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The Slaves That Conquered a World
Nelson's Trafalgar by Roy Adkins: Stillbirth of A Nation: End Notes
© 2012 James LaFond
Nelson’s Trafalgar
The Battle That Changed the World
Roy Adkins, 2004
Viking, U.S. hardcover edition, 2005,
392 pages, 12 maps & charts, 16 illustrations
A friend lent me his copy of this engaging history book, and I’ve had to force myself to set it aside a few times to do my scheduled reading. So, since Mister Adkins’ work has impinged on my own literary self-discipline, I will make him earn his keep between my ears by subjecting said work to a review for my website, which is minus an article or two thanks to his talent for narrative history.
The loan came about as a discussion as to what would be the worst military situation in history to get caught up in. I voted for World War One infantryman on the Western Front; waiting for the whistle to blow so that I could climb out of my muddy rat-filled trench to slog through more mud and barbed wire while some other doomed bastard is cutting my friends and me down with a water-cooled machinegun.
My friend sided with being a submariner in World War Two, cruising at depth while the enemy drops trash-can loads of TNT down into the giant bathtub that has become his deathtrap…
Well, I think we both agreed that #3 worst military job of all time has to be working as a seaman on a man-of-war in the Age of Sail; just when that fearless eccentric in a wig with a missing part or two who commands your ship, decides to put on his fancy had, drink a glass of port, and head for that enemy ship that is loading shot-put balls, chains and bars into the fifty giant shotguns they are leveling at your particular wooden boat, that is closing at a walk while you scatter sand on the deck, so that when you explode in a mess of splattered guts, jellified flesh and pulverized bone, your friends won’t slip in the resulting stain…
It was even worse than all of that, at least according to Mister Adkins, who has done a very nice job researching the biggest naval brawl of the Age of Sail. The author spends a lot of time detailing what life at sea was like from the top man down to the future stain on the deck. I won’t ruin any of the disgusting surprises for you, since I hope you will read the book. I do have one thing to say, you will never hear the word ‘constipation’ again without experiencing a feeling of relief that you are not a British sailor in 1805.
The best part of the book is the extensive sequential use of diary and log entries and letters left behind by the combatants from both sides. Give it a good read and then grab a fresh piece of fruit and a cool glass of clear water. While you are enjoying every Age of Sail grunt’s fantasy meal, you might want to admire both of those legs while you’re at it. Then take a swig of rum and toast James Spratt, my new favorite fighting man. You will find him on page 192.
Addendum
Two items I neglected to place in this review:
1. most of the sailors were not on duty due to choice, but had been beaten into unconsciousness or submission by "press gangs" and hauled aboard ship, to serve in one of the most dangerous death machines in military history. The men were paid a small salary when they got back to port, usually giving it all away to their wife, who had been starving in his absence.
2. These were the toughest and best seamen of the age. The Spanish and French ships were regarded by all parties to be better made and better designed. But the British sailor was a savage par excellence, for he had more to fear from the lash than the enemy. the basis for the brutal treatment of the white and black slaves in the English colonies was based in form on the military practice of discipline, with its inspiration ultimately vested in the rotten soul of a wicked nation.
3. After the defeat of Napoleon, during which English seamen spent entre years at sea blockading ports in wintry conditions, patrolling the world's sea lanes, and even landing to fight as marines in shore raids, thousands of British sailors were released without warm clothes, rations or pay, to die of starvation and exposure in the city streets and along the country lanes of "Great Britain." Could we expect anything other than the lowest most brutal form of mercantile slavery from a nation who treated Her saviors in such a manner?
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