From The Naval Chronicle, Vol. XIV, July to December 1805
The operations of the grand naval army second, in the Atlantic, those of the grand imperial army in Germany.
The English fleet is annihilated! Nelson is no more!
Indignant at being inactive in port, whilst our brave brethren in arms were gaining laurels in Germany, Admirals Villeneuve and Gravina resolved to put to sea, and give the English battle.
They were superior in number, forty-five to our thirty-three; but what is superiority in numbers to men determined to conquer?
Admiral Nelson did every thing to avoid a battle; he attempted to get into the Mediterranean, but we pursued, and came up with him off Trafalgar.
The French and Spaniards vied with each other who should first get into action. Admirals Villeneuve and Gravina were both anxious to lay their Ships alongside the Victory, the English Admiral’s Ship.
Fortune, so constant always to the Emperor, did not favour either of them – the Santissima Trinidada was the fortunate Ship.
In vain did the English Admiral try to evade an action: the Spanish Admiral Oliva prevented his escape, and lashed his Vessel to the British Admiral. The English Ship was one of 136 guns; the Santissima Trinidada was but a 74.
Lord Nelson adopted a new system: afraid of combatting us in the old way, in which he knows we have a superiority of skill, as was proved by our victory over Sir Robert Calder, he attempted a new mode of fighting.
For a short time they disconcerted us; but what can long disconcert his Imperial Majesty’s arms? We fought yard-arm to yard-arm, gun to gun.
Three hours did we fight in this manner: the English began to be dismayed – they found it impossible to resist us; but our brave sailors were tired of this slow means of gaining a victory; they wished to board; the cry was, “à la bordage!” Their impetuosity was irresistible.
At that moment two Ships, one French and one Spanish, boarded the Temeraire: the English fell back in astonishment and affright – we rushed to the flag-staff – struck the colours – and all were so anxious to be the bearer of the intelligence to their own Ship, that they jumped overboard; and the English ship, by this unfortunate impetuosity of our brave sailors and allies, was able, by the assistance of two more Ships that came to her assistance, to make her escape in a sinking state.
Meanwhile Nelson still resisted us. It was now who should first board, and have the honour of taking him, French or Spaniard – two Admirals on each side disputed the honour – they boarded his Ship at the same moment – Villeneuve flew to the quarterdeck – with the usual generosity of the French, he carried a brace of pistols in his hands, for he knew the Admiral had lost his arm, and could not use his sword – he offered one to Nelson: they fought, and at the second fire Nelson fell; he was immediately carried below.
Oliva, Gravina, and Villeneuve, attended him with the accustomed French humanity.
Meanwhile, fifteen of the English Ships of the line had struck – four more were obliged to follow their example – another blew up.
Our victory was now complete, and we prepared to take possession of our prizes; but the elements were this time unfavourable to us; a dreadful storm came on – Gravina made his escape to his own Ship at the beginning of it – the Commander in Chief, Villeneuve, and a Spanish Admiral, were unable, and remained on board the Victory.
The storm was long and dreadful; our Ships being so well manœuvered, rode out the gale; the English being so much more damaged, were driven ashore and many of them wrecked.
At length, when the gale abated, thirteen sail of the French and Spanish line got safe to Cadiz; the other twenty have, no doubt, gone to some other port, and will soon be heard of.
We shall repair our damages as speedily as possible, go again in pursuit of the enemy, and afford them another proof of our determination to wrest from them the empire of the seas, and to comply with his Imperial Majesty’s demand of Ships, Colonies, and Commerce.
Our loss was trifling, that of the English was immense.
We have, however, to lament the absence of Admiral Villeneuve, whose ardour carried him beyond the strict bounds of prudence, and, by compelling him to board the English Admiral’s Ship, prevented him from returning to his own.
After having acquired so decisive a victory, we wait with impatience the Emperor’s order to sail to the enemy’s shore, annihilate the rest of his navy, and thus complete the triumphant work we have so brilliantly begun.
Courtesy of The Napoleonic Guide.
Dr. Maturin suggests further reading: