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Sail the Tall Ships! War of 1812 Bicentennial Battle at Put-in-Bay, Ohio

Updated on August 31, 2017

Join the Reenactment of the Historic Battle of Lake Erie from the War of 1812!

On September 2, 2013, Put-in-Bay, Ohio will host one of the largest collections of tall ships in modern American history. These ships, which have traveled from as far away as Norway, will come together to recreate the Battle of Lake Erie that occurred in September of 1813. Yes, there will be real gunpowder, real guns, and above all, those real wooden ships that everyone knows and loves!

Though most people know of "tall ships" only from having seen them in movies, tall ships are still around and in use all over America and the rest of the world. In fact, when describing tall ships to my friends who don't understand, I find that the easiest way to explain is by saying, "You know those ships like the ones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? Yeah, those are tall ships."

The battle reenactment will be a blast (no pun intended), so what should you EXPECT? What's the SCHEDULE OF EVENTS? And better yet, WHICH SHIPS can you expect to see when you're there? I'll give you a rundown of all the ships that will be sailing in for the Labor Day festivities -- look for the big ol' Polaroid pictures with captions to find out which ships will be there! And as a bonus, I'll also share with you the STORIES OF MY TIME AS A SAILOR on one of America's oldest and most authentic tall ships, the Flagship Niagara!

If nothing else, you should at least scroll down to check out my dear ship, the Flagship Niagara, and the monstrous Sorlandet who's visiting from Norway. Man is she a beaut!

(The picture is one that I took in Toronto of Europa, a tall ship from the Netherlands that I had the pleasure of sharing the sailing season with in 2010.)

The Flagship Niagara -- a square-rigged brig that won the Battle of Lake Erie (she's my ship!)

The Flagship Niagara -- a square-rigged brig that won the Battle of Lake Erie (she's my ship!)
The Flagship Niagara -- a square-rigged brig that won the Battle of Lake Erie (she's my ship!)

The History of the Battle of Lake Erie -- So What will the Tall Ships be Recreating?

(If you're not a history buff and just want to get to all the big, cool pictures of the awesome ships that you'll be able to see in September, keep scrolling down.)

Because I am a crewmember on the Flagship Niagara, let me give you an overview of the battle (and the war) that is Niagara-focused. Favoritism much? ;) Remember -- the Americans are rooting for Oliver Hazard Perry to take his two biggest ships, the Lawrence and the Niagara, and win against Barclay's monstrous ships, the Detroit and the Queen Charlotte.

On the morning of September 10th, the Americans saw British commander Barclay's vessels heading for them, so they starting to head out to meet them, leaving their port at Put-in-Bay. The wind blew very lightly, and initially Barclay was at an advantage because of the weather, but the wind shifted part-way through the battle and turned to favor Perry. Both sides were lined up for battle, putting their biggest ships toward the center of the fray. Perry wanted to get his two largest brigs (his flagship [a captain's primary ship, usually his biggest] Lawrence and the brig Niagara) into firing range as soon as possible, but his ships weren't making much progress because, at that point in the battle, the wind was too light to be of much use. Because Perry could not position his ships as he'd hoped, the British ship Detroit was able to batter the Flagship Lawrence using long-range cannons for more than 20 minutes before the Lawrence could do anything about it. When Perry finally pushed the Lawrence into firing range at around 12:45PM, she wasn't firing as effectively as he expected -- as it turned out, the Lawrence's gun crew had apparently completely overloaded the cannons. Oops.

At the Lawrence's stern [rear], the Niagara, under one of Perry's inferiors named Elliot, wasn't making progress to the battlefield very quickly and so remained out of firing range for quite a while (too long, as far as Perry was concerned). It is still debated why Elliot did not hurry the Niagara onto the field of battle -- some people believe that perhaps Elliott intended to attack the enemy ship opposite him, the Queen Charlotte, but that his plan was foiled by one of his own ships (the Caledonia) that was in the way. For many years after the battle, Perry and Elliot would argue about his decision. In the meantime, on the Queen Charlotte (the British ship sailing opposite the Niagara), the commander and first lieutenant had been killed. Lieutenant Irvine, the most qualified sailor remaining, took control but acknowledged that both the Niagara and smaller American boats were too far away, so he commanded the brig Hunter to begin attacking the Lawrence at close range.

