Overview

In the most recent bibliography of the Waterloo campaign, that prepared by Professor Oman for the Cambridge Modern History, there appear little short of a score of works entirely devoted to its elucidation. For the Trafalgar campaign our English language cannot boast a single one. Of the battle itself there are studies innumerable, serious, fanciful, and anecdotic; but the fact remains that, though its centenary is past and gone, no British pen has ever been set to the task of producing, from the vast store of ...
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The Campaign at Trafalgar

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Overview

In the most recent bibliography of the Waterloo campaign, that prepared by Professor Oman for the Cambridge Modern History, there appear little short of a score of works entirely devoted to its elucidation. For the Trafalgar campaign our English language cannot boast a single one. Of the battle itself there are studies innumerable, serious, fanciful, and anecdotic; but the fact remains that, though its centenary is past and gone, no British pen has ever been set to the task of producing, from the vast store of material that exists, anything like a reasoned Staff account of the crowning chapter in the history of naval warfare. We have, it is true, Mr. Newbolt's delightful volume, The Year of Trafalgar; but that, although it contains the best study of the battle that has yet appeared, makes no pretence of dealing exhaustively with the policy and operations which led to it. The truth is that for all the spade work that has been devoted to it in recent years by Sir John K. Laughton, Mr. Leyland, and others, the subject has been left, so far as the Service and the public are concerned, in the same comparative darkness that enshrouds the bulk of our naval history. Nelson's share of the work has received ample justice. Indeed the campaign has scarcely ever been approached except from his standpoint. And yet till nearly the end his share was comparatively small. Until in the last month of his life, when he resumed command of the restored Mediterranean station, he had a bare dozen of the line and a score or so of cruisers under his flag, while during the year there were in commission and reserve well over a hundred of the line and four hundred cruisers.

Nor is this all. The military side of the campaign has been left in even greater obscurity than the naval. In the course of the year, besides the troops in the East and West Indies, we had something like 50,000 men engaged in active oversea operations. Only a fraction of these touched Nelson, and where they did their deflecting influence on his strategy has been almost entirely ignored. Indeed it is not too much to say that the controlling fact that the campaign of 1805 was a combined campaign and not merely naval, has never been given its due importance. Still less has it been realised that it was essentially an offensive campaign, and not merely a campaign of defence against invasion. The failure to grasp these cardinal facts has clouded even Nelson's action and exposed him to criticism which he did not deserve. How much more then has it clouded the rest!

It is not that a minute study of the campaign detracts in the least from Nelson's greatness. High as such a study lifts the reputation of his colleagues, Nelson still remains the greatest of admirals. The fascination of his dazzling personality still dominates the judgment, and it is only by a severe and persistent effort of resistance that we can hope to see things in their true proportion and real meaning. If we would read the lesson aright not only must we keep Nelson's part in due subordination, but we must also continually forswear the calling of the sea and closet ourselves with Pitt and Melville, with Barham and Castlereagh. It is with them alone we may watch the inward springs at work, by which the fleets at sea were really controlled, and mark the flow of intelligence from spies and cruisers and embassies that set them in motion or stayed their action.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013588196
  • Publisher: Nimble Books LLC
  • Publication date: 6/14/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

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