How far do you agree that Mary Seacole was the real angel of the Crimea? [ESSAY]

Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale both played key roles in nursing at the Crimean War, yet Nightingale is the one remembered as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ and Seacole is very hardly known. I believe that Seacole was the real ‘Angel of the Crimea’ as she had the personality most like an angel, whereas Nightingale was calculating and logical and didn’t directly care for the troops.

Mary Seacole was the real angel as she didn’t let anything stop her from caring for the troops. She was a Jamaican woman, which she beliecved was the cause of her help being refused at Scutari by Nightingale. Seacole, despite this setback, traveled to the Crimea to set up her own business: the British Hotel. This hotel not only funded essential medical equipment, but provided a place of comfort for the soldiers – her nickname, Mother Seacole, suggests that she had a caring aura…much like an angel. Extracts from her book ‘Wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands’ support this by revealing that she was incredibly hardworking; she woke up early in the morning to make sure that the breakfast was ready for the officers and tea was available for the troops. Seacole also had exceptional knowledge of herbal remedies (taught to her by her mother) and had much experience at treating Cholera – so not only did Seacole try hard, she clearly knew what she was doing. This is further supported by the fact that over 80,000 people attended a charity gala in her honour, and after Seacole returned to England – bankrupt – Queen Victoria supported a committee set up to help her in 1867. Moreover, Seacole was sometimes seen on the battlefield during battle; such a selfless act done to save the lives of the troops. Hence, Seacole was an angel as she did whatever she could to preserve the lives of as many troops as possible, despite the many problems she faced.

On the other hand, Nightingale doesn’t deserve to be called an angel as her personality was quite cold; she was the administrator of Scutari, despite the popular idea that she was the one giving direct care to their patients; hence her nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. You could argue that it was easy for her to get this reputation, and her legacy has been exaggerated due to her social background. She was white and upper-class and her father simply gave her the money she needed; she also received funding from back home in excess of £30,000 during the war and £45,000 afterwards. Seacole never got this financial aid during the war. Despite all of this money, Scutari was still in short supply and death rates didn’t drop. In February 1855 52% of patients died at this ‘death camp.’ If Nightingale was an angel, she would’ve used her funds more for the treatment of these troops and the cleanliness of the hospital, rather than focusing on Scutari’s statistics and making sure her reputation stayed pristine. Nightingale was also never seen going to extra measures to save the troops, like Seacole did; Nightingale never went on the battlefield to treat wounded soldiers and she was so stubborn that she rejected help from good-willed nurses who could’ve helped save more lives, therefore she cannot be considered an angel.

However, Nightingale’s hard work shouldn’t be undermined and she was an angel in some regards. Nightingale had good intentions and it’s indisputable that she wanted to save lives – she was a volunteer so she didn’t have to undertake this role. It also wasn’t expected of her go to war, as social conventions at the time didn’t promote middle-class women entering these ‘unattractive,unladylike’ occupations. The rise of deaths can’t solely be blamed on her: statistics show that deaths dramatically decreased after the Sanitary Commission intervened in March 1855. This late intervention was due to administrative incompetence, of which Nightingale had no control over. The death toll was also so high as there was still no understanding of germ theory, so eventhough Nightingale tried her best it’s quite impossible to cure diseases when nobody has any understanding of the causes. Miasma (the belief that disease was spread by bad smells) was still a deeply rooted belief at the time, so it was unlikely that any new proposals would’ve been accepted. For example, the use of Anesthesia was very limited because it was new and many nurses didn’t want to risk it. Nightingale’s work didn’t stop at Scutari: she did spend the £45,000 wisely in setting up the Nightingale Training School in London in 1860 – the first secular nursing school in the world! She also helped establish the Royal Commission in India, completed in 1863. Being a tough administrator was essential and her use of statistics showed that mortality rate did in-fact drop. So Nightingale was concerned about the death of the troops and was determined to improve conditions; however, I don’t think that she’s an angel as I think she saw troops as numbers on a chart, and was more interested in ways of reducing in these numbers than saving lives.

