On 8 January 1815, 5,300 British troops attacked 4,500 entrenched and prepared Americans outside New Orleans. In a battle lasting half an hour, the British suffered casualties totalling 2,036. American casualties were twenty-one. It remains to this day the worst defeat in the whole long history of the British Army.
But the battle affected the outcome of the war not a bit, for the war was already over and had been for two weeks. A treaty of peace had been signed in Ghent, the Netherlands, on 24 December, to take immediate effect everywhere upon receipt of the news.
Today, in a world in which news, complete with live pictures, flashes around the globe in an instant, the sort of time lags experienced then are almost inconceivable. No one thought the situation might be more than marginally improved, or that the United States would ever be anything but remote from Europe, the centre of world affairs.
But only forty years later a group of extraordinary men decided to use the merging technology of telegraphy to bridge the Atlantic and unite the Old and New Worlds.
This book encapsulates the spirit of an age as a group of Victorian entrepreneurs fought to realise a dream that revolutionised communication for ever. The endeavour joined together the greatest minds on both sides of the ocean; Samuel Morse, William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and many others. All had their part to play, but were united by the spirit, vision and zealous conviction of one man, American businessman Cyrus Field.
The eventual success of the venture came down to his energy and commitment, as he traversed the Atlantic repeatedly to raise investment and secure flagging support. He was on board for every one of the attempts to lay the cable at the bottom of the ocean.
John Steele Gordon writes brilliantly and compellingly on the often tortuous unfolding of the story, as stray vessels, whales, the fiercest storms the Atlantic had seen in many years, all proved obstacles in laying the cable. Even the facts of the first, famous message from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, which was seen as a great triumph and feted on both sides of the ocean, were desperately covered up. The short message took sixteen and a half hours to communicate, at ten minutes a word. Communication was soon broken and Cyrus Field had to lay another cable.
'A Thread Across the Ocean' tells the story of this epic struggle: a struggle that would require a decade of effort, millions of dollars in capital, the solution of innumerable technological problems - many of them entirely unforeseen before the ships set sail - and uncommon physical, financial, and intellectual courage. But when they were done these men had changed the world.
- Publication Date:
- 16 / 01 / 2006