A brief history of the Commodore Perry battle flag
DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP
The unexpected Captain Lawrence
Captain James Lawrence never expected to be an officer in the United States Navy. In fact, he studied law before becoming a midshipman in 1798. Once he enlisted, however, he made a big splash and a friend with a big name — Commodore Perry. Together, his heroics and his friend wrought Captain Lawrence long-term historical relevance.
Captain Lawrence died in his early thirties, seeing his final naval battle just three months after being awarded his captaincy. As captain of the frigate Chesapeake, Lawrence was mortally wounded on June 1, 1813, during a brief and fierce fire-fight with the Royal Navy frigate Shannon. As his men rushed him below the deck for treatment, Lawrence bellowed, "Don't give up the ship!" He died three days later.
The determined Commodore Perry
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (pictured middle, right) knew from a very young age that he would spend his life commanding naval ships. By the age of 12, he had sailed with his father to the West Indies, and by the age of 13 he had been appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy. He experienced his first taste of battle at the age of 15 and entered the War of 1812 — where he would earn his famous reputation — in his late twenties.
Bound for glory
Upon learning of his Captain Lawrence's death, Perry ordered a large blue battle flag stitched with the phrase, "Don't give up the ship" as a memoriam. By historical accounts, Captain Lawrence's crew did not honor his command as he uttered it. Conversely, Perry's crew, sailing under the ensign, did, thus earning the men and the flag their place in history.
Commodore Perry's most famous engagement occurred on September 10, 1813, in the Battle of Lake Erie. There, the gunfire favored the British so heavily that his own vessel, the USS Lawrence, was disabled. He and his men were forced to commandeer an alternate warship. Then, Perry commanded that brig, the USS Niagara, in heroically decimating the remaining enemy fleet. Finally, Perry and his men re-boarded the USS Lawrence and accepted the enemy surrender from atop its battered deck — all while flying Commodore Perry battle flag.
The Commodore Perry battle flag
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