nelson and we happy few: band of brothers

Napoleon’s ships drifted helplessly at anchor; Lord Nelson boldly closed on them, improvising his tactics as he bore down on the French fleet. Nelson was victorious, as was his habit, and with the victory came British control of the Meditteranean for more than a hundred years. Napoleon was shattered by the loss of his whole fleet in the Battle of the Nile.

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson had a group of legendary sea Captains under his command, who Nelson had named “The Band of Brothers”. In Nelson’s words, referring to these men in his command:”each, as I may have occasion to mention them, must call forth my gratitude and admiration….” Nelson took this reference from none other than William Shakespeare…King Henry V…”We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

Jean Leon Gerome. "The particular juxtaposition of the larger-than-life Sphinx and the soon-to-be world-altering Frenchman on horseback has led some to find humor in the painting. The man undoubtedly is smaller than the sculpture, and by making him look small, one may suppose that it makes him seem insignificant, even comically so. However, had Gerome intended such a mood, he could easily have dwarfed the general by changing the perspective and including the Pyramids as well. Bonaparte is smaller, obviously, than the Sphinx. But this is fitting within the composition since he hasn’t yet earned a larger place in history. That Bonaparte is not yet a great historical figure but that he must already have dreamed of conquering the world by this point in his career is what matters. It is this individual who is juxtaposed with the mysterious deity, which once held sway over civilization but now is no more. Thus the painting depicts a man who wishes to become important pondering something which was once important but is no longer. “Will it matter,” wonders Bonaparte? What does matter in history? Who or what has a lasting effect through time? Napoleon surely wished for a legacy. But the Sphinx’s legacy, no matter how great it once was, had long been extinguished. The painting invites us to consider the theme of historical significance, and proposes in a subtle manner that no matter how great something is, it is eventually discarded and forgotten. And yet, Napoleon’s presence in history, viewed from Gerome’s vantage point, and still from our own, defies this idea...." Read More:

Most of the seamen aboard Nelson’s “Victory”, “Vanguard” and sister ships in the Royal Navy had been forcibly pressed into service for the most minor reasons under the “Vagrancy Act” . Caught by a press gang, they could be rounded up from a raid on a tavern, bawdy house, the merchant marine or even common fishermen. They were not a happy lot: “If a Landsmen was able to prove his status to the Admiralty he was usually released. A man in the street would first be asked to volunteer and if he refused he was often plied with alcohol or simply knocked out and taken. A commonly held “belief” of a trick used in taverns was to surreptitiously drop a King’s shilling (“prest money”) into his drink as by “finding” the shilling in his possession he was deemed to have volunteered, and that this led to some tavern owners putting glass bottoms in their tankards. However, this is merely urban legend; press officers were subject to fines for using trickery and a pressed man had a four-day “cooling-off” period in which to change his mind….Volunteering also protected the sailor from creditors as the law forbade collecting debts accrued before enlistment. Read More: a

Pocock. Battle of the Nile. "Nelson was always 'ripe for the game' and as is well known rose to great heights. A person could rightly ask, how could a man of slight build(also 5'6" height) and a basic education attain such lofty heights. Also throughout his life the lingering effects of illnesses and wounds were to leave him often weak. He achieved his success the following way: He was extremely brave and was on occasion, to lead boarding parties himself even when not required by his rank. As the men saw he was willing to face death by their side, he was much celebrated and gained immense reputation throughout all ranks of the fleet. As further evidence of his spirit he refused to remove military decorations or evidence of rank when entering battle.(this possibly cost him his life as he was killed by a sniper's bullet) He consulted openly with his subordinates, ..." Read More:

….—“He was the first one out there, yelling, ‘Follow me!’ ” one of his staff sergeants, William Guarnere, now 88, said Monday. “We knocked out a battery of four guns, 150 millimeters, that was firing on the kids coming on the shore. He got shot in the leg and still kept going.” “He saved the company a lot of times,” Mr. Guarnere added.

In 1990, Mr. Winters was among D-Day veterans interviewed by the historian Stephen E. Ambrose for a book on the Normandy landings. He suggested that Mr. Ambrose focus on Easy Company, a task made simpler by the facts that its members had regularly held reunions and that many, including Mr. Winters, had kept written records of their war experiences. “Band of Brothers” — its title taken from an oration in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 — became a best seller in 1992. And in 2001 the 10-part miniseries of the same title, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, was shown on HBO…. Read More:

"When Napoleon's army landed in Egypt in 1798, nothing had prepared them for the marvel of the majestic Mameluke (mameluk or mamluk) warriors they would fight. Colourfully uniformed, and appointed with an array of pistols, maces, daggers and scimitars, the Mameluke's tactics were to discharge their pistols and toss them to the ground then charge into melee. While this was a success tactic against an untrained foe, the Mameluke charge was no match to the disciplined volleys of the French ranks (click for image). While the French defeated the Mameluke at the Battle of the Pyramids and took control of Lower Egypt, the French were impressed by the elegance of the Mameluke's scimitar." Read More:

