Lord Byron published his complete account of the Greek Revolution from his first involvement to his exile from Greece. Completely self serving and exaggerated, the memoirs nevertheless struck a chord in their condemnation of the Conservative system. Lord Byron has become entwined closely with the British Liberal movement since his return and had become a very loud critic of the Castlereagh Government, making noises about making changes through the House of Lords by pushing for reform from there. He received a cool reception from many of the peers, including Wellington.
The Liberal movement had gained such support in Britain that major electoral reform appeared to be quite likely within the future. Despite that though, there was still strong opposition against such reform by many Tories. Though the issue was divisive, very few violent actions had been taken by either side of the political divide. This itself threatened to change however as the Conservative Government had drawn a line in the sand over vote reform and they were determined to make it stick.
A border clash in West Florida between American and Spanish troops on the 18th resulted in a full on battle. Roughly a hundred soldiers on either side fought for an hour before the Spanish troops retreated. Both sides had suffered minor casualties one of which was fatal on the American side. The news went north to Washington and south to Havana where it wasn’t long before the drums of War began to play. Jackson managed to bind the Democrat-Republicans together once more to let loose a declaration of War against the Spanish Federacion and ordered the Army to head south.
For the Federacion, the time of truth had come. If the system set up by the Havana Accord was too proper, then it would have to survive this baptism of fire. Troops from Spanish garrisons and Southern American Armies were reluctantly sent to defend Florida while they were put under the control of the resident Spanish General, Carlos de Toledo, a man who had gained rank from being a competent enough commander to impress the Liberals back home. He now had the responsibility of facing the entire American Army and its onslaught with a mixed force of 40,000 with a lack of modern equipment.
That said though, Toledo had within the last year managed to clear up defences in Florida enough to actually pose a challenge to any invader. He had also worked out a decent communications system to keep him contacted in the centre of Spanish defences in St. Augustine. The overall strategy was that while West Florida was untenable as a defensive target with the resources available. Toledo instead decided to abandon that and focus on the Florida peninsula itself.
As both sides began to send troops to the front, the mood of the Imperial Federacion was extremely nervous. It needed to pull through this war in order to survive. There was no other option.
The opening shots between America and Spain were fired as several ships struck at each other in the seas around Florida. Although the Spanish Navy had taken a huge battering at Trafalgar, the Spanish Government had gone some way to rebuilding and modernising its Navy and it managed to at least post a squadron of ships in the seas around Florida. The first naval battle was between a grouping of six ships of the Spanish and seven American.
The battle took place off the Eastern coast of Florida and within sight of St. Augustine itself. The American Admiral who had ordered the assault was unaware that Toledo had installed several pieces of artillery along as coastal defences to protect the settlement and accordingly suffered for it. Although the American ships were top of the line, the bombardment by the artillery and the Spanish ships proved to be their undoing. Although the Spanish lost two ships to the American one, four of the American ships were in such bad condition that the signal was given to retreat north. Although the American press pushed the case of a victory followed by a strategic withdrawal, it was not an auspicious beginning for the war effort.
The first American troops marched into West Florida and secured the area with hardly a shot fired. Anything of use to the Americans had been destroyed as per Toledo’s instructions and the Army withdrawn into the Florida peninsula proper. This Army was ordered to secure the area and begin entrenching into the area to secure it against any further attack. The problem of invading Florida then came into being. With naval assault having failed, the exact strength and positions of the Spanish Army was unknown to the Americans.
Scouts sent out were repulsed by the Spanish from their defences and the strength of the enemy became to be overestimated by the Americans. Believing that reinforcements were being constantly sent from South America, it was decided that a quick overrunning of the Florida peninsula was needed in order to win. The American First Army of 21,000 marched south and began to attack Spanish positions several miles north of San Nicolas (OTL’s Jacksonville) on the 19th. Manned by 16,000 Spanish and Southern American troops, the assault on the defences suffered numerous problems for both sides.
The assault showed that the American expansion of its armed forces had come at a price. To cope with the new regiments and units, the officer class consisted of quantity over quality with many unsuitable for their rank. The Spanish on the other hand, suffered as well. Of the 40,000 in the Florida region, only 15,000 of them were familiar with the region and had the same equipment. The rest were from various South American colonies and differed in both quality and quantity of training vastly.
The assault was really a shambles for both sides. The American officer in charge was wary of a counter attack by the Spanish, believing that they had much more soldiers than they actually did have. As a consequence, only small forces were sent to assault the Spanish positions which were repulsed with difficulty, the American commander wanting to save his men lest there be a mass attack by the Spanish. That said, due to the better quality of the American troops, they did do some hefty damage to the Spanish forces before being forced back due to overwhelming numbers.
