Horatio Nelson and Wellington
In the center of London's Trafalgar Square stands a column topped by a statue of Admiral Nelson. The square was named in honor of Lord Nelson's victory in the battle of Trafalgar (1805). Nelson was one of England's great naval heroes. His brilliant victories during the Napoleonic wars averted the growing threat of French naval power and saved England from invasion.
Horatio Nelson was born in Norfolk in the parish of Burnham Thorpe. Young Nelson entered the navy as a midshipman at the age of 12. When war broke out with revolutionary France in 1793, he was given command of the 64-gun ship Agamemnon, then in the Mediterranean. He lost the sight of his right eye in 1794 in the siege of Calvi on the island of Corsica. In 1797 he lost his right arm during an assault on Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
As soon as Nelson had recovered, he was sent to destroy the fleet that escorted Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. On Aug. 1, 1798, he discovered the French ships in one of the mouths of the Nile, Aboukir Bay. He boldly sent half his fleet into the narrow space between the French ships and the shore and then raked the enemy from both sides. This smashing victory made Nelson the hero of England.
In 1801 Nelson won a notable victory over the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. In the midst of the battle Nelson's superior officer hoisted the recall signal to withdraw from action. Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye and said, "I really do not see the signal." He then turned probable disaster into triumph.
Later Nelson was given command of the Mediterranean fleet. He blockaded the French fleet at Toulon for more than a year until it slipped out. Nelson chased it to the West Indies and back, laid siege to it and the allied Spanish fleet in the harbor of Cadiz, and finally brought them both to bay off Cape Trafalgar on Oct. 21, 1805. From his ship, the Victory, he flew the signal that has ever since been Britain's watchword: "England expects that every man will do his duty." Nelson's tactics shattered the enemy fleet. While the battle still raged Nelson fell mortally wounded. His flag captain, Thomas Hardy, carried him below deck. His last words were, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God, I have done my duty." He died on Oct. 21, 1805.
1805: Battle of Trafalgar
Under orders to sail into the Mediterranean Sea to support the French invasion of Italy, the allied Franco-Spanish fleet commanded by Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve slipped out of its base at Cadiz, Spain, on October 20. The British fleet, led by Admiral Horatio Nelson, learned of the enemy fleet's movement and sped to intercept it. On October 21, Nelson attacked the 33-ship Franco-Spanish fleet with 27 British ships divided into two divisions, each in a single column. The British cut the allies in half and methodically tore them apart. One of the few negatives for the British in an otherwise brilliant victory was the loss of Nelson, who was killed by a sniper during the battle.
The Battle of Trafalgar established Britain as the premier naval power in the world. The allies lost 18 of 33 ships to the British and were totally devastated. Napoleon could no longer rely on naval support for the duration of the War of the Third Coalition and ended his plans for an invasion of Great Britain. The Battle of Trafalgar was regarded as the most decisive naval battle in history.
Two great generals were born in 1769. One was Napoleon Bonaparte; the other was his final conqueror, Arthur Wellesley, who became the first duke of Wellington. Arthur Wellesley (or Wesley, as the name was first written) was born on May 1, 1769, in Dublin, Ireland, the fourth son of an Irish nobleman. He attended the preparatory school at Chelsea and Eton College. Later he was sent to military school at Angers, France, for a year.
At 17 he entered the British army. Through the custom of purchasing commissions, he became a lieutenant colonel at 23, but his later achievements justified his quick promotion. In the hill country of India from 1796 to 1805, he conquered Mahratta chiefs who had sworn to drive the English into the sea. In making treaties that closed the war with these tribes, he proved himself an able diplomat as well.
In 1805 he left India for the war with Napoleon in Europe. He won a notable victory in his first campaign on the French-held Spanish peninsula, but the results were lost by incompetent superiors. In 1809 he returned as commander in chief. In five years he drove Napoleon's generals from the Iberian Peninsula.
After Napoleon's first exile Wellington was in Paris as Britain's ambassador to the restored king of France. Napoleon's escape from Elba sent Wellington back into military service. Finally at Waterloo, with the aid of Prussian troops, Wellington met and vanquished Napoleon himself.
For years Wellington was one of the most influential men in all of Europe. As prime minister of Great Britain from 1828 to 1830, however, he was less successful. He was an aristocrat who failed to note the changing times. He dismissed without consideration the demand for parliamentary reform and the extension of the right to vote as the work of agitators. He was forced to resign and had to protect his house from a mob. When the angry passions of the times subsided, people granted that Wellington, while not always an able statesman, had tried to do what he believed best for the nation. He died at Walmer Castle in Kent, England, on Sept. 14, 1852.