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Combining the narrative of the
British commodore with that of his second lieutenant, who now took
charge, it appears that Barclay, before going below, saw a boat
passing from the "Lawrence" to the "Niagara," and that the second
lieutenant, Inglis, after relieving him, found the "Niagara" on the
weather beam of the "Detroit." Perry, seeing the "Lawrence" incapable
of further offensive action, had decided to leave her and go on board
the "Niagara," and in this brief interval was making his passage from
one vessel to the other. After leaving the "Lawrence" astern, the
"Niagara" had made sail; the foresail having been set, and the
topgallantsails "in the act of being set, before Captain Perry came
on board."[96] This necessarily prolonged the time of his passage,
and may have given rise to the opprobrious British report that she was
making off. Her making sail as she did indicated that she had suffered
little aloft; she had been out of carronade range, while her consort,
still in fighting condition, was bearing the brunt; it was natural to
conclude that she would not alone renew the action, now that the
"Lawrence" was hopelessly disabled. The wish, too, may possibly have
helped the thought. The "Lawrence," in fact, having kept her colors
flying till Perry reached the "Niagara," struck immediately
afterwards. Had she surrendered while he was on board, he could not
honorably have quitted her; and the record was clearer by his reaching
a fresh ship while the flag of the one he left was still up.

What next happened is under no doubt so far as the movements of the
"Niagara" are concerned, though there is irreconcilable difference as
to who initiated the action. Immediately after Perry came on board,
Elliott left her, to urge forward the rear gunboats. Her helm was put
up, and she bore down ahead of the "Detroit" to rake her; supported in
so doing by the small vessels, presumably the "Ariel," "Scorpion," and
"Caledonia." The British ship tried to wear, both to avoid being raked
and to get her starboard battery into action; many of the guns on the
broadside heretofore engaged being disabled. The "Charlotte" being on
her lee quarter, and ranging ahead, the two fell foul, and so remained
for some time. This condition gave free play to the American guns,
which were soon after re-enforced by those of the rear gunboats;
enabled, like the "Niagara," to close with the freshening breeze.
After the two British vessels got clear, another attempt was made to
bring their batteries to bear; but the end was inevitable, and is
best told in the words of the officer upon whom devolved the duty of
surrendering the "Detroit." "The ship lying completely unmanageable,
every brace cut away, the mizzen-topmast and gaff down, all the other
masts badly wounded, not a stay left forward, hull shattered very
much, a number of guns disabled, and the enemy's squadron raking both
ships ahead and astern, none of our own in a position to support us, I
was under the painful necessity of answering the enemy to say we had
struck, the 'Queen Charlotte' having previously done so."[97] A
Canadian officer taken prisoner at the battle of the Thames saw the
"Detroit," a month later, at Put-in Bay. "It would be impossible," he
wrote, "to place a hand upon that broadside which had been exposed to
the enemy's fire without covering some portion of a wound, either from
grape, round, canister, or chain shot."[98] Her loss in men was never
specifically given. Barclay reported that of the squadron as a whole
to be forty-one killed, ninety-four wounded. He had lost an arm at
Trafalgar; and on this occasion, besides other injuries, the one
remaining to him was so shattered as to be still in bandages a year
later, when he appeared before the Court Martial which emphatically
acquitted him of blame. The loss of the American squadron was
twenty-seven killed, ninety-six wounded; of whom twenty-two killed and
sixty-one wounded were on board the "Lawrence."

[Illustration: PERRY RECEIVING THE SURRENDER OF THE BRITISH AT
THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.
_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

