- Historic Sites
The Great Sea War
Fine printmakers celebrated the heroes and heroics of 1812
April 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 3
Another remarkable defeat was that of the Essex by the frigate Phoebe and the sloop of war Cherub (below) off Valparaiso on March 28, 1814. When word was received of Porter’s successes-he captured twelve British whalers, drove the balance to seek shelter in neutral ports, and cleared tha area for American whalers, previously having taken a prize carrying £11,000—a squadron was sent to catch him. For six weeks he was blockaded and eventually, when his vessel had been severely damaged in a squall, was forced to fight both ships. The battle lasted nearly two and one-half hours, resulting in the captire of the Essex . The great disparity of forces and the length of the engagement caused tremendous American losses which would undoubtedly have been less had POrter surrounded earlier. Out of 255 men, only 75 were effective when the colors were struck. Even in her defeat, the Essex was the most successful of all the frigates.
The most colorlul and decisive sea battles of the war were fought far from salt water; in each of the two an American fleet was called suddenly into being, and in each a youthful American commander defeated a whole British squadron.
A series of American disasters had greeted all attempts to invade Canada, and 1813 found the British in control of Lake Erie. But in Erie, Pennsylvania, an American fleet was created, literally from green timbers, and in its flagship. the brig Lawrence , flying a flag reading “Don’t Give Up The Ship,” 28-year-old Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry set out, with eight other ships, to meet the British. When concentrated British fire put the Lawrence out of action, Perry seized his flag and transferred it to the Niagara . In her he sailed through the enemy line, raking at close range until, after a fifteen-minute cannonade, the British surrendered and Perry could send his famous message to General William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
The victory of Thomas Macdonough. thirty, over a superior British Meet on Lake Champlain a year later, accompanied by an American victory on the land, was probably the most important naval action of the war. It thwarted an invasion from the north.