1805 - Battle of Trafalgar


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Naval history of Great Britain - Vol. IV
William James
1805 Battle of Trafalgar 35

ships of the four principal flag-officers. The commander-in-chief in the Bucentaure, with the Santisima-Trinidad as his second ahead, was directly in front of the Victory, the leader of the weather column; and the Santa-Ana, the flag-ship of Vice-admiral Alava, was in the same direction from the Royal-Sovereign, the leader of the lee column. The Spanish commander-in-chief, Admiral Gravina, in the Principe-de-Asturias, was the rearmost ship of the fleet. Of the frigates it may suffice to state, that they were ranged in an inner line considerably to leeward of the fighting line. One, however, in the centre, believed to have been the Rhin, was so near as to be seen by the Royal-Sovereign repeating signals ; a circumstance that induced Vice-admiral Collingwood, a few minutes before the action commenced, to telegraph Lord Nelson, that the enemy's commander-in-chief was on board a frigate.

According to the average time noted down on board the different ships of the British fleet, it was just at noon, the wind very light, the sea smooth with a great ground swell setting from the westward, and the sun shining, in a beautiful manner, upon the fresh painted sides of the long line of French and Spanish ships, that the Fougueux, the second astern of the Santa-Ana, whose station was a little abaft the centre of the combined line, opened by signal a fire upon the Royal-Sovereign, then bearing on the French ship's larboard bow, and considerably within gun-shot ; also bearing from the Victory southeast, distant about two miles, and from her own second astern, the Belleisle, about west by south three quarters of a mile. Immediately the three British admirals hoisted their respective flags, and the ships of both divisions of the fleet, the white or St. George's ensign ; a measure adopted to prevent any confusion in the heat of battle, from a variety of national flags. As an additional mark of distinction, each British ship carried, or was ordered to carry, a union jack at her main topmast-stay, and another at her fore topgallant-stay. At the Victory's main topgallantmast-head, also, was fast belayed Lord Nelson's customary signal on going into action, No. 16, " Engage the enemy more closely " ; consisting of two flags, quarter red and white over blue, white, and red, or the Dutch republican ensign reversed. At about the same time that the firing commenced, the ships of the combined fleet hoisted their ensigns, and the admirals (with the exception, to which we shall presently advert, of the French commander-in-chief) their flags. In addition to her ensign, every Spanish ship also hung to the end of the spanker-boom a large wooden cross.

At about 10 minutes past noon, having reached a position close astern of the Santa-Ana, the Royal-Sovereign fired into her, with guns double-shotted ; and with such precision as, by the subsequent acknowledgment of the Spanish officers, to kill or wound (incredible as it may appear) nearly 400 of her crew,

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