Mary Seacole may not have been an angel as it is argued that she only set up the British Hospital with the intentions of taking advantage of the troops; she saw a business opportunity in selling the troops the luxuries they missed back home, and cruelly took it. Then her business failed and she became bankrupt, suggesting that she was clueless and incapable of managing finance. She also had no official medical training and the only experience she had was in her herbal remedies; this could’ve endangered the troops she cared for as at times she may not have known completely what she was doing, due to lack of medical knowledge and concrete evidence on the safety of her methods. But I think that Seacole was an angel as she regarded each troop as an individual and showed compassion towards them, and she had good intentions at heart…much like an angel.

In conclusion, I believe that Mary Seacole was the true angel of the Crimea as, although Florence Nightingale achieved more on paper, Seacole was warm-hearted and showed more care towards the troops. She faced many barriers – such as lack of funding and social prejudices – but overcame them due to her desire to care for the troops. She worked extremely hard, risked her life by treating soldiers on the battlefield, and her nickname ‘Mother Seacole’ alone likens her to a caring angel. Her care was even recognised by Queen Victoria! Nightingale was not an angel; she was an effective administrator, creating the Nightingale Training School (the first in the world!) and the Royal Commission in India, and her hard work should be credited. But I think that her legacy has only been so strong, and her importance exaggerated, due to her social background. Presumably, she seemed more concerned in collecting statistics for the hospital and, unlike popular opinion, she didn’t have much face-to-face time with the troops. I am under the impression that she saw the dying troops to be numbers on a chart; not a father, a brother or a son who has a family back home who cares for them. This lack of empathy means that I cannot see Nightingale as an angel, though I do appreciate all she has achieved. Therefore, I believe that Mary Seacole was the true ‘Angel of the Crimea.’


To what extent was Lord Raglan to blame for the Charge of the Light Brigade? [ESSAY]

There was a lot of confusion leading up the Charge of the Light Brigade and what – or who – was t blame. Can we really blame this ‘Glorious Blunder’ on one individual? It was Lord Raglan who made the unclear order, but it was Captain Nolan who naively sent it and Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan who unquestionably initiated the battle. I don’t think that the blame of this event can be pinpointed to one person – I think that the blame is in the out-dated system of the British Army.

To some extent, I think that Raglan is to blame; he was the commander and thus responsible for any events that happened under his command. It’s a fact that Raglan’s orders were unclear, not only because he failed to use proper military terms such as “North” or “West” but because he needed to send three orders to get his message across; this highlights the communication problems between the divisions in the British Army, which I think is more at fault than Raglan. Yet Raglan is still to blame as he showed himself to be an incompetent commander…surely he should’ve realised that he and the Light Brigade had different perspectives of the battlefront, due to their different positions, therefore his lack of simple military awareness resulted in great confusion which is largely to blame for the misunderstandings of his order. He was also incompetent as he didn’t appeal to the government for more aid – the Army was infested with numerous diseases to the point where more than 80% of the deaths were caused by disease. Appealing to the government could’ve at least ensured that those troops which were pushed into battle were in better health, making them more likely to come from the battle alive.

However, Raglan wasn’t the only individual at fault. Lucan is increasingly blamed for the charge as he didn’t use his initiative to realise that the order was incorrect, and Raglan wouldn’t send his army into a suicide mission. Lucan could’ve simply asked Nolan to go back to Raglan and clarify where exactly he wanted the cavalry to charge. But I think that Lucan – being a lower rank and getting stopped from using his initiative at the Battle of Alma only a month earlier – had little choice but to follow Raglan’s order; especially considering that Raglan was losing patience which is apparent by him saying “immediate” in his order. Hence, Lucan shouldn’t bear much of the blame. I also believe that Captain Nolan and Lord Cardigan were not much at fault; Cardigan was simply following orders and was in no position to question Raglan, and Nolan was just the messenger. Although, Nolan’s response to Lucan questioning the order was unnecessarily aggressive as he got flustered and ended up pointing Lucan into the wrong direction; it is said, however, that Nolan realised his mistake too late and sped ahead of the cavalry during the charge, only to be shot before warning the rest of the cavalry. At least Nolan tried to stop the blunder – Raglan, on the other hand, kept at his post and made no effort to stop the tragedy which was to occur.

One factor which I believe is more to blame than Raglan was the long-term logistical problems faced by the British Army. It was extremely difficult to get supplies to Sapun Ridge (Near Sevastopol) due to Russian occupation of the route from Balaklava to the siege lines. This weakened the army as a whole, reducing the energy of the troops thus the power of any attacks. This lack of nutrition heightened the number of deaths by disease, diminishing the manpower of the brigades. Moreover, the logistics of horses dampened the power of the Army; travelling 4000 miles in a cramped, swaying boat made the horses uneasy and disease rampant; and the smoke from the ships damaged the horses’ health. This meant that only days from eventually arriving at the siege lines, many horses died and the already tired men were forced to transport their own supplies. Although this had no significant direct impact on the Charge of the Light Brigade, I believe that these conditions led the British Army to state of desperation, which then led to some rash behavior (hence the immediacy in the unclear order sent by Raglan) and misunderstandings.

Nonetheless, I believe that the out-dated system of the Army, in particular the Purchase of Commissions, was the foremost fault of the Charge of the Light Brigade. This corrupt system meant that anyone who had enough money – even if they had never had any military training or set foot on a battlefield – were responsible for the lives of a great deal of men. This was the case for Raglan and Lucan; although Raglan had lost an arm at the Battle of Waterloo 40 years earlier, he was the equivalent to a secretary to Wellington and had never commanded an army before, and Lucan had no relevant military experience at all. This meant that Raglan and Lucan had no foundation of essential military knowledge and many of the soldiers beneath them were much more experience than they were. It is this cruel irony that resulted in poor communication and the preventable deaths of 110 men. This is important when weighing up the blame of the charge as, if this Purchase of Commissions system were nonexistent, Raglan would not have been allowed to be in power and somebody who actually had some military knowledge and experience wouldn’t of made this foolish error, so it is largely to blame for the Charge of the Light Brigade. Similarly, the British Army were not as good as they could’ve been due to the lack of training provided by the government; the British Army were terribly prepared for war as they completely depleted any funding or training that went into the military after the Napoleonic Wars 40-50 years earlier. This weakened the troops as they then lacked the knowledge to use their own initiative on the battlefield and were simply unaware of what to do in vital circumstances. If they did have training, the Charge of the Light Brigade would still inevitable occur yet the outcome may have been lessened.

In conclusion, I believe that Lord Raglan should take a bit less than half of the blame for the Charge of the Light Brigade. This is because it was him who sent the unclear order, emphasising his poor communication skills and lack of military knowledge and experience. He failed to realise that his positioning was different to the cavalry, and he failed to supply Nolan with enough information to sufficiently send the correct order. Lucan should also take some of the blame as the incorrect order was quite obviously a suicide mission and he could’ve just asked for more details instead of blindly following orders. However, it is understandable why he didn’t question Raglan as he had already been prevented from using his initiative only weeks prior. The failure of logistics put an immense strain on the British Army (for example, the lack of supplies led to lack of nourishment of the troops) and this could’ve reflected into Raglan’s actions – the army was under a lot of pressure and resulted into a state of desperation and rash decisions. But I believe that the main problem was the out-dated system of the British Army, especially the Purchase of Commissions. This led to incompetent people, such as Raglan and Lucan, being in control of hundreds of lives and making unwise decisions. If this system were abolished, then competent men with military experience and knowledge would’ve been in charge; they would’ve used proper military terms in their orders and realised the difference in perspectives of the battlefield; they would’ve pointed the cavalry in the right direction and the ‘Glorious Blunder’ would never have happened.

It’s been a couple of months since my last post…I’ve still been writing essays, just forgetting to post them! I now have a backlog of essays which I am improving and will be posting in the near future. Many of them are on the warfare part of the course, but I’m planning to write one on an aspect of the American side of the course shortly.

To what extent was Wellington responsible for allied victory at Waterloo in 1815? [ESSAY]

The Battle of Waterloo was an extremely significant battle – it represented the bitter defeat of the French Emperor, Napoleon, who was previously initiating numerous battles across the continent against the British. Waterloo was the end point of these Napoleonic Wars and I believe that the British leader, Wellington, played a big part in this defeat. However, I think that the help from the Prussians was just as important as the role of Wellington in the allied victory at Waterloo; the training and equipment of the allies put them at an advantage over the enemy (in particular, their discipline); and the mistakes made by French leaders Napoleon (delaying the battle) and Ney (not obeying orders) combined with the poor weather conditions, made it easier for the allies to push forwards.

