Don't Give Up the Ship!

Flagship Niagara participating in the reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie. Photo Credit: Karl Rabeneck

Last Labor Day weekend, the bicentennial of Commodore Perry’s victory during the Battle of Lake Erie was properly celebrated with tall ships, an unfurling of flags and a rousing performance by The Ohio State University Marching Band at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie. Photo Credit: Karl Rabeneck


Beginning in 1812 and ending nearly three years later in 1815, the War of 1812 settled a significant question: the sovereignty of the United States of America. To resolve the matter once and for all, significant battles were fought up and down the East Coast from Canada down to New Orleans and west to Ohio and beyond. (The British and its allies occupied parts of Michigan and Wisconsin until the end of the war—Ohio held tight.)

During its bitter course, the White House and other capitol buildings were burned to the ground, the legendary Battle of New Orleans was waged, and Ohio’s Shawnee Chief Tecumseh joined forces with the British and was himself killed. It was a long, furious and fateful war, yet most Americans today know very little about it.

Many Ohioans, like Department of History Chair Peter Hahn, have worked to ensure that Ohio remembers its role in this historic war. Hahn; history PhD alumnus Anthony Milburn, who teaches at Central State University; and 14 other Ohioans were appointed by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to serve on the State of Ohio War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. They were charged with planning activities to commemorate the war during 2012-2015. They have been doing just that—with dedication and zeal. Last Labor Day weekend, the bicentennial of Commodore Perry’s victory during the Battle of Lake Erie was properly celebrated with tall ships, an unfurling of flags, and a rousing performance by The Ohio State University Marching Band at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie.

“Due to Ohio State’s rich resources,” Hahn said, “I’ve been able to facilitate interesting and productive partnerships over the past two years. There was never any difficulty in getting colleagues from various disciplines—history, anthropology, music—to roll up their sleeves and collaborate on a variety of exciting projects. “

Last summer, Hahn asked the School of Music about recording War of 1812 music scores for a major exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. Graduate student Katie Kuvin took charge of the project—playing flute and singing—with doctoral student Katie Morell on clarinet and undergraduate Megan Rainey on piano. The Museum invited them to perform a live concert in a gallery in the center of the exhibit—Rainey playing on a period instrument—a piano-forte. For Hahn, one of the most gratifying projects involved putting the director of Fort Jennings (in NW Ohio) in touch with graduate students on Ohio State’s forensic anthropology team. Last spring, the students set off with cadaver dogs and high-tech earth scanning devices to the fort to search for the remains of U.S. soldiers believed to be buried there during the war.

PhD history alumna, Mary Ann Heiss, who now teaches at Kent State University, was on the steering committee for one of the crowning events of the bicentennial celebration: The Ohio Middle and High School Student War of 1812 Research Contest, open to students ages 13-18 in grades 7-12. First, second and third place cash prizes ($3,000, $1,500 and $500) were awarded in each grade level. “Students at both levels produced some truly wonderful work,” Heiss said.

“We had 326 submissions from around the state—well exceeding our expectations,” Hahn said. The awards ceremony was held at the Statehouse rotunda in downtown Columbus on April 4. The commission plans a closing tribute in early 2015, marking the last great clash of the war—the Battle of New Orleans.


A misnomer if there ever was one, the War of 1812 began on June 18, 1812, and ended on February 15, 1815.

This largely forgotten war left a lasting legacy:

  • the unquestioned sovereignty of the United States of America
  • our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”
  • the indelible image of Dolly Madison rescuing items from a burning White House
  • the first real presidential campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”
  • and one of the most famous sentences in American military history that began,
“We have met the enemy and he is ours.”
-Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to Secretary of the Navy William Jones after the decisive Battle of Lake Erie, the most important strategic battle for control of the lake that also helped end Great Britain’s reign as the world’s undisputed naval power
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