His object was, as ever, destruction, and complete destruction, of the enemy, no matter what loss he himself might sustain. “In cases where signals cannot be seen or clearly understood, no captain can do wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.” were his orders to the fleet. . . Before entering the battle he thought deeply for a suitable signal to give to his ships and men. Finally he decided on the now immortal words: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”
“The Greatest Naval Hero the World has ever Known”
The Battle of Trafalgar, fought October 21, 1805, was the most important British naval battle of the 19th century. It obliterated Napoleon’s fleet, put an end to the threat of an invasion of England, and limited Napoleon’s influence to continental Europe. No longer could France contend with England for control of the seas, so the dramatic October confrontation off the coast of Spain ushered in the heyday of British colonialism.
Yet to this day, Trafalgar is remembered more for the heroic death of Admiral Horatio Nelson than for its terrific strategic importance. During the period of fiercest fighting a bullet shot from the mast of an enemy ship pierced Nelson’s spine. He was taken below deck and lingered for several hours, but passed away just as the English claimed a monumental victory. The whole campaign had been orchestrated by the brilliant and audacious commander, and all of England was so grieved by his loss that they hardly thought to celebrate their triumph.
Horatio Nelson’s adventures at sea were legendary even before his dramatic death at Trafalgar. He had prevailed in terrific battles, often by taking extreme measures at great personal risk against the enemy. He had lost an arm and an eye in previous skirmishes, but was undaunted, and continued to lead navies in battle long after most soldiers would have retired with their medals on a government “disability” pension.It is hard to think of a modern parallel to the career of Admiral Nelson. His feats were notorious among seamen the world over, not only because of his series of victories, but more so, because of the daring-do with which he approached almost all operations. He was cautious in that he prepared carefully for battle and took care of his men and ships, but once the battle was joined, he was bold beyond measure.
If not for his enormous popularity with sailors and British citizens, Nelson might have presented a problem for Britain’s more conservative naval command. On numerous occasions he disobeyed orders or acted without authority, but in every incident his actions led directly to a spectacular victory for Britain so he was spared reprimands. And the fact that some of his greatest feats of heroism were accomplished when acting without orders only heightened his romantic appeal.
It is not surprising, therefore, that this short biography of Horatio Nelson offered by Heritage History is a favorite of adventure-lovers of all ages. It is includes in the British Empire collection, along with a number of other stories of British men-of-action, or it can be read online or purchased individually here.