Few naval battles in U.S. history have left more enduring imagery on our national conscience than the Battle of Lake Erie, 10 September 1813. Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry’s “We have met the enemy and they are ours” after-action message and his “Don’t Give Up the Ship” emblazoned battle flag are the most vivid images of the early American Navy. Indeed, the flag, enshrined at the U.S. Naval Academy for decades, has become a virtual Navy motto. But there is more to the Navy’s first squadron-to-squadron action than imagery; it also provides an extraordinary opportunity for examining the problems of logistics, command and control, and personal rivalries that affect naval operations to this day.
1. For a solid analysis of the war on Lake Ontario see Robert Malcomson, Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812-1814 (Toronto: Robin Bass Studio, 1998).
2. The standard secondary study of the strategic and tactical aspects of the Battle of Lake Erie is David Curtis Skaggs and Gerard T. Altoff, A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997). There were other commercial vessels on each side, but none participated in the battle.
3. Frederick C. Drake, “Artillery and Its Influence on Naval Tactics: Reflections on the Battle of Lake Erie,” in William Jeffrey Welsh and David Curtis Skaggs, eds., War on the Great Lakes: Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991), p. 29.
4. The most thorough discussion of the manpower Perry had available is found in Gerard T. Altoff, Deep Water Sailors, Shallow Water Soldiers: Manning the United States Fleet on Lake Erie, 1813 (Put-in-Bay, Ohio: Perry Group, 1993).
5. For an extended discussion of the Perry-Elliott controversy, see David Curtis Skaggs, Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006)