|The Battle of Trafalgar 1805|
This week, on October 21, Britain observed Trafalgar Day, celebrating the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, a monumental clash between the British Royal Navy and the combined French and Spanish fleets. The victorious British ended the threat of Napoleon's invasion of England.
British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson was mortally wounded aboard his ship Victory, but went on to be their most celebrated naval hero. Much like our U.S.S Constitution, H.M.S. Victory is an amazing walk-through 'living' museum in Portsmouth, England.
|H.M.S Victory- Horatio Nelson's Flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar|
In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, states relied on their sea-going merchants to keep an eye on activity along our borders and across the seas. When Independence was claimed, some states created their own navies with the help of privateers. The first U.S. Navy was established on October 13th 1775. Benedict Arnold ordered twelve ships built to slow the British’s plan of invading from Canada but by the end of the war, nearly all Continental ships had been destroyed by the superior British Navy. The bulk of the work was done by Privateers who carried “Letters of Marque” allowing them to act on behalf of the American Navy. It is estimated that nearly $66 million dollars worth of property was seized from British merchant ships.
After the Treaty of Paris, the navy was demobilized until the Naval Act of 1794 which once again created an official U.S. Navy. This time, it was to deal with pirates in the Mediterranean. With tensions in Europe, especially between Britain, France and Spain, the neutral United States still had her hands full trying to maintain free trade.
By 1805, Britain and France and Spain were years into two officially separate wars. On October 21st, twenty-seven British ships fought thirty-three French and Spanish ships off Cape Trafalgar on the southwest coast of Spain. Despite their lower numbers, most of the British ships were ‘ships of the line’, the largest and most powerful. Led by Commodore Nelson's spectacular battle strategy, the British gained a decisive victory. War went on with Napoleon on land for years, but never again did France or Spain challenge the British Navy in any large contingent.
|British Press Gangs|
This time, the U.S. Navy was prepared with better ships, and better-manned and were often equally matched with the British Navy. Despite hostilities, the two navies were birds of a feather and again it came down to strategy of commanding officers.
|the U.S.S Constitution out for a celebratory two hundredth anniversary sail 2012|
Captain Isaac Hull of the U.S.S. Constitution for multiple sea battle wins,
Captain Oliver Perry for his win on the U.S. Brig Niagara in the Battle of Lake Erie, and Captain Thomas MacDonough aboard the U.S. Saratoga for the war’s last major U.S. win, the battle of Lake Champlain.
|The Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain, near Chazy NY|
(all images from Wikipedia)
For more on the Navy, see
Hammocks, a Sailor's Bed