Yesterday I added a map to Chapter 12 of my European history, showing what Europe looked like in 1810, when Napoleon Bonaparte was at his peak. I also learned some interesting tidbits from that era, and added them in the following footnotes:
Whereas most naval commanders kept their ships at a distance and arranged them to expose as many guns at the enemy as possible, Nelson’s strategy was to form a wedge of ships and sail right into the middle of the enemy formation, in the hopes of breaking it up quickly. This meant heavy damage to both sides, and it caused Nelson to lose sight in an eye during one battle and the loss of an arm in another battle, but it worked. While Nelson was alive he was Britain’s greatest hero, and King George III rewarded him with every title he could think of. The titles were written on the admiral’s coffin as follows: The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim.
One of the Peninsular War’s most celebrated heroes was a woman named Agustina Raimunda María Saragossa Domènech, better known today as Agustina de Aragón (1786-1857). When the French attacked Saragossa in June 1808, they charged a battery of old cannon defending the city, and the Spanish gunners fled. Agustina was on the ramparts with a basket of apples for the troops, and when she saw the guns abandoned, she loaded one of them and fired it, blowing away the French attackers. Shamed that a woman was braver than they were, in a country famous for macho men, the Spaniards returned and stood their ground until the French withdrew. However, the French returned six months later, and though Agustina was now working in an artillery crew, the second siege of Saragossa was so bloody that the city was forced to surrender. Agustina was captured, but soon after that she escaped, and joined one of the previously mentiuoned guerrilla units. Eventually the Duke of Wellington heard about her, so by 1813 she was an artillery commander and the only female officer in the Spanish army. After the war she got an officer’s pension and was frequently seen wearing her medals and an officer’s saber.
Marshal Blücher was definitely an eccentric fellow. Once he confided to Wellington that he was pregnant and about to give birth to an elephant, because he had been raped by a French soldier. After Waterloo he was invited to England to tell about his part in that victory, and because London was bigger and wealthier than any other city he had seen, he remarked, “What a town to loot!” I suppose that was a natural thought for a Prussian officer.
The battle of Waterloo gave us some of the most famous quotes in military history. It is because of one of them that somebody might say “Pardon my French,” before swearing. At Waterloo, a French division known as the Old Guard was surrounded by the British and ordered to surrender. According to a journalist who was there, the Old Guard’s commander, Pierre Jacques Etienne Cambronne, shouted back, “La garde meurt et ne se rend pas!” (“The Guard dies and does not surrender!”). Apparently that was an edited statement, because Cambronne always denied saying it afterwards, while others claimed he really said, “Merde!” (“Sh*t!”). This is the oldest known case of somebody using the s-word when things go very wrong.
On the other side, Wellington and another general, Henry Paget, the Second Earl of Uxbridge, showed why the English have a reputation for keeping a cool head at all times. One story asserts that when a cannon shattered Lord Uxbridge’s leg, he exclaimed, “Good God sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, and Wellington replied, “Good God sir, I believe you have.”