Your RDA of Irony

The Glorious Annals of the French Navy

October 21, 1805:  Trafalgar–Not Bad For a One-Eyed, One-Armed Man

Today is the anniversary of Trafalgar and here is how you can reenact Lord Nelson’s spectacular victory in 1805. In a swimming pool set afloat 33 loaves of French bread to represent the French/Spanish fleet. To represent the British fleet, have twenty-seven people with shotguns firing at the bread. That accurately represents France’s chances at Trafalgar.

The British make much of the fact that Nelson’s fleet was smaller: Britain’s 27 ships of-the- line against 33 French and Spanish ships. Of course, the British fleet was superior in every way. The French fleet may have had newer ships…if only to replace the vessels sunk or captured by the British. (And the French sailors were newer, too…for the same reason.) But that veteran English fleet was the best in the world and led by one of history’s greatest admirals. The English victory was never in doubt; the extent of the triumph was remarkable. The French and Spanish lost two-thirds of their fleet.

Nelson likely was more fearful of the accountants at the British admiralty. At the time, naval warfare was expected to be profitable. The fleet was maintained and the crews were paid by the proceeds of captured ships and plundered cargos. The cannons were aimed to knock down masts or shred sails, leaving the enemy ship dead in the water–and ripe for looting. Sinking the ship would have ruined this financial system.

Unfortunately, in 1798 at the Battle of Nile, Nelson had proved to be somewhat extravagant. Under unerring British bombardment, the French flagship blew up. I can only imagine how the accounting office at the Admiralty reacted to that lost fortune….

“We suppose that you expect to be congratulated, Admiral Nelson. But who is going to pay for your pyrotechnics? We no longer have those 13 colonies to tax, and it is because of spendthrifts like you we don’t!”

With the proceeds of the captured fleet, Lord Nelson made a fortune at Trafalgar. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to enjoy it. A sniper demonstrated the only French marksmanship that day. Contrary to Nelson’s wishes, the money went to his widow instead of his mistress.

And but for that French sniper, Nelson might have commanded the British fleet in the attack on Ft. McHenry.

In that situation, I imagine that Francis Scott Key would have written “The White Flag Rag.”

  1. Rothgar says:

    Ah Gene

    I thought you understood history. The barrage of Ft. McHenry was theatre.

    The battle for Baltimore was won by the Americans several days earlier when US forces beat the Royal Marines on land in White Marsh and Dundalk. The barrage on Ft. McHenry was a 19th Century attempt at winning by Shock and Awe what they couldn’t win by force of arms. Lord Nelson would not have changed the outcome unless he was one hell of a Marine.

    Of course given the usual 5 to 1 advantage needed to overwhelm the home team when dug in the battle was probably not in question either. There weren’t enough Royals to win. They were hoping discipline and experience would make up for short numbers.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Well, I thought that I knew history, too. That is why I would identify the thwarted British infantry attack on Baltimore as the Battle of North Point. Are White Marsh and Dundalk the modern suburbs and shopping malls overlaying the original battleground?


      • Rothgar says:

        Yes effectively Dundalk and North Point are synomous for the location of that battle. I suspect that Dundalk is the regional name while North Point is the specific site. There is a mall at North Point. I am more of a Central Marylander and haven’t spent much time in that area.

        I probably mispoke previously White Marsh is too far North and West to have been the site of the battle.
        Point is the Neo Cons didn’t invent Shock and Awe. Further no matter how efficient the King’s Navy would have been at that point the assault on Baltimore was done.

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