Nelson's Band of Brothers
Band of Brothers was a phrase used by Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson to refer to the captains under his command just prior to and at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. The phrase, taken from Shakespeare's Henry V, later came to be more generally applied to his relationship with the captains and men under his command, such as at the Battle of Trafalgar. The usage helped to popularise the phrase in reference to a close-knit group of fighting men.
The original Band of Brothers
One of Nelson's earliest uses of the phrase is in a letter written shortly after the Spanish entry into the war. Nelson, eager for action, had hoped to be given command of a squadron cruising off the Spanish coast, but was passed over. Dismayed he wrote of his indignation and disappointment, but added
Yet, if I know my own thoughts, it is not for myself, or on my own account chiefly, that I feel the sting and the disappointment! No! it is for my brave officers; for my noble-minded friends and comrades. Such a gallant set of fellows! Such a band of brothers! My heart swells at the thought of them!
Shortly afterwards, the French fleet sailed from Toulon under the command of Vice-Admiral Brueys, carrying Napoleon and a French invasion force bound for Malta and Egypt. The British commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jervis reinforced Nelson with several ships of the line and sent him in search of the French. Nelson was initially unsuccessful, missing the French when they passed by, and invaded, Malta in June. They then sailed on to Egypt, and carried out a successful landing at Alexandria in early July. Nelson finally caught up with the French fleet on 1 August, anchored in Aboukir Bay. Nelson immediately prepared an attack, taking the French by surprise, and won a decisive victory, capturing or burning most of the fleet.
The Nile captains
Under Nelson's command at this time were:
|Capt. Edward Berry||Vanguard||Nelson's flag captain|
|Capt. Alexander Ball||Alexander|
|Capt. Davidge Gould||Audacious|
|Capt. Henry D'Esterre Darby||Bellerophon|
|Capt. Thomas Troubridge||Culloden|
|Capt. John Peyton||Defence|
|Capt. Thomas Foley||Goliath|
|Capt. George Blagdon Westcott||Majestic||Killed during the battle|
|Capt. Thomas Louis||Minotaur|
|Capt. Sir James Saumarez||Orion||Nelson's second in command|
|Capt. Benjamin Hallowell||Swiftsure|
|Capt. Ralph Willet Miller||Theseus|
|Capt. Samuel Hood||Zealous|
|Capt. Thomas Boulden Thompson||Leander|
|Lt. Thomas Hardy||Mutine|
Of the brothers, Nelson had already served alongside several. Miller had been his flag captain at Cape St Vincent, where Troubridge had also commanded a ship. The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife some months later reunited Miller and Troubridge, whilst Captains Hood and Thompson were also present.
After the battle Nelson wrote a number of letters and dispatches, often using the term 'band of brothers' to refer to those who had fought alongside him. To his commanding officer, Lord St Vincent, he wrote, referring to Alexander Ball,
His activity and zeal are eminently conspicuous even amongst the Band of Brothers - each, as I may have occasion to mention them, must call forth my gratitude and admiration.
Tactics and later brothers
Nelson's ability to inspire his captains, and to leave them free to fight their ships as they believed best in the heat of the battle was linked to his description of the captains as his 'band of brothers', and later came to be referred in a general manner to those under his command later in his career. His close consultation with them prior to actions was considered an important factor. When describing the preparations for Trafalgar, the Cambridge History of Warfare remarked '...Nelson consulted regularly with his captains until that 'band of brothers' understood his goals and methods...'. Describing one of these conferences Nelson himself wrote
[W]hen I came to explain to them the 'Nelson Touch', it was like an electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved...and from Admirals downwards it was repeated - 'It must succeed, if ever they allow us to get at them! You are, my Lord, surrounded by friends whom you inspire with confidence.'
Of the officers who served with him at the Nile, 13 would later reach flag rank. The exceptions were Westcott, killed during the battle, and Miller, who was killed during an accidental explosion aboard his ship in 1799. Some of the surviving brothers would serve under Nelson again. At the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Hardy had command of his own ship, whilst Foley was Nelson's flag captain. Thompson was also present, losing a leg in the action. Hardy was Nelson's flag captain aboard HMS Victory at Trafalgar, where Berry also commanded a ship.
Nelson's inspirational and motivational abilities became the subject of later study. Some analysts see the 'band of brothers' as 'implying social equality in the service of the country.' The phrase 'band of brothers' has continued to be popular as a reference to a close-knit community, usually of military figures.
- Mahan. Types of Naval Officers. pp. p. 379.
- Southey. Life of Nelson. pp. p. 127.
- "The Battle of the Nile".
- Nicolas, Nicholas Harris (ed.) (1844 - 46). The dispatches and letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson (cited at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Vol.III. p. 230. ; Lambert, Andrew. "Nelson's band of brothers (act. 1798)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Parker. History of Warfare. pp. p. 212.
- Grint. The Arts of Leadership. pp. p. 268.
- Southey, Robert (1861). Life of Nelson. G. Bohn.
- Parker, Geoffrey (2005). Life of Nelson. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85359-1.
- "The Battle of the Nile". 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
- Mahan, Alfred Thayer (1969). Types of Naval Officers Drawn from the History of the British Navy: With Some Account of the Conditions of Naval Warfare at the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century, and of Its Subsequent Development During the Sail Period. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0-8369-1093-1.
- Coetzee, Frans (1990). For Party Or Country: Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Popular Conservatism in Edwardian England. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506238-8.
- Grint, Keith (2000). The Arts of Leadership. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-829445-X.