1805 - Battle of Trafalgar


 
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Naval history of Great Britain - Vol. IV
by
William James
1805 Battle of Trafalgar 98

" The structure of their line was new : it formed a crescent convexing to leeward. " " Before the fire opened every alternate ship was about a cable's length to windward of her second ahead and astern, forming a kind of double line. " With such authority for a guide, no wonder that tacticians should set about investigating M. Villeneuve's new line of battle, " the double crescent convexing to leeward. " *

" A circumstance occurred during the action, " observes Vice-admiral Collingwood, " which so strongly marks the invincible spirit of British seamen when engaging the enemies of their country, that I cannot resist the pleasure in making it known to their lordships. The Téméraire was boarded, by accident or design, by a French ship on one side, and a Spaniard on the other : the contest was vigorous, but in the end the combined ensigns were torn from the poop, and the British hoisted in their places. " Unfortunately for the fame of those concerned, this soul-inspiring passage contains not a word of truth. The mistake arose thus. The Spanish ship Neptuno, after having, with the loss of her mizenmast and other damage, surrendered to the Minotaur and Spartiate, drifted on board the Téméraire, while the latter had still foul of her, on the lee or larboard side, the late French ship Redoutable, and scarcely clear of her astern, the Fougueux.†

Long, before Captain Harvey and his officers landed in England, a spirited representation of this their valorous exploit was exhibited in the London printshops ; and many persons to this day, have not the most remote idea that the fact was ever questioned : especially as, although the London Gazette contained two or three supplementary letters from Vice-admiral Collingwood, not a hint was given that the first contained a mistatement. For even the letter, showing that the admiral had overrated by one (20 for 19) the number of prizes made on the 21st and 24th, was written by Captain Blackwood at the office of the admiralty. That the various periodical publications of the day should place full confidence in an uncontradicted official statement was to be expected ; but it will hardly be credited that, nearly 20 years afterwards, an historical writer, who, at the period of the battle, had attained the rank of commander in the British navy, and who boasts, and may well boast, of the " great opportunities he enjoys of obtaining the most correct information, " ‡ should first declare that the " real facts " of the Trafalgar battle are detailed " in the admirable letters of Vice-admiral Collingwood, " ± and then do no more than cast a reluctant doubt upon the passage in question, by the

*  For the representation of this line see Ekins's Naval Battles, Part 2, plate xxix. (51) Fig. 4.

†  For the position of these three ships just before the Neptuno surrendered see diagram at p. 71

‡  Brenton, vol. iii , Preface, p. I.

±  Ibid., p. 472

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