Friday, November 12, 2010

A Nation at War

It is easy enough to forget that the Great Britain of the Regency era was a nation at war. Jane Austen's books rarely mention the war though two of her brothers were actively involved in naval service. Many Regency romances do not speak of war--most of mine do not. War was something soldiers made, something that happened to other families and, except when invasion threatened, it was something that happened 'over there'.

Yet the newspapers, throughout the Regency period, were full of war news. The British were fighting on many fronts. The Derby Mercury of May 2, 1805 reports on conflict in India:

"We drove the whole of the enemy under the Fort of Deeg, when the people in the fort opened a very heavy fire on us. The number of guns is not yet ascertained, nor that of the killed and wounded, but our loss has been severe."

In that same year, the British fought their greatest sea battle, after several years of war at sea. The Times of November 7, 1805 carried a report of the fighting:

"The commander-in-chief immediately made a signal to the fleet to bear up in two columns. The enemy's line consisted of 33 ships, of which 18 were French and 15 Spanish, commanded in chief by Admiral Villeneuve. As the mode of attack was unusual, so the structure of the enemy's line was new."

As the same time, the British were fighting in North America--the War of 1812-14. That war was fought on the sea as this report from August 1812 shows:

"The privateer schooner, Active, of 2 guns and 22 men, from Salem, has been taken and burnt by the British frigate Spartan."

On land, from April to December 1814, the British sent a cavalry regiment, 33 infantry battalions and 10 artillery companies. Newspapers in the United States reported:

"General Wilkinson has left Grenadier-Island with his army, and gone down the St. Lawrence in boats. They...were attacked by the enemy from the shore. On returning the fire, the enemy dispersed, and the army advanced without molestation."

Hostilities on the continent culminated in Belgium in June 1815. Newspapers around the country reported--

Hampshire Telegraph, June 26, 1815
"Fleurus, June 16--The battle of yesterday lasted till ten o'clock in the evening. We are still in pursuit of the enemy, who has experienced a terrible overthrow. We have hitherto 3000 prisoners, 20 pieces of cannon and several standards, many officers of rank, among others Count Lutzow."

Liverpool Mercury, June 30, 1815
"The armies were so intermingled, that the Duke of Wellington encountered Marshal Grouchy. The enemy, who would not believe that it was possible to be defeated under Napoleon's command, long fought with the greatest ardour."

London Gazette Extraordinary, Thursday, June 22, 1815
A despatch from Lord Wellington reporting on the Battle at Waterloo ended:
"I have not yet got the returns of killed and wounded, but I inclose a list of Officers killed and wounded on the two days, as far as the same can be made out without the returns...
Colonel De Lancey is not dead, and strong hopes of his recovery are entertained...
Major General Sir William Ponsonby is killed, and, ...I have to add the expression of my grief for the fate of an officer, who had already rendered very brilliant and important services, and was an ornament to his profession."

Our newspapers are still full of war information--Afghanistan, terrorists, and until recently Iraq. Threats abound, countries still tear themselves and others apart. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women die. As I write this blog, Remembrance Day services are taking place here in Canada. Britain also is commemorating November 11 with ceremony, and in the United States Veterans Day honours military service. 

As we remember those who gave their lives--across the centuries--for their country's greater good, surely it is also time to contemplate peace, and direct all our energies toward that greatest good of all.

'Til next time,


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