Avast, me hearties…and a “Yankee Doodle” doo to you!
It’s Navy Week. It’s Navy Week and it’s being observed in Boston by the first sailing of the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy, the U.S.S. Constitution–“Old Ironsides”– since 1997 (It’s been tugged to a few places but this is the first time under its own sail power since its restoration.). This commemorates the 200th anniversary of its victory over the British warship, HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812 (The nickname came about when, supposedly, cannonballs from the British ship bounced off the oaken sides of the American vessel).
In Ohio, we can wave the flag for our part in the War of 1812–sometimes called the Second War of Independence–because much of it was fought out here on the frontier, where Comdr. Oliver Hazard Perry took on the British fleet in the choppy waters off Sandusky in the Battle of Lake Erie, thus crippling the enemy’s power in the interior of the continent and rallying American forces with a victory over an experienced force by a rag-tag fleet constructed at Erie, Pennsylvania by the commanding officer himself and a bunch of Ohioans and others assembled on the spot and working at desperate speed.
Oh, it was a famous victory, marked today by the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on Put-on-Bay, observed on September 10 and illustrated in the painting by Wm. Powell showing Perry being transported, midst shot and shell, from his incapacitated flagship, the Lawrence, to the frigate Niagara to carry on the fight, carrying with him his personal flag bearing the motto, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”. It allowed the Americans of the Army of the Northwest, commanded by Wm. Henry Harrison–of whom, more later–to retake Detroit. This led to the Battle of the Thames, wherein Tecumseh, (an Ohio guy), leader of the Native American forces allied with the British, was killed by the army commanded by Wm. Henry Harrison(who had previously won the storied Battle of Tippecanoe just over the border in Indiana and later carried his nickname, “Old Tippecanoe” into a presidential campaign and all the way to the White House, which he only occupied for a month, dieing at age sixty-eight, after having given an hour-long inauguration speech in the cold and rain of a nasty March day).
The naval aspects of the War of 1812 will be on display at both Cleveland and Toledo(among the 15 cities nationwide hosting Navy Week events) during Navy Week events, including warship parades and ship tours.
The War or 1812 and the Mexican War are two of the lesser-known conflicts in which the United States has engaged, quite unfairly so in the case of the War of 1812, since it was this war that finally caused the British to get the heck out of what was supposed to be American territory and tend to their knitting in Canada instead of trying to sneak back into their lost colonies by ignoring territorial boundaries and stirring up Native American tribes against the United States. This war also brought about one of the better-known quotes from an American military man. Comdr. O.H. Perry sent a dispatch to Gen. Harrison. Scrawled on the back of an old envelope, it said, “Dear General,
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. With great respect and esteem, O. H. Perry.”
Which, of course was the reference in the almost -equally-famous statement in the wickedly-satirical Walt Kelly cartoon strip page, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Ain’t it the truth!
Anyway, there will be more commemorations of this sort, no doubt, over the next two years (As wars go, it was blessedly short, 1812-1814)., marked by, among other things, the massacre at the River Raisin (This engendered an unlikely battle cry, “Remember the Raisin!”), the burning of Washington, D.C.(Which many think might be a good idea to re-enact), including Dolley Madison’s rescue of George Washington’s portrait and government papers, and the bombardment of Ft. McHenry, which caused Francis Scott Key to write the words to “The Star-Spangle Banner” as part of a poem titled “The Defence of Ft. McHenry”, later set to a popular–though near-unsingable– British tune, “Anacreon in Heaven” .
There will be more. We’ve plenty of wars to go around.