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley – Wellington – was a prestigious military leader who was able to devote his life to improving himself, militarily. He had tremendous military skill and could analyse a military situation and terrain, and formulate the appropriate tactics. He was an exceptional horseman – he once rode 300 miles across difficult terrain to reconnoitre. This was important at the battle of Waterloo because he made sure that his cavalry were greatly trained, and this enabled them to charge a heavy cavalry attack at the first French infantry attack. This attack was part of Waterloo and although not successful by itself, the charge of the British heavy cavalry immediately after was significant; Wellington ordered his unseen cavalry to attack. This is responsible for the victory at Waterloo because valuable time was needed for D’Erlon’s corps to reform, in addition to 3,000 casualties and over 2,000 prisoners taken. However, I don’t think that Wellington should get full responsibility for this attack – it was Uxbridge who ordered this charge, so he should be credited. But, Uxbridge did use one of Wellington’s favourite tactics which was a key part in this victory: the reverse slope.

Wellington’s most renowned tactic was to hide his troops on a reverse slope – this protected the troops from artillery fire and the enemy’s infantry; he brought troops to the front line at 25m. This helped in the cavalry charge as the enemy was unaware of the sheer number of unseen horses and soldiers nearby, so they were unprepared for such an attack. Wellington knew exactly where he wanted to be on the battlefield and this is responsible for the allied victory because to win the battle, you need to have control of the terrain and, if you know the place, then you’re able to spot any potential tricks of the enemy. Hence, Wellington could be given some credit for this success.

Apart from the battle at Assaye, Wellington always conserved his troops and didn’t waste them on ‘heroic’ movements; he waited until certain of a decisive victory, unlike Marshal Ney of France who organised and led a massed French cavalry attack. This attack was not supported by the French infantry and artillery – which many saw as a necessity. This revealed to be an unwise decision by Ney because a cavalry alone is not enough to break the great tactic of the British squares: these are indestructible, and Wellington put forwards this command. Though Wellington is not fully responsible for this victory because he did not come up with the squares tactic, so it is plausible that a different commander would’ve formed squares at this. Furthermore, I think that the victory at this battle was more due to the poor decisions made by Ney, rather than the good ones by Wellington, because if Ney would’ve just followed his orders then the squares would’ve been penetrated more easily. The missed opportunity at Ligny also supports my viewpoint: that Ney is more to blame than Wellington is to credit; Napoleon planned to split Wellington and the Prussians and for Ney to move his troops from Quatre Bras. This would’ve won Napoleon the war…if only Ney actually appeared. This would’ve led to a French victory for the war, but instead it was a mere battle victory. For this reason, I think Ney is partly responsible for the allied victory as he prevented a potential major win for France and hindered French advancement, allowing the allies to push forwards.

On the other hand, the French artillery did begin to press forwards, and the squares were under intense fire and almost broke Wellington’s centre. This was until the first Prussian unit entered the battle, increasing the numbers of the allies to almost 3x that of the French. This relieved pressure on Wellington’s troops and stopped them being pushed back any further. Yet, the extent of the significance of the Prussians was not seen until after 7:30pm; Napoleon still hoped to break Wellington before the rest of the Prussians arrived, so he set off the French Imperial Guard attack. They did manage to break Wellington’s line, but retreated due to the arrival of Blucher’s (Prussian) army. You could say that the French retreated, hence allied victory, because it was led by Ney (his failures earlier on in the battle make it easy to point the finger at him); because of the Imperial Guard being made up of troops who were defeated in the first infantry attack; or even because of Wellington’s well timed attacks – however, I think that the role of the Prussians was most responsible as it increased the force and effectiveness of the attacks, therefore I believe that there would’ve been no allied victory without the Prussians.

The French had superior artillery to the allied: France had 252 guns whereas the allies had 156; the French 12pdr cannon had ½ a pound more charge than the British 12pdr cannon and it could travel almost 200 yards further. Wellington, himself, was also critical of his artillery “To tell the truth, I was not very pleased with the Artillery…I would have had no artillery for the second part of the battle…” and he opposed when there were talks of giving the artillery officers a cash reward. I think that luck played a part in the allied victory: the battle itself was delayed by a number of hours, by Napoleon, because of the terrible storm the night before (Napoleon wanted the ground to dry up, first). This prevented the French pressing forward their artillery and gave time for Blucher’s army to arrive; therefore decreasing the responsibility of the artillery in the battle – instead, the cavalry and infantry played a significant role in defeating the French. This extra time also gave Wellington time to perfect his defences. In summary, I believe that luck played a part in the allied victory: the weather conditions led to Napoleon delaying the attack, giving time for Wellington to master his defences and gave time for Blucher to arrive.