Because the smaller American gunning boats were equipped with long guns [cannons capable of firing long distances], they were able to steadily attack the British ships at the center of the battle even though the tiny American ships hovered way at the back of the line. Despite this, the attacks from the Detroit and the Queen Charlotte were too intense, and Perry's flagship Lawrence was almost completely destroyed. Only about a fifth of the Lawrence's crew still lived, and both of the doctors on board were sick. After even the final gun on the ship gave in and became unusable, Perry knew that he had to abandon the ship. He was rowed a half mile, somehow avoiding all the gunshots from the ships, and transferred his flag to Niagara. At the same time the Lawrence was surrendered to the British and retreated toward the back of the line. Just like that, the brig Niagara became Perry's new flagship and earned her the name that she goes by today -- the Flagship Niagara.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the action, the Detroit collided with the Queen Charlotte because both ships were almost unusable due to their nearly destroyed rigging. Barclay was wounded badly, so command of the British fleet transferred to one Lieutenant Inglis. Thanks to the constant barrage of fire from the American gunner ships, most of the little British gunboats had been rendered unusable and were drifting with the wind. Despite their losses, the British thought that Perry would use the Niagara to lead the remaining American schooners away and flee back to port. Instead, once aboard Niagara, Perry ordered Elliot to call the remaining American ships in closer to the center of the battle. At the same time Perry, aided by the strengthening wind, steered Niagara toward what remained of the damaged British ships.

According to one account of the battle, "Niagara broke through the British line ahead of the Detroit and Queen Charlotte and luffed up to fire raking broadside from ahead of them, while the Caledonia and the American gunboats fired from astern." [All that is to say is that Niagara cut ahead of the Detroit and Queen Charlotte, both of which were damaged and tangled together, then Niagara turned to the side and fired its guns from in front of the damaged ships. At the same time, one of Perry's larger ships, the Caledonia, accompanied some smaller American boats and fired on the British ships from the opposite direction so that there was no way the British could escape.]

Although the British did manage to untangle the Detroit and the Queen Charlotte, they couldn't resist any more. Both ships surrendered at about 3:00PM. The remaining British ships tried to escape, but Perry's forces overtook them and they were captured.

In that way, we can say that the Flagship Niagara won the Battle of Lake Erie after Perry switched from the damaged Lawrence. Niagara saved the day!

Friends Good Will

Friends Good Will
Friends Good Will

Westward

Westward
Westward

Tall Ship Windy

Tall Ship Windy
Tall Ship Windy

Denis Sullivan

Denis Sullivan
Denis Sullivan

Schooner Hindu

Schooner Hindu
Schooner Hindu

My Story -- When I Sailed on the Flagship Niagara - Want to know what it's like to live and work on a tall ship? Follow my sailor's journal!

Feel free to read along as I describe bits and pieces of my experience as a tall ship sailor -- from initiation to being a real part of the crew, it's all there! Some of it is humorous, some very serious, so I'd encourage you to check out any part of my story below that grabs your attention!

Fear not -- all entries come with pictures!

Sørlandet -- One of the Most Beautiful Ships I've Ever Seen

Sørlandet -- One of the Most Beautiful Ships I've Ever Seen
Sørlandet -- One of the Most Beautiful Ships I've Ever Seen

Privateer Lynx

Privateer Lynx
Privateer Lynx

Madeline

Madeline
Madeline

Appledore IV

Appledore IV
Appledore IV

To Sail or Not to Sail?

Should we keep sailing the tall ships?

Playfair

Playfair
Playfair

Pathfinder

Pathfinder
Pathfinder

Pride of Baltimore II

Pride of Baltimore II
Pride of Baltimore II

Tall Ship Unicorn -- Crewed Exclusively by Women

Tall Ship Unicorn -- Crewed Exclusively by Women
Tall Ship Unicorn -- Crewed Exclusively by Women

Liana's Ransom

Liana's Ransom
Liana's Ransom

Fair Jeanne

Fair Jeanne
Fair Jeanne

Peacemaker

Peacemaker
Peacemaker

Top Ships You'd Want to Sail On

If you were a captain, which ship do you wish was yours?

See results

Buying Tickets and Schedule of Events - Everything you need to know about going to see the tall ships!

If you want to see me crewing one of the ships, you'll need to be there on September 2 for the battle. I'll be leaving behind my dear Flagship Niagara to join the crew of the Appledore IV, the ship that will stand in the place of the Schooner Scorpion, one of the original 1812 schooners. :)

If you'd like to attend any of these events or purchase tickets to tour the ships or sail on them for a short time, please check out the links below.

Comments? Questions? - Tell me what you think!

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