On an crisp autumn day in the year 1813, Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry, in just his late 20s, altered national history and spawned a coming international peace when he launched his just-completed small fleet of tall ships from Put-in-Bay to attack an English fleet of war ships in what has become known as the Battle of Lake Erie.
Keep in mind that Perry had been based in Erie, Pennsylvania, the officer charged with building a small navy of worthy, wind-powered ships. His own ship, the USS Lawrence, well-armed with cannon and driven by a full rigging of canvas, held court to several smaller craft, each with a defined purpose and its own crew.
At the time there were no canals leading to and from Lake Erie, no watery path on which to deliver materials or craft thus a Lake Erie navy was to be built there with pieces, parts, and fittings from nearby inland cities.
As the War of 1812 raged on Perry received orders to engage the English fleet that patrolled near the Ohio islands.He rallied his crew and craft at Put-in-Bay to await the right time. As he set out, the nearly calm day provided just enough push to bring the two fleets together but Perry, normally an aggressive striker did so but without the speed a stiff wind would have provided.
The battle was not won easily. The Lawrence was broadsided by not one but three English gunships and was easily heavily damaged abnd disabled, killing or injuring most of his crew. But Perry, not to be denied his victory, found his way to another ship, the USS Niagara, took command of it, and attacked again, this time with a different outcome.In fact, in a matter of just a few hours, Perry’s damaged fleet declared victory, symbolically receiving official surrender on his still afloat Lawrence. Interestingly, not a single ship from either side was sunk, just severely damaged.
In recognition of the Battle of Lake Erie, which took place exactly two hundred years ago, a season-long celebration is underway in the shadow of the 350-foot granite tower honoring Perry and others who fought.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Tower, a national treasure and valued tourist attraction, easily visible for miles, was built 100 years after the battle and continues to be a highly-known symbol of the relationship of conflict and peace.
The tower stands proudly just east of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, one of a series of limestone islands about three miles north of Ohio mainland.Prior to the building of the monument, there stood a nearby grand hotel, the Hotel Victory, a 650-room and-1,000 seat dining room resort which, although surrounded by the waters of Lake Erie, sadly burned to the ground in 1919.
Schedules for events and other significant happenings related the celebration are available online. A reenactment will take place in September.
Admiral Perry died of yellow fever at just 34 years old. His fleet consisted of six ships, the smaller of which were charged with maneuvering in a way to prevent the Lawrence from being broadsided and vulnerable. Tour guides at the monument provide visitors with great detail about the battle, the methods of engagement, and the significance of the battle’s outcome.
Indeed, the United States, England, and Canada share a lasting and friendly peace that developed in the years following the Battle of Lake Erie. Interestingly, the monument has reduced its season by several weeks this year, management blaming the shortened calendar on national budget cuts.
Opening day this year is in late May and visitors would be wise to check the monument website for hours.