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Monday, September 10, 2007

A battle at the end of nowhere

Today in 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. This is the one where the report read: "We have met the enemy and he is ours." (That "he is ours" part means "we captured those ships we did not sink.")

It was an important battle, on a key body of water. It was virtually at the end of the Earth (in those days), a place where the huge British ocean-going fleet could not reach and the only ships handy were those built in the lake. Ships (on both sides) built mostly by hand, without power tools, out of trees cut down locally, using cannon hauled in from elsewhere by ox cart over dirt roads that were anything but level.

It's hard to grasp just how "wilderness" that area was 200 years ago. (Well, 197 years ago.) There were no railroads (they hadn't been invented) and the most efficient transportation was by boat. Having a warship with cannons meant you got to decide who got to use boats to bring in supplies and ship out production (farm goods and animal pelts and maybe died fish). The lake was on the back end of nowhere, almost impossible to get to, but controlling vast areas of real estate which would be worth a lot, or worth almost nothing, depending on who could get there.

And we won. And only a decade later, the US and Britain/Canada were the best of friends, a friendship born of common heritage, common interest, common experiences, and profound mutual respect.