Heroics at the Battle of Lake Erie generated lasting fame, but Macdonough’s triumph on Lake Champlain did more to change the course of the War of 1812.
What a task! To argue that Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry’s celebrated “signal victory” over a British squadron in Lake Erie was eclipsed in importance by Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s conquest of Lake Champlain a year and a day later. After all, we know Perry immortalized himself with his report to General William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” We know that this was one of the few times in Royal Navy history that a whole British squadron surrendered to its foe. We know that “Don’t Give Up the Ship”—Captain James Lawrence’s final words, immortalized on Perry’s battle flag—has become a virtual motto of the U.S. Navy.