SEA power damaged French trade, drove Napoleon into his Spanish and Russian blunders, and enabled England to maintain the Peninsular expedition and to attempt other less successful ones. The navy enjoyed great popular esteem, and Nelson, who rose with dazzling speed to command its chief fleet, was the greatest popular hero of modern England. Sailors in the Royal Navy of those days were frequently " pressed " on shore or taken from merchant ships, seldom got leave, were paid much less than merchant rates, and were fed on hard weevily biscuit and salt pork. Wounds were dressed roughly with boiling pitch: shattered limbs were sawn off without anaesthetics. There was plenty of rum, but also inhuman floggings. The gruesome conditions provoked mutinies in 1797, after which year things were improved a little.
Between 1803 and 1805 the French fleet, in conjunction with the navies of Spain and Holland, seemed formidable. After Trafalgar (1805) France never fought another general action at sea. The British blockade, however, caused discontent in the United States, which were also annoyed by the British practice of stopping American merchant ships and taking out any English seamen on board to make up their own crews. There was a savage little war for two years (1812-14), during which some ship duels were fought, and some land fights and destruction of cities took place. The war did harm to Anglo-American feelings, and continued to be a bitter memory in America for a century to come, long after it had been forgotten in England.
Wellington described his troops as very base material, but added that discipline had made fine men of them. They broke out of hand badly on occasion, and frightful scenes took place after desperate actions like the storming of Badajoz in the Peninsular War. The armies were small: it was impossible to feed very large armies, except in fertile and well- disposed country. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 with four or five hundred thousand men, but he lost ninety per cent. of them through exposure and hunger. Armies generally mustered one or two hundred thousand men. At Leipzig in 1813 there were four hundred thousand; in the Waterloo fighting about a quarter of a million. Movements were slow, scouting and communications depended entirely on the horse in the days when that side of staff work which depends on large and accurate maps, carbon copies of typewritten orders, and telephone and wireless conversations did not exist. England, as usual, began her wars with indifferent commanders, but also, as usual, gradually picked out a number of able men. Moore was the first of these to make his mark, and after Moore's untimely death (1809), Wellington achieved a fame second only in his day to Nelson's.