One of history's most significant naval battles took place on this day, October 21st, in the year 1805. After years of chasing Admiral Villenueve and Napoleon's "combined fleet" through the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and his fleet of 32 ships (including 25 ships of the line) attacked a numerically superior foe off the Costa de la Luz in southwestern Spain. The battle, named for the nearby Cape of Trafalgar, established the Royal Navy as the dominant naval power in the world for more than a century to come. It also ensured the legacy of Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson as one of the most capable and inspiring commanders in history. His death on the day of his greatest triumph only served to heighten this legacy.
Though the Battle of the Nile (Nelson's resounding victory in 1798, fought almost entirely at night) is a more impressive tactical victory, Trafalgar merits special consideration because of the decisive strategic effect it had on Napoleon's campaigns in Europe -- and the world. While Napoleon and his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand harbored secret plans for a "North American Empire", their eviction from Haiti (thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Toussaint L'Overture, the most important historical figure you've never heard of) and eventual sale of the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. forced Napoleon's attention east: to Moscow, and ultimately to defeat. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar dashed any hopes Napoleon had of ever attacking Great Britain.
Here's to The Immortal Memory of Nelson!