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Feuds & Controversy

Oliver Hazard Perry
Oliver Hazard Perry

The events of the war made the careers of many partipants, but it also damaged the reputations of others. Post-war battles over the interpretaton of wartime conduct involved a number of military leaders. General William Hull, whose surrender of Detroit at the beginning of the war brought him up before a court martial spent years arguing against his conviction. General James Winchester, who was captured by the British in the defeat at the River Raisin, also published works defending his conduct. 

A dramatic feud surrounded a celebrated hero, U.S. Commandant Oliver H. Perry, the hero of Battle of Lake Erie, and one the commanders reporting to him, Master Commandant Jesse Elliott of the U.S. sloop Niagara. In short, during the battle Elliott followed the letter of Perry’s plan of attack, keeping his place in the line of ships even when he had the opportunity to move forward and assist Perry’s ship, the Lawrence, as it fought the British line almost alone. Elliot’s lack of action was not criticized by Perry, but it became the subject of conversation among naval officers on both sides of the war. Elliott sought and received a public statement from Perry attesting to his right conduct, but it was not enough to satisfy him. He spent the rest of his life trying to smear Perry’s reputation and “clear” his name, demanding a court martial for himself (in which he was cleared) and challenging Perry to a duel (which Perry declined).

The capture of the U.S. capital and the burning of the White House also prompted arguments over responsibilty and blame among both civilian and military leaders.