I found a great new book at Boarders a couple of weeks ago: The Handy History Answer Book second edition, by Rebecca Ferguson. And it's just what the title says....a question and answer book. Ms. Ferguson has divided the book into sections: Eras and Their Highlights, Religion, Exploration and Settlement, War and Conflict, Government and Politics, Law and Famous Trials, Economics and Business, Political and Social Movements, Natural and Man Made Disasters, Medicine and Disease, Philosophy, Science and Invention, and Culture and Recreation.
In each section, she asks questions and gives brief answers. They are short, concise and great jumping off points for further research.
I decided to use one of her questions in War and Conflict for today's post. Ms. Ferguson asks: What happened at Trafalgar? The answer is three paragraphs long, not even an entire page. For those who don't know off the top of their heads exactly when, what, and where - Cape Trafalgar is in Spain and the naval battle happened during the Napoleonic War in 1805. To quote Ms. Ferguson, it was "the scene of a decisive victory for Great Britain over Napoleon Bonaparte's navy."
Napoleon Bonaparte had been conquering Europe for over 10 years at this time and he was determined to conquer England as well. The Brits, of course, had other ideas.
I'm going to step out of this discussion on Trafalgar for a moment and ask you all....do you think the fact that most of our history comes from the British POV shapes the way we think of Napoleon? We see him as a villain in these wars, but he actually was a great leader, a man who actually fought for the little guy (no pun intended here, because Napoleon was not that short of stature). So, that's the question of the day...what is your opinion of Napoleon and is it shaped because we see Britain as being the victim? (I think I might write a paper on Napoleon one day....now to find a history class where I can use for a grade.)
Okay, back to Trafalgar....This was a naval battle between Britain, led by Lord Horatio Nelson (left), against France, lead by Admiral
(right) and Spain, lead by Admiral Cisternas (I couldn't find a picture of him).
So, for two years, Nelson blockaded Villeneuve's fleet and kept it trapped in the Mediterranean near Toulon, France. Villeneuve finally managed to escape the blockade and headed out to sea. Nelson chased him all the way to the West Indies and back to Spain, where the showdown took place.
The British had 32 vessels while the French had 23 and the Spanish 15, for a total of 38 vessels.
On October 21, 1805, the French and Spanish fleets attempted to sail out of Trafalgar. Nelson formed his fleet into two columns, wanting to divide and conquer. Below, the British are to the left in two columns; the French and Spanish to the right in the long line.
As they prepared to do battle, Lord Nelson made one of the most famous commands in naval history: "England expects that every man will do his duty." And that's just what Lord Nelson did, his duty to England. He was shot during the battle and fell backward onto the deck and broke his back. He was carried below deck and continued to ask about the progress of the battle. He had vowed before the battle to take 20 of the ships, shortly before his death, he was told the British had taken 15. He knew he'd won and uttered the famous words, "Thank God, I have done my duty."
The website http://www.britishbattles.com/waterloo/battle-trafalgar.htm has an excellent (and I assume accurate) accounting of the battle, as well as descriptions of the ships, the guns and the pictures of ships, the battle and the above map. It says, "The battle reached its climax in the hour after Nelson’s injury. [The ships] Neptune, Leviathan and Conqueror, as they came up, battered Villeneuve’s Flagship Bucentaure into submission and took the surrender of the French admiral. Temeraire while fighting the Redoubtable fired a crippling broadside into the Fougueux. Leviathan engaged the San Augustino bringing down her masts and boarding her." It goes on to give the casualties: British casualties were 1,587. The French and Spanish casualties were never revealed but are thought to have been around 16,000.
And here's a "follow-up: Following the battle a storm blew up wrecking many of the ships damaged in the action. Of those captured only 4 survived to be brought into Gibraltar.
The consequences of the battle were far reaching. Napoleon’s plan to invade Britain was thwarted. He broke up the camp at Boulogne and marched to Austria where he won the great victory of Austerlitz against the Austrians and Russians. Trafalgar ensured that Britain’s dominance at sea remained unchallenged for the rest of the 10 years of war against France and continued worldwide for a further 120 years."
Admiral Villeneuve was taken a prisoner to England. On his release he travelled back to France but died violently on the journey to Paris. (I'm not sure what that means, "died violently.") Lord Nelson’s body was brought to England and the admiral given a state funeral. His body is entombed in St Paul’s cathedral in London. (I saw this tomb while in London).
So, here's a very short explanation of the Battle of Trafalgar. But if you want a more detailed one, check out http://www.britishbattles.com/waterloo/battle-trafalgar.htm. It looks pretty thorough to me.
Don't forget to comment - how well do you think history has portaryed Bonaparte? Was he a villain or a hero?