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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 9

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Calder had been sent after Nelson, with the hope that, if he missed Villeneuve and Gravina, he (Calder) might fall in with and intercept them. Scarcely was lie under sail, when he discovered this fleet, on the 22nd of July, about thirty-nine leagues north-west of Cape Finisterre. Villeneuve and Gravina were congratulating themselves on having made their voyage in safety, when this English squadron stood in their way. They were twenty sail of the line, seven frigates, and two brigs; and Calder had only fifteen sail of the line, two frigates, and two smaller craft. The Spanish and French admirais endeavoured to give them the slip, and get into Ferrol; but Calder would not permit this. He compelled them to fight, and the battle lasted from half-past four in the afternoon till half-past nine in the evening. Calder captured two sail of the line, and killed and wounded betwixt five hundred and six hundred men. He himself lost thirty-nine killed, and he had a hundred and fifty-nine wounded, and his ships, some of them, had suffered much damage. A thick fog parted the combatants for the night, and at day-break the hostile fleets were distant from each other about seventeen miles. Villeneuve had the wind, and made as if he would renew the battle, but did not; and the same happened on the following day, when he sheered off, and Calder turned homewards without pursuing them. This action, though a victory, was regarded, both in France and England, as inferior to what was expected of English naval Commanders. The French claimed a success; the English public murmured at Calder's conduct. They said, " What would Nelson have done had he been there? " Such was the popular discontent, that Sir Robert Calder demanded that his conduct should be submitted to a court-martial, and the verdict of the court confirmed the outcry: - "This court," it said, " are of opinion that on the part of admiral Sir Robert Calder there was no cowardice or disaffection, but error in judgment, for which he deserves to be severely reprimanded, and he is hereby severely reprimanded accordingly." Buonaparte, however, was greatly exasperated at the result, and at Villeneuve putting into Ferrol instead of getting into Brest, where Napoleon wanted him to join the rest of the fleet. After this, endeavouring to obey the emperor's positive orders to reach Brest, he put to sea, but was glad to run for Cadiz instead, on account of the union of admiral Collingwood with Calder's fleet. In that harbour now lay five-and-thirty sail of the line, and Collingwood kept watch over them. Indeed, being soon reinforced, he kept a blockade on all the Spanish ports between Cadiz and Algesiras, in the Straits of Gibraltar.

In this position of affaire, Nelson, whose health was failing, returned to England, and withdrew from active service. He went to his house at Merton, in Surrey, where he was living in a strange social condition - namely, with his mistress, lady Hamilton, and his sisters; but he was melancholy, and out of spirits. He had a presentiment that he was not in his right place; that lie should yet be wanted to fight one battle more, in which he should complete the absolute sovereignty of his country at sea, and finish his life in the achievement of it. " He had not been a month in England," says Southey, " when captain Blackwood, on his way to the Admiralty with despatches, called on him at Merton, at five in the morning, and found him already dressed. Upon seeing him, he exclaimed, 'I am sure you bring me news of the French and Spanish fleets! I think I shall have yet to be^ them! ' It was as he lad supposed; they had liberated the squadron from Ferrol, and being now thirty-four sail of the line, got safely into Cadiz. ' Depend on it, Blackwood,' he repeatedly said, ' I shall yet give M. Villeneuve a drubbing! ' "

After Blackwood was gone, he was so unsettled that lady Hamilton saw that he would never rest until he returned to active service - she encouraged him to do so, and he at once offered his services to command the fleet against Villeneuve, and his offer was accepted. Every preparation was made by the admiralty to put more ships in readiness for him; and, by a plan introduced by Mr. Snodgrass, the surveyor to the East India Company's shipping - of double planking and diagonal braces - many otherwise crazy vessels were rendered, for the time, serviceable.

Nelson, by the 15th of September, was on board of his old flagship, the Victory, and immediately sailed for Cadiz, accompanied only by three other ships of war. On the 29th he arrived off Cadiz, and was received by the fleet with enthusiastic acclamation. It was his birthday. He posted himself about twenty leagues to the west of Cadiz, in hope that the French fleet would come out. He knew that it was in great distress for provisions, because Napoleon, intending the fleet to assemble at Brest, had laid in the necessary stores there, and could not convey them, in any reasonable time, to Cadiz. Still more, it was believed that Napoleon refused to send any supplies there, having given Villeneuve imperative orders to make his way to Brest. But it is also asserted, by French authorities, that Napoleon had ordered the minister of marine to take the command from Villeneuve, and that the admiral was piqued to show the emperor, by a daring exploit, that he had done him injustice. Under these motives, or some similar ones, Villeneuve determined to sail out, and encounter the English fleet. He had heard that Nelson had joined the fleet, and he had called a council of war on the occasion: here he was deceived by an American, as Nelson himself had been repeatedly on his late voyage. This American declared that it was impossible that Nelson Could be on board the fleet, for that he had seen him in London but a few days before. This decided him to go out.

