here the
savages began to desert, an attempt to draw the garrison into an
ambush having failed; and when Procter, after two days' stay,
determined to revert to Sandusky, he was accompanied by "as many
hundred of them as there should have been thousands." The white troops
went on by water, the Indians by the shore. They appeared before Fort
Stephenson on Sunday, August 1. The garrison was summoned, with the
customary intimation of the dire consequences to be apprehended from
the savages in case of an assault. The American commander, Major
Croghan, accepted these possibilities, and the following day, during
which the "Lawrence" was working her way over Erie bar, the artillery
and the guns of the gunboats were busy battering the northwest angle
of the fort. At 4 P.M. an assault was made. It was repelled with heavy
loss to the assailants, and little to the besieged. That night the
baffled enemy withdrew to Malden.

The American squadron having gained the lake and mounted its
batteries, Barclay found himself like Chauncey while awaiting the
"General Pike." His new and most powerful vessel, the ship "Detroit,"
was approaching completion. He was now too inferior in force to risk
action when he might expect her help so soon, and he therefore
retired to Malden. Perry was thus left in control of Lake Erie. He put
out on August 6; but, failing to find the enemy, he anchored again off
Erie, to take on board provisions, and also stores to be carried to
Sandusky for the army. While thus occupied, there came on the evening
of the 8th the welcome news that a re-enforcement of officers and
seamen was approaching. On the 10th, these joined him to the number of
one hundred and two. At their head was Commander Jesse D. Elliott, an
officer of reputation, who became second in command to Perry, and took
charge of the "Niagara."

On August 12 the squadron finally made sail for the westward, not to
return to Erie till the campaign was decided. Its intermediate
movements possess little interest, the battle of Lake Erie being so
conspicuously the decisive incident as to reduce all preceding it to
insignificance. Perry was off Malden on August 25, and again on
September 1. The wind on the latter day favoring movement both to go
and come, a somewhat rare circumstance, he remained all day
reconnoitring near the harbor's mouth. The British squadron appeared
complete in vessels and equipment; but Barclay had his own troubles
about crews, as had his antagonist, his continual representations to
Yeo meeting with even less attention than Perry conceived himself to
receive from Chauncey. He was determined to postpone action until
re-enforcements of seamen should arrive from the eastward, unless
failure of provisions, already staring him in the face, should force
him to battle in order to re-establish communications by the lake.

The headquarters of the United States squadron was at Put-in Bay, in
the Bass Islands, a group thirty miles southeast of Malden. The harbor
was good, and the position suitable for watching the enemy, in case he
should attempt to pass eastward down the lake, towards Long Point or
elsewhere. Hither Perry returned on September 6, after a brief visit
to Sandusky Bay, where information was received that the British
leaders had determined that the fleet must, at all hazards, restore
intercourse with Long Point. From official correspondence, afterwards
captured with Procter's baggage, it appears that the Amherstburg and
Malden district was now entirely dependent for flour upon Long Point,
access to which had been effectually destroyed by the presence of the
American squadron. Even cattle, though somewhat more plentiful, could
no longer be obtained in the neighborhood in sufficient numbers, owing
to the wasteful way in which the Indians had killed where they wanted.
They could not be restrained without alienating them, or, worse,
provoking them to outrage. Including warriors and their families,
fourteen thousand were now consuming provisions. In the condition of
the roads, only water transport could meet the requirements; and that
not by an occasional schooner running blockade, but by the free
transit of supplies conferred by naval control. To the decision to
fight may have been contributed also a letter from Prevost, who had
been drawn down from Kingston to St. David's, on the Niagara frontier,
by his anxiety about the general situation, particularly aroused by
Procter's repulse from Fort Stephenson. Alluding to the capture of
Chauncey's two schooners on August 10, he wrote Procter on the 22d,
"Yeo's experience should convince Barclay that he has only to dare and
he will be successful."[83] It was to be Sir George's unhappy lot, a
year later, to goad the British naval commander on Lake Champlain into
premature action; and there was ample time for the present indiscreet
innuendo to reach Barclay, and impel him to a step which Prevost
afterwards condemned as hasty, because not awaiting the arrival of a
body of fifty seamen announced to be at Kingston on their way to
Malden.

At sunrise of September 10, the lookout at the masthead of the
"Lawrence" sighted the British squadron in the northwest.



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