In conclusion, I think that the leadership of Wellington was partially responsible for the allied victory: his ability to analyse a situation and terrain allowed him to quickly formulate the best tactics, for example the British Heavy Cavalry attack was unprecedented for the French, who then had to spend time reforming D’Erlon’s corps. This was due to the reverse slope tactic, and Wellington was the one who enforced this tactic because he had already studied the terrain and so knew where the best place for each corps was. Wellington also put great emphasis on making sure his cavalry were well trained – much like all of those under him – and this discipline made sure that they always formed squares when told to, much like in Ney’s cavalry charge. This discipline can be emphasised by comparing it to the discipline of the French – Marshall Ney was shown to not have been very well disciplined as he didn’t follow Napoleon’s orders at the battle of Ligny; this battle would’ve won the war, therefore emphasising the importance of discipline in battle. However, I think that there were many more factors which, when put together, are more responsible for the allied victory at Waterloo. Ney was very responsible for the allied victory: one, because he didn’t support his cavalry attack with an infantry or artillery, meaning it was just a ‘waste of troops’; two, because he caused the missed opportunity at Ligny. Napoleon also delayed the start of the battle, giving time for Wellington to perfect his defences and for Blucher’s army to arrive. This suggests that the French leaders should be blamed, not that Wellington should be credited, and perhaps the luck of the storm that produced these situations enabled Wellington to have an advantage. The most important factor, in my opinion, was the Prussians. This increased the size of the allies by 50,000, making them much more powerful and threatening. It also enabled the allies to attack the French on both sides, leading to the French Imperial Guard retreating (who were the best among the French, so their retreat plummeted morale across the rest of the French army).The Prussians also increased the effectiveness of any allied attack due to the sheer number of them. Because of that, I believe that Waterloo would not have been won without the Prussians.

How accurate is it to say that the Royal Navy ruled the waves in the years 1793-1815? [ESSAY]

During 1793-1815, Britain had one of the biggest navies in the world; they were seen as the ‘rulers of the waves’ due to their military prowess, and France wanted to overthrow them. I think that it is very accurate to say that the Royal Navy ruled the waves during 1793-1815: they had the best, new innovative technologies, the best officers, the best blockades and – most importantly – won the Battle of Trafalgar.

One thing that put Britain above the best of the world was their Daily Gunnery Practice; this allowed the sailors to perfect the method of unleashing a broadside every 1.5 minutes – nearly 3x as fast as the French. This is due to the British using gunlocks and the French using slow matches. Britain also had the carronade: a short, light canon loaded with grapeshot. This fired rapidly; meaning that Britain could quickly control the events in a battle. Most of these ships also carried 32pdr guns, which were extremely powerful and inflicted much damage on the enemy’s ships. These technologies showed that Britain ruled the waved because they were more advanced than the rest of the world; hence they began to be looked up to as an influential, resource-rich nation, of which others were reluctant to challenge.

The Royal Navy also began to copper sheath their ships. The French were not the only enemy of the British: marine organisms, such as ‘shipworms’ and ‘gribbles’ led to structural damage of the ships, reducing the vessels handling and speed at sea, making them less effective in battle. This showed that the Royal Navy ruled the waves because Britain was the only nation to have knowledge in this copper sheathing, so other nations had to rely on Britain. Britain also owned a number of frigates: small, but very fast ships which terrorised European coastlines, damaging trade and raiding ports. For example, by 1805 Britain had already seized Cape colony, Sierra Leone and many other islands. This proves that the Royal Navy ruled the waved because they were able to build up their Empire via the waves.

