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Battle of Cape St. Vincent

On Valentine’s Day 1797, a fiery and bloody battle took place off the coast of Portugal between the Spanish fleet and the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. The previous year, Spain declared war on Britain and Portugal. The Battle of Cape St. Vincent was an intense sea battle that consisted of fourteen battle ships, five frigates, a sloop and a cutter on the British side, and 28 battle ships and seven frigates on the Spanish side. Combined, over 4,000 guns or canons were used while fighting the battle. The methods of battle used involved shooting canons at other ships as well as firing guns and muskets at very close range. Some shipmates would jump onto the opposition’s boat and take part in hand-to-hand combat on the enemy ship. By 11:00 am that morning, Admiral John Jervis gave the order to attack the Spanish.

During the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, Admiral John Jervis led his men with the ships they had on hand. As soon as the Spanish commander Don Joseph de Cordova realized that his fleet had quite a few more ships, he jumped on the opportunity to engage in battle with the British. Some of the Spanish citizens made boat donations to his fleet to assist in the fight so that they would have enough ammunition to win. On February 11th, a few days before the official battle, fellow British Commodore Horatio Nelson rushed to assist Admiral Jervis with the fight against the Spanish. By the dawn of February 14th, both the Spanish and British fleets finally met at sea head on. Jervis had a plan; he wanted to cut the boats straight through the middle of the Spanish fleet in order to get them from both sides. He did this by approaching them directly in between the boats and “cut” right into the center with his own ships.

Horatio Nelson realized that the British fleet was much more powerful than the Spanish, even though they had double the number of boats. He became a ruthless fighter and a leader for the British Navy during this battle. His aggressive stance towards the Spanish has been attributed to the victory of the British. Sailors approached the Spanish ships and began fighting with swords and guns. The ships in the British fleet turned around and headed straight towards the Spanish’s largest ship, and also started to broadside it. When the dust settled, there was extensive damage to the British fleet, but they were victorious. While it is difficult to pinpoint a precise number, there were about 300 British casualties but only about 73 deaths, and over 1,000 Spanish casualties that were mixed between seriously injured and killed. By approximately 5:00 p.m. that same day, the battle was over. The Spanish had either retreated or given up, and the British were claimed victorious.

  • The Nelson Society – Organization dedicated to the most popular hero in Britain
  • The Historical Maritime Society– More information about Nelson and the historic battle, presented by Historical Maritime Society of the United Kingdom
  • Royal Navy History – A website with a thorough history about the Battle, presented by the Royal Navy
  • List of Ships – The official list of all ships involved in the battle
  • Artwork – Information about one of the famous paintings of the battle from the National Maritime Museum
  • Support a non-profit Maritime Organization – donate a car, boat, motorhome, truck or other heavy equipment to support your favorite non-profit.

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