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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed. He who molds opinion is greater than he who enacts laws.

-- President Abraham Lincoln
Battle of Lake Erie14290 Reads  Printer-friendly page

War of 1812 His Majesty's late Ship DETROIT, Put In Bay Lake Erie, 12 September 1813 The last Letter I had the Honor of Writing to you dated the 6th Instant, I informed you that unless certain intimation was received of more Seamen being on their way to Amherstburgh, I should be obliged to sail with the Squadron deplorably Manned as it was, to fight the Enemy (who Blockaded the Port) to enable us to get supplies of Provisions and Stores of every Description.

So perfectly destitute of Provisions was the Post, that there was not a days flour in Store, and the Crews of the Squadron under my Command were on half Allowance of many things, and when that was done there was no more; such were the motives which induced Major General Proctor, (whom, by your Instructions I was directed to consult, and whose wishes, I was enjoined to execute as far as related to the good of the Country) to concur in the necessity of a Battle being risqued under the many disadvantages which I laboured, and it now remains for me, the most melancholy task to relate to you the unfortunate Issue of that Battle, as well as the many untoward circumstances that led to that Event.

No intelligence of Seamen having arrived, I sailed on the 9th Inst. fully expecting to meet the Enemy next morning, as they had been seen among the Islands, nor was I mistaken, soon after daylight they were seen in motion in Putin Bay, the Wind then at South West and light, giving us the Weather gage;-I bore up for them in hopes of bringing them to Action among the Islands but that intention was soon frustrated by the Wind suddenly shifting to the South East, which brought the Enemy directly to Windward.

The line was formed according to a given plan, so that each Ship might be supported against the superior force of the two Brigs opposed to them;-About ten the Enemy had cleared the Islands, and immediately bore up under easy Sail, in a line abreast, each Brig being also supported by the small Vessels;-At a quarter before twelve I commenced the Action by firing a few long Guns, about a quarter past, the American Commodore, also supported by two Schooners, one carrying four long twelve pounders, the other a long thirty two, and twenty four Pounder, came to close Action, with the DETROIT, the other Brig of the Enemy, apparently destined to engage the QUEEN CHARLOTTE, supported in like manner by two Schooners, kept so far to Windward as to render the QUEEN CHARLOTTE'S 24 Pounder Carronades useless, while she was with the LADY PREVOST, exposed to the heavy and destructive fire of the CALEDONIA, and four other Schooners, Armed with long and heavy Guns like those I have already described.

Too soon alas, was I deprived of the Services of the Noble and intrepid Captain Finnis, who soon after the commencement of the Action fell, and with him fell my greatest Support.

Soon after Lieutenant Stokoe, of the QUEEN CHARLOTTE was struck senseless by a Splinter, which deprived the Country of his Services at this very critical period.

As I perceived the DETROIT had enough to contend with, without the prospect of a fresh Brig; Provincial Lieutenant Irvine, who then had Charge of the QUEEN CHARLOTTE behaved with great courage, but his experience was much too limited to supply the place of such an Officer as Captain Finnis, hence she proved of far less assistance than I expected.

The Action Continued with great fury until half past two, when I perceived my opponent drop astern, and a Boat passing from him to the NIAGARA (which Vessel was at this time perfectly fresh) the American Commodore seeing that as yet the day was against him (his Vessel having Struck soon after he left her) and also the very defenceless state of the DETROIT, which ship was now a perfect Wreck, principally from the Racking fire of the Gun Boats, and also that the QUEEN CHARLOTTE, was in such a situation that I could receive very little assistance from her, and the LADY PREVOST, being at this time too far to leeward, from her rudder being injured, made a noble, and alas, too successful an effort to regain it, for he bore up and supported by his small vessels, passed within pistol shot, and took a raking position on our bow, nor could I prevent it, as the unfortunate situation of the QUEEN CHARLOTTE, prevented us from wearing, in attempting it we fell on board her; my gallant first Lieutenant Garland, was now mortally wounded, and myself so severely that I was obliged to quit the deck-manned as the squadron was, with not more than fifty British seamen, the rest a mixt crew of canadians, and soldiers, and who were totally unacquainted with such service rendered the loss of officers more sensibly felt, and never in any action was the loss more severe, every officer commanding vessels, and their seconds, was either killed or wounded, so severely as to be unable to keep the deck.

Lieutenant Buchan in the LADY PREVOST, behaved most nobly, and did everything that a brave and experienced officer could do, in a vessel armed with 12-pounder carronades, against vessels carrying long guns, I regret to state that he was very severely wounded.

Lieutenant Bignal, of the DOVER commanding the HUNTER displayed the greatest intrepidity, but his guns being small, 2, 4, and 6-pounders, he could be of much less service than he wished.

Every officer in the DETROIT behaved in the most exemplary manner-Lieutenant Inglis, shewed such calm intrepidity, that I was fully convinced, that on leaving the deck I left the ship in excellent hands, and for an account of the battle after that, I refer you to his letter which he wrote me for your information.

Mr. Hoffmeister, Purser of the DETROIT, nobly Volunteered his Services on Deck, and behaved in a manner that reflects the highest Honor on him, I regret to add that he is very severely Wounded in the Knee.

Provincial Lieutenant Purvis, and the Military Officers, Lieutenants Garden of the Royal Newfoundland Rangers, and O'Keefe of the 41st Regiment, behaved in a manner which excited my warmest admiration,-The few British Seamen I had, behaved with their usual intrepidity, and as long as I was on Deck the Troops behaved with a calmness and courage worthy of a more fortunate Issue to their exertions.

The Weather gage gave the Enemy a prodigious advantage, as it enabled them, not, only to choose their position, but their distance also, which they did in such a manner as to prevent the Carronades of the QUEEN CHARLOTTE, and LADY PREVOST, from having much effect, while their long Guns, did great execution, particularly against the QUEEN CHARLOTTE.

Captain Perry, has behaved in a most humane and attentive manner, not only to myself and Officers, but to all the Wounded.

I trust that although unsuccessful, you will approve of the motives that induced me to sail, under so many disadvantages and that it may be hereafter proved, that under such circumstances the Honor of His Majesty's Flag has not been tarnished.

Note: by R.H. Barclay, RN


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