But, all of this came at a cost: the decks had a max height of 168cm (meaning that the sailors were cramped); Scurvy (lack of vitamin C) became a problem; and there had been no pay increase since 1652. But, all of this was faced by the other nations too, so I don’t think that this made the Royal Navy any worse than the other navies. But, these poor conditions did lead to tensions on board: April 1797 was the Spithead mutiny and in May of the same year was the Nore mutiny. Pitt’s government set out to isolate and starve the mutineers. Richard Parker, and 28 other mutiny leaders, was hanged. This suggests that Britain couldn’t possibly have ruled the waves because they couldn’t even control their own crews. But, I think that the role of the officers were important in restoring this – for example, Lord Howe solved the Spithead mutiny by visiting each ship & holding a banquet to re-establish trust. This produces the counter-augment: Britain did rule the waves, because any mutiny that arose was dealt with quickly.

Moreover, the British officers helped in ruling the waves: in the Royal Navy, it was not possible to ‘buy yourself’ to the top; instead you had to have high mathematical and astrological skills, which often came from growing up ‘learning the ropes.’ Many of these officers also had valuable experience from the American War of independence. So, too, did the French officers – but most of these had fled or guillotined during the French revolution (1789 – 1799). This showed that Britain ruled the waves because the outcome of a battle was often based on the skill and capabilities of the officers. For example, the role of Nelson in the Battle of Nile ultimately led to that victory. Britain managed to regain control of the Mediterranean due to Nelson: initiating the battle; inspiring officers and men; not overcomplicating the orders – he only gave 9 signals in total – and becoming a national figure. This supports the idea that Britain ruled the waves because the best world-renowned officer as British, therefore adding to the superior aura of the British Navy.

The role of Nelson was also important in the Battle of Trafalgar, 1815. Despite the HMS Victory flagship being under fire for 40 minutes, experiencing lots of damage, it was still able to find a gap to the Bucentaure flagship and put 400 men/ 20 guns out of action. The British also ruled the waves during this battle by having higher accuracy: they used flintlock matches opposed to linstock matches (which had a delay). This meant that Britain could inflict more damage much faster. The French surrendering at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the outcomes of the battle, also presented Britain as more powerful than the rest of the world: the French navy were the second best in the world, and if anybody were to have the power to defeat the British then it would’ve been them. The fact that the French had much more losses (2218 to 459), and there were 8000 French and Spanish prisoners combined, eradicated any hope in the other nations of being able to challenge the British. After this battle, the French didn’t seriously challenge the British in the seas for years and this battle marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Therefore, Britain were seen as the rulers of the waves because they were on the side who won the Napoleonic Wars, and the ones who stopped the French ‘sharks’ from hunting in the seas.

But, it was not only the British fighting that helped them rule the waves. I think that the British blockades which were enforced during the Napoleonic wars also gave Britain an upper hand. There were two forms of blockade: open and closed. During the battle of the Glorious First of June 1794, the Royal Navy blockaded French ports. This battle gives a balanced argument as to whether or not Britain ruled the waves: in one way it suggests it does because the French experienced almost 6 times the casualties as the British; adversely, the cargo still managed to reach France, averting famine. Moreover, in 1796 Britain left 15 battle ships to blockade Brest. 44 French ships set out to break this blockade, fortunately the gales dissuaded the French and they abandoned their mission. Although all of this shows that the blockades weren’t completely broken -the fact that they were penetrated, or left alone – implies that Britain did not rule the waves, because it was the weather conditions that kept the blockade intact.

In conclusion, I believe that it is very accurate to say that Britain ruled the waves. The lifestyles of the British officers put the Royal navy at an advantage: because the British sailors ‘learnt the ropes’ from a young age, they grew up in the mind-set of joining the navy; then once joining the navy, they intensified their navy-orientated lifestyle by taking part in the daily gunnery practise, improving with carronades, gunlocks – and being able to unleash a broadside almost 3x faster than the French. This showed that Britain ruled the waves because they were much more powerful than the French, in terms of resources. Additionally, the officers were so powerful because many of them had valuable experience form the American War of Independence – many of the best French officers were lost in the French revolution, meaning that the British officers were much more skilled in battle. For example, Nelson was a national hero and a world-known officer. In the Battle of the Nile, he inspired the officers and made his orders very clear; and in the Battle of Trafalgar, he didn’t give up when his Victory was getting destroyed. Instead, he held on and then managed to find an opening to destroy the enemy. I believe that the British officers were extremely significant in Britain ruling the waves because it is the officers that take control of the battles – hence determining the outcome. But, the battle of Trafalgar is the point at which the superiority of the British navy is confirmed; the fact that they won by such a large margin, and scared the French so much to stop them from initiating a serious battle in the sea for years, truly shows the power of the British navy…so it is very accurate to say that the Royal Navy ruled the waves during 1793-1815.

