The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).
The battle was the most decisive British naval victory of the war. Twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line under French Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve off the south-west coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost.
The British victory spectacularly confirmed the naval supremacy that Britain had established during the previous century and was achieved in part through Nelson's departure from the prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy, which involved engaging an enemy fleet in a single line of battle parallel to the enemy to facilitate signalling in battle and disengagement, and to maximise fields of fire and target areas. Nelson instead divided his smaller force into two columns directed perpendicularly against the larger enemy fleet, with decisive results.
Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle, becoming one of Britain's greatest war heroes. The commander of the joint French and Spanish forces, Admiral Villeneuve, was captured along with his ship Bucentaure. Spanish Admiral Federico Gravina escaped with the remnant of the fleet and succumbed months later to wounds sustained during the battle.
Date 21 October 1805
Location Cape Trafalgar, Spain
1775 map of the Boston area (contains some inaccuracies)
Boston, situated on a peninsula, was largely protected from close approach by the expanses of water surrounding it, which were dominated by British warships. In the aftermath of the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the colonial militia, a force of about 15,000 men had surrounded the town, and effectively besieged it. Under the command of Artemas Ward, they controlled the only land access to Boston itself (the Roxbury Neck), but, lacking a navy, were unable to control or even contest British domination of the waters of the harbor. The British troops, a force of about 6,000 under the command of General Thomas Gage, occupied the city, and were able to be resupplied and reinforced by sea. They were thus able to remain in Boston indefinitely.
However, the land across the water from Boston contained a number of hills, which could be used to advantage. If the militia could obtain enough artillery pieces, these could be placed on the hills and used to bombard the city until the occupying army evacuated it or surrendered. It was with this in mind that the Knox Expedition, led by Henry Knox, later transported cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to the Boston area.
The Charlestown Peninsula, lying to the north of Boston, started from a short, narrow isthmus (known as the Charlestown Neck) at its northwest, extending about 1 mile (1.6 km) southeastward into Boston Harbor. Bunker Hill, with an elevation of 110 feet (34 m), lay at the northern end of the peninsula. Breed's Hill, at a height of 62 feet (19 m), was more southerly and nearer to Boston. The town of Charlestown occupied flats at the southern end of the peninsula. At its closest approach, less than 1,000 feet (305 m) separated the Charlestown Peninsula from the Boston Peninsula, where Copp's Hill was at about the same height as Breed's Hill. While the British retreat from Concord had ended in Charlestown, General Gage, rather than immediately fortifying the hills on the peninsula, had withdrawn those troops to Boston the day after that battle, turning the entire Charlestown Peninsula into a no man's land
Throughout May, in response to orders from Gage requesting support, the British received reinforcements, until they reached a strength of about 6,000 men. On May 25, three generals arrived on HMS Cerberus: William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton. Gage began planning with them to break out of the city, finalizing a plan on June 12. This plan began with the taking of the Dorchester Neck, fortifying the Dorchester Heights, and then marching on the colonial forces stationed in Roxbury. Once the southern flank had been secured, the Charlestown heights would be taken, and the forces in Cambridge driven away. The attack was set for June 18.
On June 13, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was notified, by express messenger from the Committee of Safety in Exeter, New Hampshire, that a New Hampshire gentleman "of undoubted veracity" had, while visiting Boston, overheard the British commanders making plans to capture Dorchester and Charlestown. On June 15, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety decided that additional defenses needed to be erected. General Ward directed General Israel Putnam to set up defenses on the Charlestown Peninsula, specifically on Bunker Hill.