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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Nelson's Band of Brothers
Nelson’s Band of Brothers: Lives & Memorials
Edited by Peter Hore
Seaforth, 2015, ISBN 978-1-84832-779-5, £20.00 / $48.95
(U.S. distributor is Naval Institute Press)

Also available as an e-book

“Band of Brothers” specifically refers to those commanders who participated in the Battle of the Nile, but this volume expands on this small group to include all the commanding officers of individual ships or fleet squadrons over which Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson had tactical control during his three greatest sea battles: the Battle of the Nile (1798), the Battle of Copenhagen (1801), and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). This volume serves as the first time in which all the lives of these officers appear in a single volume and some entries offer the most complete biographies found in print. The contributors are international historians, some of whom are descendants of the Brothers. In all, eighty officers are included, but they represent only a small portion of the men who served in the Royal Navy between 1792 and 1815.

In the book’s introduction, Hore discusses who the Band of Brothers were and some of the comparative data that the research divulges about age levels when these men went to sea, how much education they had, how soon after completing the required six years of sea service they stood for the lieutenant’s examination, where they came from, and how they advanced through the ranks. He concludes with a time line showing how Britain was almost continuously at war from 1775 through 1815. Mention is also given to the Royal Marines, but since they weren’t in command of ships at the time of the battles, the biographies of these officers are not included in the book.

The book is divided into three sections, one for each of the battles mentioned earlier. They begin with a brief introduction about the battle before the biographies are presented in alphabetical order. A portrait of the officer, when available, appears first so readers can match faces to names. Each entry includes pertinent details about the man’s life: birth, entrance into the navy, his rise through the ranks, marriage, family, and death. Specific information about what he does during the specific engagement in which his biography appears is also discussed. What breathes life into these men, however, are the interesting tidbits that are included, sometimes quotes from their contemporaries or from themselves, other times a memorable event or incident in which they participated. Examples of these are:

The Battle of the Nile

One day, Henry D’Esterre Derby stepped into his boat to travel from the Bellerophon to dine with the Admiral aboard Amphion. Just as he did, that vessel exploded. Benjamin Hallowell retrieved the mainmast from a French ship to have a carpenter fashion a coffin from it. He then gave this coffin to Nelson, who was delighted with the gift and was eventually buried in it.

Copenhagen and the Baltic

Thomas Bertie invented a lifebuoy system, which was later extended to all the ships in the fleet. With the assistance of Lady Bentinck, who wore a marine officer’s uniform, Thomas Francis Fremantle, liberated Sicilian slaves from Tunisians. Edward Rou’s dog was found guilty of biting during a mock trial and suffered severe consequences. Riou himself survived an iceberg collision, scurvy, a broken arm, and rebellious sailors during an eight-week voyage to reach land with the help of convicts bound for Botany Bay. In gratitude he secured pardons for those who survived.

The Campaign of Trafalgar
Out of two hundred men, Cuthbert Collingwood was only one of twenty men in his ship’s company to survive a fever while in the West Indies. Later his dog Bounce accompanied him to sea. John Cooke died from a sharpshooter’s bullet, just as Nelson did, and both were struck at about the same time. Henry Digby captured  nearly sixty vessels in three years, then advanced his crew’s shares out of his own pocket so his men didn’t have to wait to receive their prize money. William Hargood fell ill in 1792 and was pronounced dead. While he was being sewn into his canvas coffin, it was discovered that he was actually still alive. Robert Moorsom penned the only contemporary account that remains of the rescue of a naked woman from the wreckage of the Achille, which blew up during the battle. Robert Remill made a six-hour flight in a balloon nineteen years before Trafalgar.

To supplement the narrative, Hore includes a map of the memorials to these men and a wealth of colorful photographs and artwork. Two additional essays cover Americans in Nelson’s Navy, some of whom became Brothers, and the Class of Captains, World War II frigates built for the Royal Navy in the United States and named for some of the captains in the Band of Brothers. A list of sources and a bibliography, as well as a general index and an index of ships, round out the volume.

One minor omission is an explanation of the acronyms that occasionally appear. While British readers will readily know that KCB represents Knight Commander of the Bath or GCB stands for Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, readers outside of that country probably will not.

One entry points out that it corrects a mistake repeated in histories for two centuries. Contrary to what other accounts indicate, Thomas Charles Brodie was actually the officer in command of the Arrow at the Battle of Copenhagen. On the other hand, the essay on the Class of Captains perpetuates the oft-cited myth of the White House being called such because of the paint used to hide the blackened walls from when it was burned by the British in 1814. While it was more often referred to as the President’s Palace or President’s House during that time period, the name ‘White House’ was actually used prior to 1814. It first appears in the Baltimore Whig in 1810 and the next year a British minister used the term in a letter.

For me, the most interesting entries were those written by the nine descendants. The details they provide make these men more personable and real. Equally interesting are individual details of officers that provide a truer portrayal of them as men rather than how history remembers them. The entry on William Bligh is a good example of this. The contributors are to be commended for the depth and breadth of their research and the editor does a fabulous job in collecting their work into a single volume which is neither excessively long nor expensive. Best of all, the information in this book is enjoyable to read and easily comprehended by those unfamiliar with naval tactics and jargon. Aside from being an invaluable introduction to these officers, Nelson’s Band of Brothers is a fascinating glimpse into these men, who resolved not to let down their Admiral, and their heroic, sometimes forgotten and, on occasion, infamous, deeds.
View Documentaries of These Battles
Battle of the Nile
Battle of Copenhagen
Battle of Trafalgar

Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar
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