Nelson was watching for him behind cape St. Mary, as he said, in a letter to the abbé Campbell, of Naples, a friend of his and of lady Hamilton's, as a cat watches a mouse, adding, " I am sure I shall beat them, but I am also almost sure that I shall be killed in doing it." On the 9th of October, certain that the enemy would soon come out, Nelson sent to lord Collingwood his plan of the battle. It was to advance in two lines of sixteen ships each, with an advanced squadron of eight of the fastest-sailing two-decked ships. They were thus to break the enemy's Une in three places at once. Nelson was to aim at the centre; Collingwood, leading the second line, to break through at about the twelfth ship from the rear; and the light squadron, at three or four ships from the centre - Nelson's point of attack. " I look," wrote Nelson, " with confidence to a victory before the van of the enemy can succour their rear; and then the British fleet j will, most of them, be ready to receive their twenty sail of the line, or to pursue them, should they endeavour to make off. If the van of the enemy tack, the captured ships must run to the leeward of the British fleet; if the enemy wear, the British must place themselves between them and the captured and disabled British ships, and, should the enemy close, I have no fear for the result. The second in command will, in all possible things, direct the movements of his line by keeping them as compact as the nature of the circumstances will admit. Captains are to look to their particular line as their rallying point; but, in case signals cannot be clearly seen or understood, no captain can do very wrong if lie places Ms ship alongside that of the enemy! " Such were Nelson's general orders, and they were entirely approved by lord Collingwood.

On the 19th Collingwood signalled Nelson that the French fleet was coming out of Cadiz. On the morning of the 21st, when the English fleet lay about seven leagues north-west of Cape Trafalgar, the hostile fleet was discovered about seven miles to the eastward. On that day, in the year 1779, his maternal uncle, captain Suckling, had, with three line of battle ships, beaten off four French sail of the line and three frigates, and the anniversary had always been kept in the family. Nelson ordered the fleet to bear down on the enemy, and then retired to his cabin and wrote a prayer. He had the same presentiment strong upon him, that he was to win this victory and to die in it; and he added to the prayer, on the pages of the same diary, an earnest appeal to his king and country for lady Hamilton and his adopted or real daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson, declaring that lady Hamilton, who was destitute of property, had been of signal service to the country on several occasions, and that for these two persons, so dear to him, he had not been able to provide, and all provision made for him by the country would go to his brother and his direct heirs. He then called captains Blackwood and Hardy to witness this appeal.

As Villeneuve approached, he veered so as to bring Cadiz under his lee, and thus secure a retreat into it. This compelled Nelson to shift his course a little more northward. In fact, Villeneuve had preconcerted a plan of action which he boasted would prevent Nelson cutting his line, as was his custom. He determined to advance in two lines, with each alternate ship about a cable's length to the windward of her second ahead and astern, so that his fleet would represent the chequers of a draft-board. This plan, however, did not succeed. Nelson found now the shoals of San Pedro and Trafalgar under the lee of both fleets, and, dreading that he might be carried upon them at the end of the battle, he signalled, from the Victory, for the fleet to anchor at the close of the day. He then told Blackwood that he should not be satisfied unless he took twenty of the enemy's ships, and asked him whether he thought a general signal of action were not wanting. Blackwood replied that he thought the fleet all understood what they were about. But Nelson hoisted on his mizen top-mast his last signal - " England expects every Man to do his Duty." It was seen, and responded to with loud hurrahs.

As the wind was light, the English vessels set their studding-sails, and bore down steadily on the enemy. There were of the British twenty-seven sail of the line, four frigates, one schooner, and one cutter. Of the French and Spaniards there were thirty-three sail of the line, five frigates, and two brigs. The French had two thousand six hundred and twenty-six guns. Nelson two thousand one hundred and forty-eight; but the French vessels were in far superior condition to the old weather-worn ones of Nelson. The admiral had dressed himself for this his last fight in an old threadbare coat, which he had been wearing commonly for a long time, but which, unfortunately, had the badge of the order of the Bath embroidered on the breast. Captain Hardy, the captain of the Victory, observed to him that he had better cover the stars up, as they would be a mark for the enemy. He replied he was aware of that, but that it was too late then. This was a fatal circumstance, for the French had four thousand troops on board, many of whom! were expert riflemen, and these were placed in the tops to pick off our officers. As Blackwood was quitting the Victory to go on board his own frigate, Nelson said, " God bless you, Blackwood, I shall never see you again! "

