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Oliver Hazard Perry

1785-1819

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 PERRY, Oliver Hazard, naval officer, D. in South Kingston, Rhode Island, 23 August, 1785 died in Port Spain, Island of Trinidad, 23 August, 1819, was carefully trained by his mother, who "fitted him to command others by teaching him early to obey," narrated to him the deeds of her military ancestors, and taught him how and what to read. His favorite books were the Bible. Plutarch's "Lives," Shakespeare, and Addison. In the private schools of Kingston, Tower Hill, and Newport he made rapid progress, and excelled in the study of mathematics and navigation. lib was the pupil of Count Rochambeau.

At the age of eleven he was confirmed in the Protestant Episcopal church. In 1797 he removed with his father to Warren, Rhode Island, where the latter supervised the building of the frigate "General Greene," and Oliver received his commission as midshipman, 7 April, 1799. He cruised in the West Indies, visiting also Louisiana, and in the "Adams," " Constellation," "Constitution," and "Essex" served twice in the Tripolitan war.

He was made a lieutenant, 15 January, 1807, and, after building a fleet of gun-boats, commanded the schooner "Revenge," cruising off the southern coast of the United States. He was honorably acquitted by a court of inquiry that was summoned to examine into the loss of the "Revenge" by wreck off Watch Hill, Rhode Island, 8 January, 1811. In command of the Newport flotilla of gun-boats, in waiting for the war of 1812, he gave prolonged and detailed study to the science and art of gunnery and naval tactics. When the French engineer Toussard, at the request of Gem Washington, wrote, and in 1809 published, his "Artillerist," the name of Oliver Hazard Perry was among the first on the list of subscribers. When the war with England began there was probably no better ordnance officer in the American navy, and in the training" of his crews he was unwearied in personal attention to details. By assembling his gun-boats occasionally, he gained actual knowledge of the evolutions of a fleet. He also practiced sham battles by dividing his force into two nominally hostile squadrons, and thus acquired facility in maneuvering several vessels, and a knowledge of how and when to take advantage of critical moments and situations.

He applied repeatedly for a sea command, but being disappointed in obtaining either the "Argus" or the " Hornet," he tendered his services to Commander Isaac Chauncey on the lakes, at whose request he was ordered to Lake Erie. Within twenty-four hours after receipt of orders, on 17 February he had sent off a detachment of fifty men, and on the 22d he set; out with his younger brother, Alexander. Traveling chiefly in sleighs, he reached Erie on 27 March. There he found Noah Brown, shipwright, and Sailing-Master Dobbins, awaiting the arrival of fifty carpenters from Philadelphia, who were more than five weeks in making the wintry journey. From the virgin forest the squadron was to be built, but the keels of two twenty-gun brigs and three gun-boats had already been laid. Incredible toil and protracted attention to details, in a country little better than a, wilderness, enabled Perry to collect a force of nine vessels of 1,671 tons, with 54 guns capable of throwing a broadside of 936 pounds of metal, of which 288 pounds could be fired at long range. In his squadron, only the " Lawrence" and "Niagara," of 500 tons burden, could be considered men-of-war. These carried each 20 guns, 2 being long twelve-pounders, and 18 of them thirty-two-pounder carronades. The other vessels were of slight construction, without bulwarks, but were armed with heavy long guns, which constituted their excellence. The long-range guns were the chief dependence of the Americans, as their carronades were useless except at very short range. These fired a scattering charge at a low velocity, but with frightful effect at a few rods' distance, and could be worked by small squads rapidly. In the "yard-arm engagements" of the British these weapons had been very effective since their invention in 1769. They took their name front the Carron iron-works in Scotland. To make his carronade fire most effective, Perry relied not only on grape and canister shot. but on the favorite American ammunition, langrage. This dismantling shot was made out of scraps of iron sewed up in leather bags. Encouraging apparent prodigality at the anvils, though real economy in fixed ammunition, a large quantity of bits of bolts, bars, hoops, chisel-cut-tings, and splinters were collected and made into carronade cartridges. As the aim of the naval artillerist of to-day is to pierce the boiler or disable the rudder, so in the days of sailing-ships the purpose was to cut away masts, sails, and rigging, converting the enemy's ship into a helpless hulk.

In addition to numerical superiority in ships and weight of metal thrown, the Americans were destined to have the advantages of wind and the smooth water, which enabled the small vessels to he off safely at long range and damage the enemy. Perry's force in men consisted of about 500 landsmen and sailors, many of whom had never seen salt water. These were, after five months' constant drilling, changed into good artillerists. On the British side, Captain Robert Heriot Barclay, surmounting almost equal difficulty, dismantling the fort at Amherstburg to equip his largest ship, finally succeeded in collecting a squadron of six vessels of 1,460 tons, manned by nearly 500 men. His cannon were 63 in number, nine more than the American. but most of his metal was carronade, his total broadside was but 459 pounds, and of this only 195 pounds could be fired at long range. In long-gun metal the Americans excelled the British three to two, in carronades two to one, in ships three to two.

