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Posts published in January 2006

Hero’s body pickled in Brandy

BY BOB JAMISON

It was quite an unceremonial sepulcher for one of the world’s best known and successful wartime admirals when he was returned to England, his home country, in a barrel of brandy. The highly decorated Admiral Lord Nelson was indeed, best known for his victory over the French and Spanish in the Battle of Trafalgar on the 2lst of October, l805. The last of his countless battles at sea, Nelson was given a hero’s funeral and his flagship Victory was returned to Portsmouth, England. It now rest in dry dock and receives 400 thousand visitors a year.
This wasn’t his first brush with Napoleon’s might. Nelson might have considered him equal to today’s Stalin or Osama bin Laden. It wasn’t without reason, however. Napoleon had massed 90,000 troops on the French coast of Brittany on the English Channel for the reason of invading England. However, the trump of the deck is that he couldn’t match Nelson’s naval power to protect his army in the crossing according to historian and nationally known writer Simon Worrall.
One of Nelson’s chief advisories was the French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve, commander of the combined fleet of French and Spanish. Knowing well of Nelson’s power at sea and Napoleon’s hesitation to confront a British naval engagement on crossing the English Channel, Villeneuve led Nelson away from England on a chase that brought him all the way to the Caribbean Sea and back. It was a close call several times for Villeneuve, but he made good his evasion until the Battle of Trafalgar. This was the place of the famous battle not far from the Rock of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea.
Historians describe the battle as the last great battle of the sailing ships. Out numbered and going against all odds for the forbidden maneuver against side armed frigates, Nelson ordered his ships to head straight to the great line of the enemy ships lying in side angles so as to fire their guns point blank at the head on enemy. Obviously this tactic was almost taboo in naval engagement in those days but the clever Nelson did it for a purpose. It was a great risk to break the line of ships as he did but it gave him the advantage of firing directly into the enemy ships as they tried to maneuver around. The wind certainly was not to their advantage to do so; and Nelson knew that.
The Spanish allies of the French apparently were not exactly an admiration society. They didn’t like Napoleon nor did they trust him. It seemed, in the battle of Trafalgar that they might lack some enthusiasm for their brothers to the north. 5000 men were killed and another 3000 wounded including Admiral Nelson.
Riflemen aboard a French vessel fired a musket ball into Nelson’s shoulder from a sniper’s position high on a mast. The bullet went down through his ribs and into his lung. He was taken below as his lungs were filled with blood.
The battle scars of honor worn by Nelson were nothing new. In a previous battle, a musket ball tore off his right elbow and his arm was amputated above the wound. He jokingly referred to it as his ‘fin’. He was also blinded in one eye in another battle.
“Mild mannered as any man I have known”, was a comment in a letter home by one of his leaders, Captain Collingwood. Nelson was known by his enemy by the word “annihilation” because that was his battle cry in fifty or more engagements. Yet, he otherwise was known as the most gentle of all human creatures and often lamented the cruel necessity of it, but it was a principle of duty which all men owed to their country in defense of her laws and liberty.
“Trafalgar saw the triumph of the Anglosphere,” writes Tim Clayton. “As a result of Trafalgar, English became the global language of maritime trade.” And it still is.
Bob Jamison is a freelance writer. His recent book AIRPLAN ES, ALLIGATORS AND HI-FIN BLUES is available at the Gazette or jbobalong@yahoo.com