Thus was the battle of Lake Erie fought and won. Captain Barclay not
only had borne himself gallantly and tenaciously against a superior
force,--favored in so doing by the enemy attacking in detail,--but the
testimony on his trial showed that he had labored diligently during
the brief period of his command, amid surroundings of extreme
difficulty, to equip his squadron, and to train to discipline and
efficiency the heterogeneous material of which his crews were
composed. The only point not satisfactorily covered is his absence
when Perry was crossing the bar. In his defence his allusion to this
incident is very casual,--resembles somewhat gliding rapidly over thin
ice; but the Court raised no question, satisfied, probably, with the
certainty that the honor of the flag had not suffered in the action.
On the American side, since the history of a country is not merely the
narrative of principal transactions, but the record also of honor
reflected upon the nation by the distinguished men it produces, it is
proper to consider the question of credit, which has been raised in
this instance. There can be no doubt that opportunity must be seized
as it is offered; for accident or chance may prevent its recurrence.
Constituted as Perry's squadron was, the opportunity presented to him
could be seized only by standing down as he did, trusting that the
other vessels would follow the example of their commander. The
shifting of the wind in the morning, and its failure during the
engagement, alike testify to the urgency of taking the tide as it
serves. There was no lagging, like Chauncey's, to fetch up heavy
schooners; and the campaign was decided in a month, instead of
remaining at the end of three months a drawn contest, to lapse
thenceforth into a race of ship-building. Had the "Niagara" followed
closely, there could have been no doubling on the "Lawrence"; and
Perry's confidence would have been justified as well as his conduct.
The latter needs no apology. Without the help of the "Niagara," the
"Detroit" was reduced to a "defenceless state," and a "perfect
wreck,"[99] by the carronades of the "Lawrence," supported by the
raking fire of the "Ariel" and "Scorpion." Both the expressions quoted
are applied by the heroic Barclay to her condition at 2.30, when, as
he also says, the "Niagara" was perfectly fresh. Not only was the
"Detroit" thus put out of action, but the "Charlotte" was so damaged
that she surrendered before her. To this the "Caledonia's" two long
twenty-fours had contributed effectively. The first lieutenant of the
"Queen Charlotte" testified that up to the time he was disabled, an
hour or an hour and a quarter after the action began, the vessel was
still manageable; that "the 'Niagara' engaged us on our quarter, out
of carronade range, with what long guns she had; but our principal
injury was from the 'Caledonia,' who laid on our beam, with two long
24-pounders on pivots, also out of carronade-shot distance."[100]

Is it to Perry, or to Elliott, that is due the credit of the
"Niagara's" action in bearing up across the bows of the "Detroit"?
This is the second stage of the battle; the bringing up the reserves.
An absolute reply is impossible in the face of the evidence, sworn but
not cross-examined. A probable inference, which in the present writer
amounts to conviction, is attainable. Before the Court of Inquiry, in
1815, Captain Elliott put the question to several of his witnesses,
"Was not the 'Niagara's' helm up and she standing direct for the
'Detroit' when Captain Perry came on board?" They replied, "Yes." All
these were midshipmen. By a singular fatality most of the "Niagara's"
responsible officers were already dead, and the one surviving
lieutenant had been below, stunned, when Perry reached the deck. It
may very possibly be that this answer applied only to the first change
of course, when Elliott decided to leave his position behind the
"Caledonia"; but if it is claimed as covering also the subsequent
bearing up eight points (at right angles), to cross the bows of the
"Detroit," it is to be observed that no mention of this very important
movement is made in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Navy,
October 13, 1813, one month after the battle, drawn up for the
express purpose of vindicating Elliott, and signed by all the
lieutenants of the "Niagara," and by the purser, who formerly had been
a lieutenant in the navy. Their account was that Perry, on reaching
the ship, said he feared the day was lost; that Elliott replied it was
not, that he would repair on board the rear schooners, and bring them
up; that he did so, and "_the consequence was_ that in ten minutes the
'Detroit' and 'Queen Charlotte' with the 'Lady Prevost,' struck to us,
and soon after the whole of the enemy's squadron followed their
example."[101] This attributes the victory to the half-dozen long guns
of the four schooners, mostly inferior in caliber to the nine
carronades on board a single vessel, the "Niagara," raking within
pistol-shot of antagonists already in the condition described by
Barclay. Such a conclusion traverses all experience of the tactical
advantage of guns massed under one captain over a like number
distributed in several commands, and also contravenes the particular
superiority of carronades at close quarters. An officer of the
"Detroit," who was on deck throughout, testified that the "Lawrence"
had engaged at musket-shot, the "Niagara," when she bore down under
Perry, at pistol-shot. Barclay, and his surviving lieutenant, Inglis,
both lay most weight upon this action of the "Niagara," from which
arose also the fouling of the two largest British ships.

Perry's charges of 1818 against Elliott formulated deliberate
statements, under the responsible expectation of cross-examination
under oath. This is his account: "When the commanding officer [Perry]
went on board the 'Niagara,' Captain Elliott was keeping her on a
course by the wind, which would in a few minutes have carried said
vessel entirely out of action, to prevent which, and in order to bring
the said vessel into close action with the enemy, the said commanding
officer was under the necessity of heaving-to, stopping and
immediately wearing said vessel, and altering her course at least
eight points"; that is, perpendicular to the direction before steered.
Against this solemn and serious charge is unquestionably to be placed
the commendatory mention and letter given by Perry to Elliott
immediately after the battle.



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