CHAPTER 4: The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812
The Battle of Trafalgar
The battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
(Click image to enlarge)
The short peace of Amiens had made it possible for the French fleet to rebuild its strength. Together with its Spanish ally, it now constituted a serious threat. The invasion of England by an army crossing the Channel was possible if the Franco-Spanish fleet were able to control this stretch of sea for a few days. Napoleon had clearly understood this strategic move and during the summer of 1805 found himself at Boulogne leading the Grande Armée, waiting for the Franco-Spanish fleet of Admiral Pierre-Charles de Villeneuve.
The future of England and its empire was directly at stake. The British fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson, in attempting to cut off the French-Spanish fleet, intercepted it off Cape Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. By coincidence, war had grouped together, on the Spanish side, several officers who had explored the Canadian Pacific coast in their youth, including Dionisio Alcalâ-Galiano, who was killed on board the Bahama, and Cayetano Valdés, who was injured on the Neptuno. A fierce battle ensued between Villeneuve's 33 vessels, 15 of which were Spanish, and the 27 British ships. Nelson was mortally wounded but the Franco-Spanish fleet was virtually wiped out. Admiral Nelson's victory gave the British navy unquestioned supremacy over all the seas of the globe for almost a century.
In Canada the news of the victory at Trafalgar was greeted with immense relief. Any serious naval threats had been eliminated and communications with Great Britain were assured. Wood exports could continue in safety. Montreal merchants were so happy that they erected a monument in Nelson's honour even before the people of London did!