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Barclay was
on his way down the lake, intending to fight. The wind was southwest,
fair for the British, but adverse to the Americans quitting the harbor
by the channel leading towards the enemy. Fortunately it shifted to
southeast, and there steadied; which not only enabled them to go out,
but gave them the windward position throughout the engagement. The
windward position, or weather gage, as it was commonly called,
conferred the power of initiative; whereas the vessel or fleet to
leeward, while it might by skill at times force action, or itself
obtain the weather gage by manoeuvring, was commonly obliged to await
attack and accept the distance chosen by the opponent. Where the
principal force of a squadron, as in Perry's case, consists in two
vessels armed almost entirely with carronades, the importance of
getting within carronade range is apparent.

Looking forward to a meeting, Perry had prearranged the disposition of
his vessels to conform to that which he expected the enemy to assume.
Unlike ocean fleets, all the lake squadrons, as is already known of
Ontario, were composed of vessels very heterogeneous in character.
This was because the most had been bought, not designed for the navy.
It was antecedently probable, therefore, that a certain general
principle would dictate the constitution of the three parts of the
order of battle, the centre and two flanks, into which every military
line divides. The French have an expression for the centre,--_corps de
bataille_,--which was particularly appropriate to squadrons like those
of Barclay and Perry. Each had a natural "body of battle," in vessels
decisively stronger than all the others combined. This relatively
powerful division would take the centre, as a cohesive force, to
prevent the two ends--or flanks--being driven asunder by the enemy.
Barclay's vessels of this class were the new ship, "Detroit," and the
"Queen Charlotte;" Perry's were the "Lawrence" and "Niagara." Each had
an intermediate vessel; the British the "Lady Prevost," the Americans
the "Caledonia." In addition to these were the light craft, three
British and six Americans; concerning which it is to be said that the
latter were not only the more numerous, but individually much more
powerfully armed.

The same remark is true, vessel for vessel, of those opposed to one
another by Perry's plan; that is, measuring the weight of shot
discharged at a broadside, which is the usual standard of comparison,
the "Lawrence" threw more metal than the "Detroit," the "Niagara" much
more than the "Queen Charlotte," and the "Caledonia," than the "Lady
Prevost." This, however, must be qualified by the consideration, more
conspicuously noticeable on Ontario than on Erie, of the greater
length of range of the long gun. This applies particularly to the
principal British vessel, the "Detroit." Owing to the difficulties of
transportation, and the demands of the Ontario squadron, her proper
armament had not arrived. She was provided with guns from the ramparts
of Fort Malden, and a more curiously composite battery probably never
was mounted; but, of the total nineteen, seventeen were long guns. It
is impossible to say what her broadside may have weighed. All her
pieces together fired two hundred and thirty pounds, but it is
incredible that a seaman like Barclay should not so have disposed them
as to give more than half that amount to one broadside. That of the
"Lawrence," was three hundred pounds; but all her guns, save two
twelves, were carronades. Compared with the "Queen Charlotte," the
battery of the "Niagara" was as 3 to 2; both chiefly carronades.

From what has been stated, it is evident that if Perry's plan were
carried out, opposing vessel to vessel, the Americans would have a
superiority of at least fifty per cent. Such an advantage, in some
quarter at least, is the aim of every capable commander; for the
object of war is not to kill men, but to carry a point: not glory by
fighting, but success in result. The only obvious dangers were that
the wind might fail or be very light, which would unduly protract
exposure to long guns before getting within carronade range; or that,
by some vessels coming tardily into action, one or more of the others
would suffer from concentration of the enemy's fire. It was this
contingency, realized in fact, which gave rise to the embittered
controversy about the battle; a controversy never settled, and
probably now not susceptible of settlement, because the President of
the United States, Mr. Monroe, pigeonholed the charges formulated by
Perry against Elliott in 1818. There is thus no American sworn
testimony to facts, searched and sifted by cross-examination; for the
affidavits submitted on the one side and the other were _ex parte_,
while the Court of Inquiry, asked by Elliott in 1815, neglected to
call all accessible witnesses--notably Perry himself. In fact, there
was not before it a single commanding officer of a vessel engaged.
Such a procedure was manifestly inadequate to the requirement of the
Navy Department's letter to the Court, that "a true statement of the
facts in relation to Captain Elliott's conduct be exhibited to the
world." Investigation seems to have been confined to an assertion in a
British periodical, based upon the proceedings of the Court Martial
upon Barclay, to the effect that Elliott's vessel "had not been
engaged, and was making away,"[84] at the time when Perry "was
obliged to leave his ship, which soon after surrendered, and hoist his
flag on board another of his squadron." The American Court examined
two officers of Perry's vessel, and five of Elliott's; no others. To
the direct question, "Did the 'Niagara' at any time during the action
attempt to make off from the British fleet?" all replied, "No." The
Court, therefore, on the testimony before it, decided that the charge
"made in the proceedings[85] of the British Court Martial ... was
malicious, and unfounded in fact;" expressing besides its conviction
"that the attempts to wrest from Captain Elliott the laurels he gained
in that splendid victory ... ought in no wise to lessen him in the
opinion of his fellow citizens as a brave and skilful officer." At the
same time it regretted that "imperious duty compelled it to promulgate
testimony which appears materially to differ in some of its most
important points."

