PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio – As a group of 15 tall ships recreated the Battle of Lake Erie in the open water northwest of here on Monday, the wind puffed out their sails and the smoke of carronade fire at times made them look like apparitions cutting through the robust chop on the lake.
The complex re-enactment, which was staged while more than 2,000 private boats formed a massive, bobbing spectator ring around the battle area, was an extremely ambitious undertaking. The historical record of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s stunning victory over the British fleet formed the script for the event, which highlighted a lengthy bicentennial celebration that drew more than 50,000 visitors here to South Bass Island.
“The focus has been on the history of this great naval battle, so staying as true to the history as possible was important,” said Grant Bredeson of Cornwall, Ont., a member of the professional crew that manned the U.S. Brig Niagara in the battle sequence. “Nobody does this kind of thing anymore, so it is great to be a part of it, and to see so many people interested in this piece of history.”
In the actual battle 200 years ago, there was considerable chaos and destruction on the water as the American and British vessels battered each other with repeated volleys at short range, and close to 70 men were killed, and a couple hundred more were wounded.
Monday’s re-enactment included the key sequence when Commodore Perry left what would have been his heavily damaged flagship the brig Lawrence, and took a small boat to the brig Niagara, raised his "Don’t Give Up The Ship" flag and rejoined the battle. With the wind in his favor, Commodore Perry quickly won the surrender of the entire British fleet.
But for Bert Rogers, executive director of the Rhode Island based Tall Ships America who was here for the re-enactment, the event did much more than commemorate Commodore Perry’s victory.
“This was painstakingly researched and done the right way,” said Mr. Rogers, whose organization promotes the use of vintage sailing craft. “Certainly this was a pivotal event in the war, and also in the evolution of the U.S. Navy. And the re-enactment was staged to reflect a time when these vessels were at the peak of their historical relevance. Obviously, this event really resonated with the people of this region.”
The bicentennial celebration included a lengthy fireworks show that painted the evening sky above the bay the night before the re-enactment.
“From start to finish, this was an amazing event,” said Oliver Hazard Perry Lloyd, a direct descendant of the commodore who was on board Niagara for the battle sequence.. “So many people really cared about what took place here 200 years ago.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.