Collingwood's line first came in contact with the enemy in the Royal Sovereign, and was speedily in the midst of a desperate conflict. It was some time before Nelson's line got up, and Collingwood, amid the din of cannon and the crash of spars, turned to his captain, and said, " Rotherham, what would Nelson give to be here?" It was just past twelve o'clock at noon as Collingwood's vessel came to close quarters with the Spanish flagship, Santa Anna, and it was more than a quarter of an hour before Nelson's ship came close up to the stupendous four-decker Spaniard, the Santissima Trinidada. He was soon in a terrible contest with not only this great ship, but with the Bucentaure, of eighty guns, the Neptune, of eighty guns, and the Redoubtable, of seventy-four guns. The Victory and Redoubtable were fast entangled together by their hooks and boom-irons, and kept up the most destructive fire into each other with double-shotted cannon. Both ships took fire; that in the Victory was extinguished, but the Redoubtable finally went down. But it was from the mizen top-mast of this vessel that one of the riflemen marked out Nelson by his stars, and shot him down. He fell on the deck, on the spot where his secretary, John Scott, had fallen dead just before. Captain Hardy, to whom Nelson had shortly before said, " Hardy, this is too warm work to last long," stopped, and observed that he hoped that he was not severely wounded. He replied, " Yes, they have done for me at last, Hardy." Hardy said he hoped not. " Yes," he answered; " my back-bone is shot through." He was carried down to the cock-pit, amongst the wounded and the dying, and laid in a midshipman's berth. The ball was found to have entered the left shoulder and to have lodged in the spine; the wound was mortal. For an hour the battle went on in its terrible fury, as the dying hero lay amid those expiring or wounded around him. He often inquired for captain Hardy, but Hardy found it impossible, in the midst of one of the fiercest and most mortal strifes that ever was waged - the incessant cannonades sweeping away men, masts, tackle, at every moment - -to go down. When he was able to do it, Nelson asked how the battle went. Hardy replied, " Well; fourteen or fifteen vessels had struck." " That is well," said Nelson; " but I bargained for twenty." He then told Hardy to anchor; and Hardy observed that admiral Collingwood would now take the command. At this the old commander blazed forth in the dying man for a moment. He endeavoured to raise himself in the bed, easing," Not while I live, Hardy! No, do you anchor! " And he bade Hardy signal to the fleet this order. His last words were again to recommend lady Hamilton and his daughter to his country, and to repeat several times, " Thank God I have done my duty! "

Nelson fell about the middle of the action, and for hours it continued with terrible fury. Whole masses of ships lay jammed together, pouring into one another the most tremendous broadsides. When all was over, the vessels on both sides appeared mere ruins. Nineteen ships of the line were taken, but some of them were so battered that they were useless, and incapable of moving. Six or seven of the enemy's ships immediately went down, or were burnt. The Spanish admiral, Gravina, was mortally wounded; the rear- admiral, Cisneros, was taken, and the French admiral, Villeneuve. The French and Spaniards, in the few ships which had escaped into Cadiz, seeing the helpless condition of many of the British vessels, made a sortie, and recaptured two of them, and carried them into port. The Algesiras, another of the captured ships, was also rescued, and carried into Cadiz by her crew, who rose the next morning on the English lieutenant and prize party in charge of her during a gale, the English having taken off the hatches to give the Spaniards a chance for their lives, should she drive on shore. In the end, the prizes were found so riddled by shot that they were burnt; so that, with some of them running on shore in the gale, only four of the whole - three Spanish and one French - were saved, and brought to England as trophies. But the French and Spanish navies might be said to be annihilated; and, whatever might happen on the continent for the remainder of Napoleon's career, England was for ever put beyond his reach. Nelson had indeed finished his mission. He had revived all the maritime glory of the days of Drake and Blake, and shown that, with a man like him at the head of her fleet, England might sit on her ocean throne, and smile at the hostile efforts of a world combined. Never had an ambitious man such a thorn in his side as Napoleon had in Nelson. He himself, according to Las Casas, said, at St. Helena, " It used to be remarked, in the saloon of the household, that I was never accessible to any one after I had had an audience of the minister of the marine. The reason was, that he never had anything but bad news to communicate to me."

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