In this state the evidence still remains, owing to the failure of the
President to take action, probably with a benevolent desire to allay
discord, and envelop facts under a kindly "All's well that ends well."
Perry died a year after making his charges, which labored under the
just imputation that he had commended Elliott in his report, and again
immediately afterwards, though in terms that his subordinate thought
failed to do him justice. American naval opinion divided, apparently
in very unequal numbers. Elliott's officers stood by him, as was
natural; for men feel themselves involved in that which concerns the
conduct of their ship, and see incidents in that light. Perry's
officers considered that the "Lawrence" had not been properly
supported; owing to which, after losses almost unparalleled, she had
to undergo the mortification of surrender. Her heroism, her losses,
and her surrender, were truths beyond question.

The historian to-day thus finds himself in the dilemma that the
American testimony is in two categories, distinctly contradictory and
mutually destructive; yet to be tested only by his own capacity to
cross-examine the record, and by reference to the British accounts.
The latter are impartial, as between the American parties; their only
bias is to constitute a fair case for Barclay, by establishing the
surrender of the American flagship and the hesitancy of the "Niagara"
to enter into action. This would indicate victory so far, changed to
defeat by the use Perry made of the vessel preserved to him intact by
the over-caution of his second. Waiving motives, these claims are
substantially correct, and constitute the analysis of the battle as
fought and won.

Barclay, finding the wind to head him and place him to leeward,
arranged his fleet to await attack in the following order, from van to
rear: The schooner "Chippewa," "Detroit," "Hunter," "Queen Charlotte,"
"Lady Prevost," "Little Belt."[86] This, he said in his official
letter, was "according to a given plan, so that each ship [that is,
the "Detroit" and "Queen Charlotte"] might be supported against the
superior force of the two brigs opposed to them." The British vessels
lay in column, in each other's wake, by the wind on the port tack,
hove-to (stopped) with a topsail to the mast, heading to the southwest
(position 1). Perry now modified some details of his disposition. It
had been expected that the "Queen Charlotte" would precede the
"Detroit," and the American commander had therefore placed the
"Niagara" leading, as designated to fight the "Charlotte," the
"Lawrence" following the "Niagara." This order was now reversed, and
the "Caledonia" interposed between the two; the succession being
"Lawrence," "Caledonia," "Niagara." Having more schooners than the
enemy, he placed in the van two of the best, the "Scorpion" and the
"Ariel"; the other four behind the "Niagara." His centre, therefore,
the "Lawrence," "Caledonia," and "Niagara," were opposed to the
"Detroit," "Hunter," and "Queen Charlotte." The long guns of the
"Ariel," "Scorpion," and "Caledonia" supplied in measure the
deficiency of gun power in the "Lawrence," while standing down outside
of carronade range; the "Caledonia," with the rear schooners, giving a
like support to the "Niagara." The "Ariel," and perhaps also the
"Scorpion," was ordered to keep a little to windward of the
"Lawrence." This was a not uncommon use of van vessels, making more
hazardous any attempt of the opponent to tack and pass to windward, in
order to gain the weather gage with its particular advantages
(position 1).

The rear four schooners, as is frequently the case in long columns,
were straggling somewhat at the time the signal to bear down was made;
and they had difficulty in getting into action, being compelled to
resort to the sweeps because the wind was light.



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