By 1813, British forces, now under General Proctor, continued to hold off the inexperienced American armies back. William Henry Harrison pushed northward out of Kentucky to try to retake Detroit, spending the winter of 1812 in Ohio and maneuvering in opposition to Proctor's forces.

Meanwhile, a young US naval officer named Oliver Hazard Perry, only 28 at the time, took over the American effort to retake the Great Lakes. Perry arrived and quickly energized the construction of a ten-boat fleet on Lake Erie. On September 9, 1813, on Lake Erie, Perry's freshly built ships with their inexperienced crews challenged British commander Barclay's smaller but more experienced fleet. All of Barclay's officers died during the battle, and the British fleet was forced to surrender.

Perry's victories on Lake Erie created a strategic nightmare for Proctor and his men; he retreated to Niagara. Harrison followed after, catching Proctor's forces in early October at the Thames River. In the ensuing Battle of the Thames, the Americans defeated the British and their Indian allies. During the battle, the Indian leader Tecumseh, was killed along with his most committed Indian allies. Tecumseh's Indian Confederation, which had been allied to the British, quickly collapsed.

The US sought to follow Harrison's victory with an all out assault against Montreal. Two American contingents, one marching from Sacketts Harbor on Lake Ontario and the other from Plattsburgh, were to converge at Montreal. Each set out in mid October. The advance guard of the men from Sacketts Harbor, led by Major General James Wilkinson, met with an embarrassing loss to a much smaller force of 800 British. Major General Wade Hampton, the commander of the Americans from Plattsburgh, immediately stopped his advance on hearing of his comrade's loss. Both contingents quickly withdrew, leaving Britain unthreatened in Canada, and once more pushing southward into New York.


With the notable exceptions of Harrison and Perry, American troops and commanders in 1813 continued to display the remarkable lack of talent they had made so manifest in 1812. American militias consistently refused to march into Canada on the grounds that they could not be legally impelled to leave their country. American reserve forces thus often stood and watched on one side of the border while their compatriots fought and lost. With its vast advantages in men and resources, however, the victories of Harrison and Perry were enough to keep the American war effort in the North afloat.

Perry's and Harrison's victories, in fact seemed a turning of the tide. Tecumseh and the threat of the Indian Alliance were gone, the British were on the retreat, and the US had gained control of the Great Lakes. Perry's famous dispatch to Harrison upon defeating Barclay reverberated throughout the nation and became a part of American popular lore: "We have met the enemy and they are ours." The disastrous and aborted attack on Montreal demolished that confidence and momentum, however, and put a halt to future American assaults against Canada. By the end of 1813 the British were encroaching on American territory just as they had been at the end of 1812.

Popular pages: The War of 1812 (1809-1815)