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Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Admiral Collingwood: Forgotten hero

LEAD-UP TO THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
Nelson's Hero and Second in Command

From Wikipedia:

The combined fleets of France and Spain, after spreading terror throughout the West Indies, returned to Cadiz. On their way thither they bore down upon Admiral Collingwood, who had only three vessels with him; but he succeeded in eluding the pursuit, although chased by sixteen ships of the line. Ere one-half of the enemy had entered the harbour he drew up before it and resumed the blockade, at the same time employing an ingenious artifice to conceal the inferiority of his force. But the combined fleet was at last compelled to quit Cadiz; and the Battle of Trafalgar immediately followed.

The brilliant conduct of Admiral Collingwood upon this occasion has been much and justly applauded. The French admiral drew up his fleet in the form of a crescent, and in a double line, every alternate ship being about a cables length to windward of her second, both ahead and astern. The British fleet bore down upon this formidable and skilfully arranged armament in two separate lines, the one led by Nelson in the Victory, and the other by Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign. The latter vessel was the swifter sailer, and having shot considerably ahead of the rest of the fleet, was the first engaged. "See," said Nelson, pointing to the Royal Sovereign as she penetrated the centre of the enemy's line, "see how that noble fellow Collingwood carries his ship into action!" Probably it was at the same instant that Collingwood, as if in response to the observation of his great commander, remarked to his captain, "What would Nelson give to be here?" The consummate valour and skill evinced by Collingwood had a powerful moral influence upon both fleets. It was with the Spanish admirals ship that the Royal Sovereign closed; and with such rapidity and precision did she pour in her broadsides upon the Santa Anna, that the latter was on the eve of striking in the midst of thirty-three sail of the line, and almost before another British ship had fired a gun. Several other vessels, however, seeing the imminent peril of the Spanish flag-ship, came to her assistance, and hemmed in the Royal Sovereign on all sides; but the latter, after suffering severely, was relieved by the arrival of the rest of the British squadron; and not long afterwards the Santa Anna struck her colors. The result of the battle of Trafalgar, and the expense at which it was purchased, are well known. On the death of Nelson, Collingwood assumed the supreme command; and by his skill and judgment greatly contributed to the preservation of the British ships, as well as of those which were captured from the enemy.

From this period until the death of Lord Collingwood no great naval action was fought; but he was much occupied in important political transactions, in which he displayed remarkable tact and judgment. Being appointed to the command of the Mediterranean fleet, he continued to cruise about, keeping a watchful eye upon the movements of the enemy. His health, however, which had begun to decline previously to the action of Trafalgar in 1805, seemed entirely to give way, and he repeatedly requested government to be relieved of his command, that he might return home; but he was urgently requested to remain, on the ground that his country could not dispense with his services. This conduct has been regarded as harsh; but the good sense and political sagacity which he displayed afford some palliation of the conduct of the government; and the high estimation in which he was held is proved by the circumstance that among the many able admirals, equal in rank and duration of service, none stood so prominently forward as to command the confidence of ministers and of the country to the same extent as he did. After many fruitless attempts to induce the enemy to put to sea, as well as to fall in with them when they had done so (which circumstance materially contributed to hasten his death), he expired on board the Ville de Paris, then lying off Port Mahon, on 7 March 1810.

Lord Collingwood's merits as a naval officer were in every respect of the first order. In original genius and romantic daring he was inferior to Nelson, who indeed had no equal in an age fertile in great commanders. In seamanship, in general talent, and in reasoning upon the probability of events from a number of conflicting and ambiguous statements, Collingwood was equal to the hero of the Nile; indeed, many who were familiar with both give him the palm of superiority. His political penetration was remarkable; and so high was the opinion generally entertained of his judgment, that he was consulted in all quarters, and on all occasions, upon questions of general policy, of regulation, and even of trade. He was distinguished for benevolence and generosity; his acts of charity were frequent and bountiful, and the petition of real distress was never rejected by him. He was an enemy to impressment and to flogging; and so kind was he to his crew, that he obtained amongst them the honorable name of "father". Between Nelson and Collingwood a close intimacy subsisted, from their first acquaintance in early life till the fall of the former at Trafalgar; and they lie side by side in St Paul's Cathedral.

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