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Friday, October 25, 2013

Ahoy, the Boat!

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
During the 18th and 19th centuries, it would be hard to imagine an American Navy that did not take its lead from the mighty British Navy, yet it was that same foreign navy that twice pushed the building up of ours.

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
Struggling to keep their massive war ships going, on a global basis, the British Navy continued to press (detain and force into labor) American seaman. This was one of the reasons cited for the U.S' second declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.

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
Three American naval officers still bear the highest respect for their War of 1812 defeats of the powerful "Nelson's Navy".

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
Without glorifying war, we are still able to marvel at the beauty of tall ships and the skill of the men who sailed them in the golden age of  sail. I admit to being a bit obsessed with these ships and this period in U.S and British history. Thank you for stopping by!

(all images from Wikipedia)

For more on the Navy, see

Hammocks, a Sailor's Bed

12 comments:

  1. Today, for a change, I am not at my paying job, so I should be able to check in more frequently... that said... I also hope to write my 'little' butt off today. Yes, there are ships and naval men populating said chapters. Huzzah!

    Have a lovely weekend, all!

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  2. Love, love, love tall ships! I'm just beginning the naval phase of my RevWar series, and I'm deep in research. Thank you so much for this inspiring article, Debra--and happy writing today!

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    1. Thanks Joan! I admit I feel so overwhelmed with all the fiction I want to read, plus write, plus do the playing around that we call research! I had planned to see tall ships this summer and didn't see any. The reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie, as well as a Tall Ships tour along the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie---sigh.

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  3. This has to be one of my favorite posts here on CQ. I LOVE tall ships and the history of it all. I admit I am a novice concerning history, but thanks to all of the wonderful authors who have written novels about these ships and their history, I'm learning more and more all the time. Gorgeous pictures! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Believe me, I understand. I'm obsessed with it all as well, and I know how you came to love MaryLu's stories (besides her superb storytelling!). I did a day sail onboard the U.S. Brig Niagara last year and it was the most exciting thing I've done. My heart rate races just thinking about it. I truly hope to visit the HMS VIctory someday in England.

      Last year when the U.S.S. Constitution took a tiny sail in Boston Harbor to celebrate the 200th anniversary, I could barely stay away but settled for the videotape. Writing about ships and shipboard life is a great excuse to dig into the history and details behind it all.

      thanks for commenting!

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    2. I've never been aboard a tall ship...or anywhere near one. I hope to do so at least once in my lifetime....from my lips to God's ears. :-)

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  4. I have been on a tall ship. I was so sea-sick. I did NOT appreciate it. Best for me to admire from dry land.

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    1. I'd be willing to to take a chance. I'm not above getting seasick-it happened to me out in the Atlantic on a 90' foot boat. I didn't seem so be in those giant swells. But I am definitely drawn to the water! Thanks Mary - sorry about your bout. I imagine it happens to all sailors at one point in the beginning!

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  5. Absolutely beautiful blog and so interesting!!!

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    1. Thank Patti, I love the look of our blog and all the great information. It's nice to have the colonial authors together. I'm currently writing in 1813, so I'm just on the 'edge' of the era.

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  6. These ships amaze me. I cannot imagine traveling across the ocean in one. This is a wonderful part of our history. :)

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    1. I think it would be terrifying to get in one and know you are going to be in it for weeks, possibly drown, possibly be attacked and likely never cross again to see your family. It's a wonder so many people did.

      Nice to see you Karen, thanks for commenting!

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