Napoleon had all the great dreams of his predecessors; a vision of restoring the ancient Roman Empire all united within one framework under he dominance of France. Napoleon saw himself as the Caesar of this new empire, but he also dreamed of being its Alexander and it was this aspect of his nature that alarmed the English most. The continent was one thing, but the threat to the great Eastern empire was something they could not tolerate. Add to this Nelsons antipathy toward the French to whom he felt a passionate hatred. He disliked everything they stood for, which to his conservative nature , seemed to be the destruction of all law, order and decency. Bonaparte’s huge expedition to Egypt, vulnerable as it was because of the transport ships made safe passage that escaped the vigilant British only by safe good fortune. “The Devil’s children,” as Nelson later remarked, “have the Devil’s luck.”

"French resistance continued through the night. At dawn Guillaume Tell and Genereux cut their cables and headed for the open sea under Admiral Villeneuve, accompanied by the frigates Diane and Justice. HMS Zealous attempted a pursuit but was soon recalled. The firing in the bay finally ended at 3pm on 2nd August 1798. The French Fleet had been completely overwhelmed. Of its 13 ships of the line and 4 frigates 1 ship had sunk, 2 ships were burnt and 9 ships captured. " read more: image:

Anyway, Nelson surprised Admiral Brueys without any reconnaissance, plan of action or waiting for daylight which went totally against the French practice. Nelson reckoned that he and his “Band of Brothers” would have ample ti

o survey the French dispositions and prepare their plan of action even as they drove in to attack. The audacity of the English dismayed the French and Nelson’s  had the ingenious idea to show a horizontal group of lanterns so that the English could easily recognize one another. It was a complete wipeout for the French and a loss even more important then Trafalgar. It was Napoleon’s first major reverse , and put new heart into the whole of Europe.

"The British ships anchored as they came alongside the French. With the wind behind them they could pick their positions, and the French ships at the rear of the line could do nothing to help. The French frigate Serieuse made the mistake of firing at the Goliath, a broadside from the Orion left her shattered and sinking. Captain Miller of the Theseus took advantage of the French gunners firing high and moved his ship closer, rightly guessing that in the heat of the battle they would fail to lower the elevations of their guns. On the seaward side of the French line Nelson took Vanguard and anchored alongside Spartiate." read more:

…Although his platoon was vastly outnumbered, Captain Winters ordered his troops to open fire. “With 35 men, a platoon of Easy Company routed two German companies of about 300 men,” the book says. “American casualties were one dead, 22 wounded. German casualties were 50 killed, 11 captures, about 100 wounded.”… Two months later, the 101st Airborne Division received orders to capture Berchtesgaden. After setting out from Thalham, Germany, Major Winters’s unit forced its way through streams of surrendering German soldiers and reached Hitler’s retreat on May 5, 1945. Easy Company was there when the war ended three days later….“The cohesion that existed in the company was hardly the result of my leadership,” he wrote in “Beyond Band of Brothers,” his 2006 memoir. “The company belonged to the men, the officers were merely the caretakers.”… Read More: a

Band of Brothers. read more:

The news of the victory swept through Europe. Its effect, in an age when emotions were less restrained than now, was almost to deprive people of their senses. Sir William Hamilton’s wife, Emma, soon to be Nelson’s mistress, fell to the ground, so overcome that, as Nelson wrote some days later, she ” is not yet properly recovered from severe bruises.” Even back in London within the austere walls of the Admiralty, Lord Spencer, on hearing the news, dropped to the floor in a dead faint.


One of the largest impressment operations occurred in the spring of 1757 in New York City, then still under British colonial rule. Three thousand British soldiers cordoned off the city, and plucked clean the taverns and other sailors’ gathering places. “All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes” were hauled in, nearly eight hundred in all. Four hundred of these were “retained in the service.” …

"HMS Royal Sovereign came under heavy fire as she sailed full speed toward the French line and Nelson said:'See how that noble fellow Collingwood takes his ship into action! How I envy him!' Nelson's HMS Victory joined the attack on the enemy line and Nelson remarked 'This is too warm work to last long.' An hour or so into the battle Nelson was hit with a sniper's bullet. He is carried below decks, said 'Doctor, I am gone' and asked to be remembered to his wife. He lived long enough to be assured of the fleets complete victory and when informed that 15 enemy ships had been taken, he said 'That is well,but I had bargained for twenty.'....then 'God be praised, I have done my duty.'...'How dear is life to all men.'...The French/Spanish threat from the sea was no more. " read more: image:

…All three groups also dealt with high levels of desertion. In the 18th century, desertion rates on naval ships averaged 25% with little difference between volunteers and pressed men, starting high, then falling heavily after a few months onboard a ship, and generally becoming negligible after a year — navy pay ran months or years in arrears, and desertion might mean not only abandoning companions in the ship’s company, but also the loss of a large amount of money already earned. If a navy ship had taken a prize, a deserting seaman would also forfeit his share of the prize money. In a report on proposed changes to the RN written by Admiral Nelson in 1803, he noted that since 1793 more than 42,000 sailors had deserted. Read More:

For NELSON’S death their tears are shed,
And grief alone their thoughts employs;
Ev’n Vict’ry’s self reclines her head,
And weeping checks her wonted joys.