Perry moved out from Put-in Bay on the morning of 15 September, 1813, with all his squadron, including the " Lawrence," "Niagara," "Caledonia, Scorpion," " Porcupine," "Tigress," "Ariel," " Seiners," and "Trippe," to meet the British force, , consisting of the "Chippewa," "Detroit," "Hunter, "Queen Charlotte," "Lady Prevost," and "Little Belt." Barclay, one of Nelson's veterans, though "confronted by famine and Indian treachery," expected easy victory. As the fleets approached each other at about eleven o'clock, the bugle sounded from the flag-ship, the men of the whole British line gave three cheers, and the long guns of the "Detroit" opened on the "Lawrence" at the distance of a mile and a half. By noon the battle began in earnest, in the form of a duel, the heaviest vessel in each fleet confronting the other. Being able to employ at once a heavier battery in a smaller space, Barclay had at first a manifest advantage With more enthusiasm than science, the gunners of the "Lawrence," depending too much on their carronades, fired too fast, and, overshotting their stumpy guns, were unable seriously to harm the "Detroit," though pitting" and denting her sides The "Lawrence." on the contrary, was reduced by the steady British fire to a hulk. After two hours only one gun was left mounted, the cockpit was crowded with wounded, and only eighteen unharmed men. including commander and surgeon, were left on board.

 Meanwhile the most effective gunnery on the American side had been done by the heavy cannon of the " Caledonia." " Scorpion," and " Ariel," which had nobly assisted Perry, while the "Nigara", for some reason, had remained in the rear, and the more distant vessels were able to do little to prevent what seemed an imminent British victory. At this moment, with the audacity of genius, Perry called four sailors to man the boat, and with his brother Alexander, the flag of the "Lawrence" wrapped round his arm, he left his ship. At first shielded by the battle smoke, and then safely escaping the volley of the enemy, he reached, after a fifteen minutes' pull, the "Niagara." Sending Captain Elliot to bring up the laggard vessels, he ordered sail to bring his best ship close to the " Detroit." The breeze now freshened, quickly speeding the "Niagara" and the American schooners into action. The " Queen Charlotte," in endeavoring to get a position for a broadside, to be followed by boarding the coining "Niagara," was disabled in her sail-gear by the langrage shot of Perry's carronades, and, falling foul of the " Detroit," the two ships became entangled. Taking advantage of this, the American schooners took raking positions. The full battery of the "Niagara," joining in the steady and rapid fire, swept the British decks, and filled the air with canister, grape, ball, and scrap-iron, while the Kentucky riflemen in the tops, acting as marines, picked off every enemy visible. At three o'clock the British flag was hauled down, and for the first time in her history Great Britain lost an entire squadron, which surrendered to a young man of twenty-seven. On the deck of the "Lawrence" Perry dispatched to the secretary of the navy a brief account of the victory, and shortly afterward to General William H. Harrison, the famous line "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."

In the military operations at Detroit and in the battle of the Thames, 5 October, 1813, he took an important part, both with his fleet and as commander of the naval battalion on the land, and on his return to the east he was honored by public demonstrations in many towns and cities. Congress voted him thanks, a medal, and the rank of captain. The city of Boston presented him with a set of silver, and other cities voted him thanks. He assisted in the defence of Baltimore, and in the squadron that was sent to the Mediterranean in 1815 he commanded the frigate "Java." In June, 1819, while in command of the "John Adams" and other United States vessels in the West Indies, he was attacked by the yellow fever in the Orinoco, and died after a brief illness. His remains, removed by act of congress in a ship-of-war, were buried in Newport, 4 December, 1826. In addition to the granite obelisk erected by the state of Rhode Island and a marble statue by Walcutt, which was dedicated in Cleveland, Ohio, in September, 1860, a bronze statue of Perry by William G. Turner was unveiled on 10 September, 1885. It stands opposite his old home, and was erected by citizens of Newport. The state of Ohio has also placed in the capitol at Washington a picture of the battle of Lake Erie and of Perry leaving the "Lawrence " for the " Niagara."

Biographies of Perry have been written by John M. Niles (Hartford, 1820)" Alexander S. Mackenzie (2 vols., New York, 1843)" and James Fenimore Cooper, in his " Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers" (Philadelphia, 1846).


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