Sorry for the late update!
It’s been busy recently with my 3 maths and 3 further maths AS exams, physics practical assessments, and catching up with history classwork. But school is now officially over – yay! Though I still need to go in a few days next week to present the maths challenge finale, which I have been planning for KS3 Students throughout the year, and then I’m staying in London for a week to do an internship.

But now I have time to revise all of the stuff I’ve learnt in history this year; as well as start preparing for the Haig coursework. We haven’t been given the question yet, but we do know that it’s going to be 4000 words evaluating the interpretations of Haig by different historians.

Thanks for reading 🙂

The Battle of Trafalgar: a Terrific Tragedy.

The Battle of Trafalgar was never going to be remembered as one of those ‘textbook’ battles which followed standard naval tactics or conduct. It was a battle of annihilation.

Lord Admiral Nelson – a national hero who had won three major battles and 50 others: more than any other Admiral in the history of the Royal Navy – wanted, what he called, a “pell-mell” battle. Nelson didn’t want to simply win this battle against the French: he wanted to completely obliterate them. Before the Battle of Trafalgar, he told his crew: “It is annihilation that the country wants, not merely a splendid victory.” He took the command system of Admiral Sir John Jervis (who played a key role in the Battle of Cape St Vincent against the Spanish in 1797), and melded it with the strategies he developed under Admiral Lord Hood (who was involved in the initiation battle of the Napoleonic Wars, at Toulon in 1793).

Nelson was the first distinguished modern celebrity – all Britons knew of his bravery in great battles – and there were pictures and celebrations for him nationwide. His scandalous love affair with Emma Hamilton was immensely publicised, and this simply added to his aura of fame. He gave Britain hope and courage throughout the Napoleonic Wars and possessed every quality of a national idol.

Britain and France were involved in the Napoleonic Wars from 1873; the only time of temporary peace being after the Treaty of Amiens, signed in 1802: this achieved peace in Europe for 14 months, before the agreement began to collapse in 1803. Britain were on the defensive, waiting for the French Navy to make the first move. Napoleon was looking for an opportunity to strike at Britain, without having to fight Nelson and the Royal Navy. This was made possible in late 1804, when Spain joined the war on the side of the French; the Spanish supplied Napoleon with the ships he needed to build up a a satisfactory fleet to attack Britain.

In September 1805, the opportunity for battle emanated. Vice-Admiral Villeneuve (France) broke out into the Atlantic. Nelson gave chase, until Villeneuve found safe haven at Cadiz: an ideal position to attack Britain and her navy. Villeneuve had to be eradicated.

Villeneuve believed that Nelson’s fleet was weaker than his own: he had 33 ships of the line (the largest warships) and 2568 guns; Nelson had 27 ships of the line and 2148 guns. Thus, on 19th October, Villeneueve set out to sea again.

Nelson, being the tactical genius he is, anticipated the Frenchman’s every move. The fleets came into contact on 21 October. Nelson split his fleet into 2 columns (one being him on the HMS Victory, another being Collingwood on the Royal Sovereign), ready for a ferocious head-on attack: the British were like a pack of Velociraptors, determined to annihilate the liable young who were under the control of a tyrannous Tyrannosaurus Rex (Napoleon).

Nelson led his first column into the attack with his close friend, and the captain of the Victory, Thomas Hardy. They destroyed the opponent’s flagship (the ship which carries the commanding admiral), leaving the enemy leaderless and no longer in ‘shipshape’ command. However, the Victory was yet to fire. Nelson raised the signal: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” All the men on board cheered. Now it was a waiting game – waiting for Villeneuve to show his own flag.

The Royal Sovereign reached the line first. Collingwood casually ate an apple on the quarterdeck (the most dangerous point on the ship, but it was a point of honour for officers to command from there) and gave the signal to fire.

As HMS Victory bore down the enemy line, looking for an opening, she had to withstand tremendous fire from the enemy for 40 minutes. Luckily, the French had poor aim and the damage was not as bad as it could’ve been. Nelson and Hardy paced up and down on the quarterdeck, still looking for the perfect opening. Splinters flew everywhere – one ripped the buckle off Hardy’s shoe and left a bruise. The two were anxious, though Nelson turned to him and smiled: “This is too warm work, Hardy, to last long.”