Thy deeds, great Chief, shall be the theme,
Afar on Ganges’ hallow’d shores;
While Niagara’s lightening stream,
Thy dreaded name in thunder roars….

---“The Farewell” – Rowlandson (c. 1800) Usually it’s the sailors who are said to have a girl in every harbour, but as we can see on this picture, the ladies weren’t far behind. Waving a tearful farewell to her lover who’s leaving with the fleet, she’s already copulating with the next young seaman. And again – partial undressing is enough (with the lack of underwear, it makes sense). Read More:

“Sea Shanties were basically the work songs that were used during the time of the great sailing ships. The Golden Age of the shanties was in the mid-nineteenth century. Their rhythms coordinated the efforts of many sailors hauling on lines. They are rarely used as work songs today. Now they are mainly used by singing groups. In Lord Nelson’s Navy shanties were banned, and the work was accompanied instead by calling out numbers or the rhythmic playing of a fiddle or fife. The word shanty or chanty may be derived from the French word chanter which means to sing.” Read More:

…Stern MARS, as ‘midst the fight he raves,
Shall ev’ry dreadful peal prolong;
And NEPTUNE roll his gory waves,
To sound their fav’rite’s fun’ral song.

And while on high her Warrior’s tomb
Thy weeping country grateful rears;
Thy laurels o’er it e’er shall bloom,
Still water’d by a Nation’s tears.

"This Rowlandson engraving shows a naval officer negotiating with prostitutes on the waterfront. Many women were forced into prostitution by poverty. Others were young women who decided that they would rather sell their bodies than work 16 hours a day as laundresses or seamstresses. According to Daniel Defoe, writing in 1725, many prostitutes came from the huge army of maidservants in London and took to prostitution to support themselves when they were out of work. ‘This is the reason why our streets are swarming with strumpets. Thus many of them rove from place to place, from bawdy-house to service, and from service to bawdy-house again’.---Read More:

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In this battle of annihilation the British suffered 213 killed and 677 wounded , the French lost 1400 killed and 600 wounded (figures from Lewis ‘A Social History of the Navy’). The French figures are not certain, and various sources have estimated at between 2000 and 5000 killed and wounded. It was a decisive victory. One British seaman reported ‘ An awful sight it was, the whole bay was covered with dead bodies, mangled, wounded, and scorched, not a bit of clothes on them but their trousers.’
Of the four French ships that escaped the battle, all were eventually captured. The Genereux did however capture the 50 gun Leander, as she was taking the dispatches reporting the battle, back to Britain. The French ships that were taken during the battle were in a poor state, and only the Spartiate, Tonnant and Franklin (renamed Canopus) were refitted for service at sea.

"Napoleon at the Penthouse at Jaffa Antoine-Jean Gros This piece, done in 1804, depicts Napoleon with the prisoners at Jaffa. Napoleon had conquered the city in one day. A large number of prisoners died there because there wasn't enough food for them." read more:

As a final point on the command of the British fleet, it may be noted that Nelson had barely recovered from the loss of his right arm, sustained during the unsuccesful attack on Tenerife the previous year. And he had just been involved in a dishonourable campaign against the Neapolitan rebels. The victory at the Nile helped to raise Nelsons popularity further at home, and to cement his reputation in the navy, as one of the most able commanders of his generation. He was wounded again during this battle, a bullet or splinter gashed opened his forehead, blinding him with blood and at first feared he would die. He was later helped back on deck to watch the latter stages of the battle.

So why was the battle lost by the French?
D’brueys had not ensured that the line of French ships was close enough to shallow water to prevent the British from getting inside his line. He had forseen circumstances where the van or middle of the line could give support to the rear, but he had not placed any orders for the rear to come to the aid of the van, a manouevre he knew to be impossible with the wind blowing down the line. This allowed the British ships to roll up the line, concentrating fire on individual ships with no chance of support from their comrades. He had probably thought the British would not attack as night fell, so his ships were not well prepared, the decks were still covered with crates of supplies, hampering the gun crews. In the end all these factors meant annhilation for the French fleet.

Historians debate the consequences of Nelsons victory at the Nile to this day. Although the French fleet was destroyed, Bonaparts army was still loose in Egypt, although cut off from further supplies. So the aim of preventing any threat to India did not succeed. However all events in history have consequences, like ripples spreading in a pond. The third in command of the French fleet was Admiral Villeneuve, who was later to meet Nelson again at the Battle of Trafalgar. In 1805 Villeneuves’ prime mission had been to secure French naval supremacy in the English Channel, if only for a few days. Perhaps the thought of the total defeat of the fleet he was with in 1798 at the Nile made him more cautious than he might have been. Instead of sailing for the Channel he sailed to Cadiz and ultimately defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar. Read More:

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