We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours
During 1813, renewed American attempts to invade Canada were again unsuccessful. In the West, however, the situation brightened. William Henry Harrison managed to rebuild—and even enlarge—his army, so that by late summer of 1813, he fielded 8,000 men. In the meantime, a dashing young naval officer named Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) cobbled together an inland navy. Beginning in March 1813, he directed construction of an armed flotilla at Presque Isle (present-day Erie), Pennsylvania, while drilling his sailors in artillery technique. By August, he was ready to move his vessels onto Lake Erie. On September 10, Perry engaged the British fleet in a battle so fierce that he had to transfer his flag from the severely damaged brig Lawrence to the Niagara, from which he commanded nothing less than the destruction of the entire British squadron. He sent to General Harrison a message that instantly entered into American history: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
Perry’s triumph cut off British supply lines and forced the abandonment of Fort Maiden, as well as a general retreat eastward from the Detroit region. On October 5, 1813, Harrison overtook the retreating British and their Indian allies at the Battle of the Thames. The great Indian leader Tecumseh fell in this battle. Although no one knows who killed him, it is certain that, with the death of Tecumseh, the Indians’ last real hope of halting the northwestward rush of white settlement likewise died.