Today in History - October 21st
October 21, 1805, Naval Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was a historic sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition (August-December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). The battle was the most decisive British victory of the war and was a pivotal naval battle of the 19th century. Twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line under French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve off the south-west coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost.
The British victory spectacularly confirmed the naval supremacy that Britain had established during the 18th century and was achieved in part due to Nelson's departure from the prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy, which involved engaging an enemy fleet in a single line of battle parallel to the enemy to facilitate signalling in battle and disengagement, and to maximize fields of fire and target areas. Nelson instead divided his smaller force into two columns directed perpendicularly against the larger enemy fleet, with decisive results.
Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle, becoming and remaining Britain's greatest naval war hero. The commander of the joint French and Spanish forces, Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve, was captured along with his ship Bucentaure. Spanish Admiral Federico Gravina escaped with the remnant of the fleet, and succumbed months later to wounds he sustained during the battle.
Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck of Victory
October 21, 1876, Souix defeated at Cedar Creek
Battle of Cedar Creek (also called Big Dry Creek or Big Dry River) occurred on October 21, 1876, in the Montana Territory between the United States Army and a force of Lakota Sioux Native Americans during the Black Hills War.
Col. Nelson A. Miles led the 5th infantry in the summer of 1876 from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, up the Missouri river via a paddlewheeler from Yankton (South Dakota) to the Yellowstone river to help subdue the Sioux and Cheyenne, who had claimed a major victory in the summer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Miles joined General Terry on the Rosebud in autumn and marched with him up the Rosebud river to join with General Crook. The two commanders together moved east and crossed Tongue river and reached the mouth of the Powder River. Here the two commands separated, with General Crook moving south and east toward the Black Hills and a detachment under Captain Anson Mills engaged and defeated a force of Indians in September at the Battle of Slim Buttes. Mills had been sent by Crook to obtain supplies from the Black Hills because their supplies were running perilously low, and at times, the men had to resort to eating horseflesh to survive.
After separating from General Crook, General Terry with Col. Miles moved north up Dry Creek, east and then south again to evenually reached Glendive, Montana Territory, on the Yellowstone river where the troops established winter headquarters. Col. Miles equipped his troops with winter gear and established a temporary base at the mouth of the Tongue River.
Troops under Col. Elwell S. Otis escorted a train of more than 100 supply wagons that had been dispatched from a post on Glendive Creek, Montana Territory, to supply Miles's troops. On October 11, Sioux warriors ambushed the slow moving wagon train near Spring Creek, killing several mules and temporarily driving off the wagons. Undaunted, the wagon train tried again to reach Miles, but the Indians again attacked it along Spring Creek on October 15. This time, the wagon crews and their escort managed to fend off their attackers and continue their passage.
Soon afterwards, two Indian emissaries approached Colonel Otis and suggested that Miles meet with Sitting Bull, the long revered spiritual leader of the Hunkpapa Sioux. Miles accepted the offer, and set out for Cedar Creek, Montana Territory, north of the Yellowstone River. On October 20, Miles met with the Indian leader to parley between the lines of the Indians and the soldiers, at Sitting Bull's request. Sitting Bull offered to trade for ammunition so his followers could hunt buffalo. He would not bother the soldiers, if they did not bother him. Miles informed Sitting Bull of the government's demands for a surrender. While neither leader was pleased, both agreed to meet on the morrow after consulting with their subordinates.
Some of Sitting Bull's minor chiefs wanted to leave the warpath and return to the reservations, but many others wanted to fight. On October 21, the conference resumed. Sitting Bull again demanded that Miles and his soldiers leave, and that no more wagon trains be allowed in Sioux territory. He threatened to kill any chief who still wanted to lead his band back to the reservations. The talks quickly broke down, and the leaders returned to their forces. Soon, gunfire erupted. After a sharp skirmish, Sitting Bull withdrew. The army claimed to have chased the Lakotas for up to 42 miles, collecting large quantities of dried meat, lodge poles, camp equipage, ponies and broken down cavalry horses, and arms along the way. On October 27, over 400 lodges (with 2,000 men, women, and children) formally surrendered to Miles and peacefully returned to their reservations. However, some of Sitting Bull's more ardent followers headed northward for Canada, and Miles made preparations to pursue them throughout the winter.
October 21, 1899, Battle of Elanslaagte, during the Boer War
When the Boers invaded Natal, a force under General Kock (comprised mainly of men of the Johannesburg Commando, with detachments of German volunteers) occupied the railway station at Elandslaagte on October 19, 1899, thus cutting the communications between the main British force at Ladysmith and a detachment at Dundee. Learning that the telegraph had been cut, General Sir George White sent his cavalry commander, Major General John French to recapture the station.
Arriving shortly after dawn on October 21, French found the Boers present in strength, with two field guns. He telegraphed to Ladysmith for reinforcements, which shortly afterwards arrived by train.
While three batteries of British field guns bombarded the Boer position, and the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment advanced frontally in open order, the main attack commanded by Colonel Ian Hamilton (1st Battalion, the Manchester Regiment, 2nd Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders and the dismounted Imperial Light Horse) moved around the Boers' left flank. The sky had steadily been growing dark with thunderclouds, and as the British made their assault, the storm burst. In the poor visibility and pouring rain, the British infantry had to face a barbed wire farm fence, in which several men were entangled and shot. Nevertheless, they cut the wire or broke it down, and occupied the main part of the Boer position.Some small parties of Boers were already showing white flags when General Kock led a counterattack, dressed in his top hat and Sunday best. He drove back the British infantry in confusion, but they rallied, inspired by Hamilton (and reportedly, a bugler of the Manchesters and a Pipe-major of the Gordons) and charged again. Kock and his companions were killed.
As the remaining Boers mounted their ponies and tried to retreat, two squadrons of British cavalry (from the 5th Lancers and the 5th Dragoon Guards) got among them with lances and sabres, cutting down many. This was almost the only time during the Boer war that a British cavalry charge made contact.