Historian to focus on Lake Erie battle site
BLADE STAFF WRITER
One of the area’s most important historical battlefields isn’t one marked by monuments set aside for tours.
Instead, the Battle of Lake Erie — thought of as the turning point in the War of 1812 and one of the most important victories in U.S. naval history — took place on the rolling waves just off Put-in-Bay. That means any remnants of that battle would be found in the muck of the Lake Erie floor.
As part of its lecture series, the Great Lakes Historical Society is to celebrate the war’s bicentennial with a one-hour talk Wednesday titled “Nautical Archaeology of the War of 1812.”
The presentation is to focus on archeological efforts in Lake Erie as well as other ships that made a name during one of the area’s most notable battles.
“The talk will be about the project, which was to find the battlefield, and the struggles we encountered,” nautical archaeologist Carrie Sowden said. “There are a lot of historical documents and there are some ideas about where the battle took place, but no one has gone out and said, ‘Here it is.’ We had seven square miles we wanted to survey, and we did. It was quite extensive.”
The Battle of Lake Erie was a turning point in a war begun June 18, 1812, when President James Madison declared war on Great Britain. For more than a year, the United States suffered several defeats in the war, instigated by issues of free trade and sailors’ rights, among others.
But on Sept. 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry prevailed over the British fleet, helping to ensure American control of the Northwest. It opened the Great Lakes back up to Americans and helped resupply troops that had been cut off.
The victory and the subsequent 1814 signing of the Treaty of Ghent ultimately created 200 years of peace among the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.
“Many historians considering the Battle of Lake Erie was one of the most important battles in American naval history,” Ms. Sowden said. “If the U.S. had lost that battle — and they really could have — we’d all be sitting in Canada now.”
Blanca Stransky, superintendent of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on Put-in-Bay, said she was once disappointed about how little people remember of the War of 1812 and how much of it took place in Ohio. But in hindsight, she said, that forgetfulness proves that the wounds have healed.
“It means that this peace that was eventually realized between the U.S. and Britain and Canada is so strong that we have learned to take it for granted,” she said. “The fact that we take it for granted, from a historic perspective, it’s tragic because we don’t remember, but from a philosophical perspective, it’s wonderful.”
Ms. Stransky noted that the lake battle was a much needed boost of morale for Americans, who at the time had suffered a series of defeats.
The 352-foot column memorial on Put-in-Bay, about 5 miles from the longest undefended border in the world, honors Commodore Perry, she said.
The lecture is just one of numerous events happening statewide to mark the 200th anniversary. The Ohio War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, which was created by the state legislature, has organized events throughout Ohio.
Ms. Stransky said in September, 2013, the Battle of Lake Erie will take center stage when its actually 200th anniversary is celebrated.
“The Battle of Lake Erie is considered U.S. navy’s greatest victory on American soil … the first time ever that the Americans actually defeated the British, ship for ship, and the first and only time that the British squadron is captured intact,” Ms. Stransky said. “Prior to this war, the British navy was invincible. This battle really instilled confidence in the American navy.”