Victory’s steering wheel was smashed, and her rigging and sails were cut to pieces. However, at 12:35pm there was a gap to Villeneuve’s flagship: the Bucentaure. She opened fire and put 200 Frenchman out of action. Villeneuve was the only man standing on the quarterdeck, trapped on a ship in critical condition. To make matters worse, the Victory then became entangled with the Redoutable; despite this, the French were unable to board her due to the sheer amount of carronade fire the British inflicted upon the enemy. The Franco-Spanish center was reduced to chaos due to the loss of leadership.

More ships came to aid the Victory and overwhelmed the enemy. Fortunately, the British had much better aim than the French: they used Flintlock matches, rather than the Linstock matches that caused a delay. In spite of the horrific conditions on board – the resounding noise and smoke from the guns & the constant slipping on comrades’ blood – Nelson and Hardy continued to pace up and down. The captain of the Redoutable continued to use musket fire and hand grenades to target the nonchalant officers.

At 1:15pm, this walk was interrupted: Nelson was hit by a lead ball which cut an artery in his lung before lodging into his spine. It was obvious that this wound was deadly. He was rushed below deck, as the battle with the Redoutable reached a crescendo.

At 1:30pm, the Redoutable surrendered.

At 2:15pm, Villeneuve surrendered.

By 2:30pm, Hardy went below to inform Nelson that 12 or 14 enemy ships were taken and none of the British had surrendered. He then visited again at 3:30pm to confirm British victory.

Nelson was moribund at this point, with one fin in the grave (Nelson only had one arm – his right one was lost in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He was then branded for joking about his amputated arm: in the Baltic, 1801, he threw back his cloak and said: “I am Lord Nelson, and here is my fin!”.)

Nelson struggled to breathe, but managed to choke out: “Thank God I have done my duty.” Hardy was distraught. He knelt and kissed his leader, before returning back to the upper deck to continue the fighting.

Nelson was dead at 4:30pm.

In the end, Britain had taken 18 of the enemies’ ships: 11 made it back to Britain, and only 5 were considered seaworthy. No British ships were lost.

The cost of victory was high.

This battle of annihilation led to 459 British deaths. On the other hand, the enemy had a much larger mortality rate: 2218 Frenchmen and 1025 Spaniards died. Britain also managed to capture 8000 French and Spanish prisoners.

The British sent Villeneuve to England, but he was set free in late 1805 and returned to France. On 22 April 1806, he was found dead at a hotel (after eating a chicken and asparagus dinner – the small details, right?) with six stab wounds in his left lung and one in the heart. The verdict was suicide. This was great news for the British media, who used this to mock the French and further increase British pride.  Suspicions also arose about the nature of his death: did Napoleon secretly order his murder? Napoleon was still a bit agitated that Villeneuve set out into the Antarctic – and of course, lost – so this situation is completely plausible.

Though the reasons as to why there was a British victory are nothing complicated; in fact, a British victory was inevitable.

The Royal Navy had much better gunnery because of the Flintlock matches they used, enabling them to fire 2 or 3 times as quickly as the enemy, and with much better precision.

British morale was high, thanks to the great command of Nelson. Even the future king, George IV, thought highly of him:“Nelson and Victory were one and the same to us, and it carried dismay and terror to the hearts of our enemy.” The enemy knew of Nelson’s naval prowess and never really believed that they could win this battle. This made it easy for them to lose morale, and the loss of their flagship early on in battle simply sunk any hope they had left sailing for them.

Although the Battle of Trafalgar had no big impact on the War of Third Coalition (an alliance between Britain, Austria and Russia to prevent French invasion), the Royal Navy achieved an aura of indestructibility and was not seriously challenged by the French navy for the remainder of the French Wars. The next time the British fought on this scale was during World War 1. This shows that with a terrific victory, there is always some tragedy. Britain gained international strength, at the cost of a hero.

The Battle of Trafalgar truly was a terrific tragedy.

I just wanted to note some exceptional articles I came across whilst researching the Battle of Trafalgar.

This article gave a great overview of the events which happened at the Battle, and was enjoyable to read.

This article gave a more in-depth analysis of the events, and more detail about the ships involved and the tactics used.