At the age of 12, Nelson set off on his first naval voyage with his uncle, Captain Suckling. One of his first commissions as a midshipman brought him face to face with a polar bear in the arctic, an encounter in which he narrowly escaped death. Promotion to lieutenant was rapid, though, and the rank of Captain soon followed.
As a young Captain in the Royal Navy, Nelson was dispatched to the Caribbean, where he participated in a siege, as well as several minor sea battles. At one point, his right eye was badly injured by a splinter of flying stone, and, during a landing party, his right elbow was shattered by a musketball, and was obliged to be amputated. He was soon promoted ro Commodore, and then participated in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, in which he led his crew into several successful boarding actions, and the Battle of the Nile, in which he led a small fleet to a resounding success that decimated Napoleon Bonaparte's fleet, and drove his forces out of Egypt for good.
Nelson soon found himself a Rear Admiral, and in command of the H.M.S. St. George, a grand ahip-of the line. In one of his most famous encounters, the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson served under Vice Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Nelson led his ships through the southern passage of Copenhagen harbor, while Sir Hyde's vessels stood by to provide any necessary support from the northern approach. Though the battle was going very well, Sir Hyde soon perceived that his inferior was losing badly (which he was, indeed, not), and signaled retreat. Nelson, upon seeing the signal, switched his telescope to his blind right eye, saying, "I really do not see the signal, Foley!". He won a resounding victory that day, and was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile, and promoted to Vice Admiral of the Red.
Then Nelson set his sights on the goal whose fulfillment would bring about his ultimate rise to fame, and also his death. He wished to go after the combined fleet of the French and Spanish. After several unsuccessful pursuits of them across the Atlantic, Nelson finally caught up to them as they massed off of Cadiz.
From his flagship, the H.M.S. Victory, a 104 gun First Rater, Nelson arranged his 27 vessels into two columns, moving into the enemy's single line of 33 ships at right angles. A bloody battle ensued; off Cape Trafalgar, Spain, Nelson's forces cut the enemy's line into thirds, and then mopped up each remaining ship. At 1:15 P.M., though, Nelson was shot through the left breast by a French sharpshooter. His lung had been pierced, his spine shattered. Falling to the deck, he said to his friend, Captain Hardy, "They have finally done for me, Hardy. Yes! My spine is shot through."
The great Admiral was taken swiftly below deck, where he lingered in pain for hours. Hardy came to him several times, teh last to inform him that the battle was won; more than 20 enemy ships had surrendered, and not a single British vessel was lost. Nelson heard the news, and then uttered the words, "Thank God I have done my duty," his last phrase. He expired at 4:30 P.M. on October 21, 1805, which is still remembered as Trafalgar Day today.
Nelson's body was placed in a cask of brandy that was lashed to Victory's mainmast for the return trip to England. He was mourned by the whole of Britain; his funeral down the Thames is among the grandest the world has ever seen. Admiral Lord Sir Horatio Nelson, K.B., now lies directly underneath the main dome at St. Paul's cathedral, in the crypt originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey.