Sunday, 10 March 2013

Commodore Nelson in the Mediterranean, 1793-97: Prologue to the Battle of Cape St. Vincent

These events deserve posts on their own merit, and will get them!  But for now, they serve as an introduction to the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, in which Nelson made his mark and rose to become one of the most talked-about officers in the British navy.

 n 1793, Captain Nelson's long period of unemployment ashore in England was ended when he was given command of HMS Agamemnon, a 64-gun battleship, and sent to join Admiral Lord Hood's fleet in the Mediterranean.  The Agamemnon was by no means the greatest ship in the world, but she would become his favourite.  64s were the smallest class of ship that could be classed as a ship-of-the-line, but what they lacked in firepower they made up for in manoeuverability, which suited Nelson's style down to the ground.  He forever remained fond of her crew, many of whom followed him from ship to ship and who he called his 'old Agamemnons'.

HMS Agamemnon

In 1794, he took part in the capture of Corsica, Bastia and Calvi; in Calvi, he was hit in the face by gravel flung up by a shot on the ground, receiving an injury that left him blind in his right eye for the rest of his life.  On the 13th March 1795, with Admiral Hotham's fleet, he fought in the Battle of the Gulf of Genoa, in which he attacked and helped to capture the Ça Ira, and in July he fought with the fleet at the Battle of Hyères Islands.

As a commodore, Nelson asked to be transferred to HMS Captain as the Agamemnon was badly in need of repairs and was sent home to be refit.  He was granted his request, and in June 1796 was involved in the evacuation of Leghorn when the French invaded the town.   In July, he was detached with a small squadron under his command to Italy, to help the Austrian army against the French.  This involved blockading French ports and, with the help of Gilbert Elliot, the British viceroy in Corsica, taking possession of the neutral fort of Porto-Ferrajo on the island of Elba.  This would prevent the French from using it to invade Corsica after taking Leghorn.

He did so well that he won the respect of Admiral John Jervis, who had become commander in chief of the Mediterranean fleet in the Autumn of 1795 - and he was not a man to give respect lightly.  Soon, Nelson became one of Jervis' most trusted subordinates.

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