War at Sea in the Age of Sail: The Campaign of Trafalgar

October 28, 2020, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Redwood Library and Athenæum

War at Sea in the Age of Sail: The Campaign of Trafalgar with Evan Wilson

What we now call the Trafalgar campaign took place over the spring and summer of 1805. French, Spanish, and British fleets raced back and forth across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Orders flew from London and Madrid, and especially from Boulogne, where Napoleìon was camped with 165,000 men preparing to invade Britain. Confusion was the order of the day. French admirals often executed one set of orders, only to learn later that other admirals were executing an entirely different set. The Spanish, recently coerced into the war, struggled to catch up with their French allies and prepare their fleets for sea. The British, stretched thin owing to mismanagement during the recent peace and the challenge of fighting two peer competitors at once, desperately searched for the French and Spanish fleets they had failed to blockade in port. Yet by the time Vice Admiral Lord Nelson stepped ashore in England for the last time in August 1805, having crossed the Atlantic twice, the chaos had resolved itself into a large British fleet blockading an even larger Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet in Caìdiz. It was, in effect, the end of the Trafalgar campaign. The actual battle, which took place two months later, was something of an anticlimax, strategically speaking. This lecture presents new research on the campaign, and in particular on the misunderstood role of Sir John Orde in prolonging the campaign and jeopardizing the British position in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Evan Wilson is an assistant professor in the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research at the U.S. Naval War College. In 2018, he won the Sir Julian Corbett Prize in Modern Naval History. His first monograph examined British naval officers in the late-eighteenth century, and his current project follows soldiers and sailors home after the Napoleonic Wars. He is the editor of four books and has published articles in a number of journals, including the English Historical Review and the Naval War College Review. Before coming to Newport, he was the Caird Senior Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum (UK) and the Associate Director of International Security Studies at Yale University. He holds degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. 

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 – 6:00pm to 7:00pm
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