As time passed, the American Commander allowed his fear of a mass counter-attack to overcome him and he ordered a withdrawal, believing that he wouldn’t be able to sustain a defence. The American Army withdrew, having suffered roughly 3000 casualties. The Spanish were much relieved, after suffering from 2000 casualties themselves, they were in little position to pursue. The American Commander’s report of the battle highly overestimated the Spanish strength and made it appear to those in Washington that defences of Florida were nigh-on impenetrable.
After the battle report was presented to Congress, there was a mass outcry from the Democrat-Republicans over it. Had Jackson gotten them into a War which couldn’t be won? Jackson tried to keep the critics in line but it was the final straw, many walked out of the Houses of Congress, Representatives and out of the Democrat-Republican Party there and then. Only the very loyal stayed with the President that day, seeing the War as something that needed to be seen through. The historical day of American politics happened on the 28th and saw a split in the very way of thinking about how America was to be run.
Those who split from the Democrat-Republicans were now after a new idea of Government. The role of the President was too powerful, they thought, it was the Houses which should hold true political power with the Presidency becoming a ceremonial role. One disastrous War had already been fought and another one was in the works it seemed, all because of the President of the time. The newly created Congress Party therefore wanted an America where the role of the Houses were the true force behind an America that would take care of its own house, forgetting all about the rest of the World.
Had they waited until the end of the War, the Congress Party may have been able to fulfil their ambitions of changing the American system. But it was not to be, those who had left the Party were labelled as traitors and deserters, comparable to the Federalist Party in New England. If anything, the event only served to heighten Jackson’s popularity as a President who was fighting for America against the Spanish and traitors. The Democrat-Republican Party had taken a beating however and Jackson needed a victory in order to bolster his position.
This month also saw the death of William Blake, the Romantic Poet and free thinker. During the last year of his life, he had become a close acquaintance with Ludwig Van Beethoven through correspondence and had sent the composer a copy of all his works, one of which had struck Beethoven in an odd way. For the first time in his life, Beethoven lived in a country where he could say what he thought and not be in trouble with the law for it. Blake’s short poem And Those Feet in Ancient Time struck Beethoven as what Man should be trying to accomplish, the brotherhood of Mankind striving together for a great good.
The ailing Beethoven decided to do what he could to make a tribute to his lost friend. His poem, And Those Feet in Ancient Time would be the Choral Segment of his last Symphony, the Tenth Symphony.
As reinforcements arrived for both sides in Florida, the Americans tried another assault on the Spanish defences, this time from the West. Focusing on the defences outside the small village of Mayo, an Army of 15,000 spearheaded an attack against a Spanish force of 9000. This time, the lack of adequate leadership in the American Army was more acute than ever as various units involved in the attack broke rank and ran from the field of battle. The Spanish Army itself was largely made up of long term regulars and a few escaped slaves from the US.
The fact that the Spanish Commanders were slightly more competent than their American counterparts was a major advantage that had stemmed from Toledo’s leadership. He had in his time as Commander in Florida, managed to weed out many undesirables and install a semi-decent officer class. This was shown at the Battle of Mayo where the Spanish officers managed to keep the Army under control and on the defensive against the assault. When the Battle finished with the American forces withdrawing once more, superior Spanish numbers were blamed despite the opposite being true.
The report of the battle that was sent to Washington again heightened the political tensions, many calling for a withdrawal from the War. Jackson refused, at least until one victory was won so a victory could be at least claimed in some way in the War. And it was needed before the Congress Party began to gain some form of popularity. Jackson put pressure on the Army to do something right and actually win a damn battle!
The Armies in Florida began to build up their strength for another attack but with their mettle blunted, decided to wait until the New Year to hit Florida from all sides with a great military strike. It was hoped that a three prong attack at where Spanish defences were weakest would give the Americans a gap they could surge through. For the Spanish, this was a blessing from above as Toledo had been terrified that his Army would have been unable to withstand any more attacks without breaking. He used the lull in fighting to realign his forces by mixing the veteran units with the new reinforcements and enforcing a strict training regime on all units. Defences were built once more and equipment made for the upcoming battles.
Historians would later comment on how the winter cease-fire between America and Spain was a tragic mistake on behalf of the Americans. Incompetent leadership, along with gross overestimation of Spanish strength had led the Americans into a series of mistakes that had cost it a lot of prestige. The New England phrase “As useful as a Whitey attack.” Stems from the seemingly useless assaults made by the American troops against the weaker Spanish (The nickname ‘Whitey’ coming from the White House. It developed during this period and flourished before falling out of favour after the New Jersey War).
Voting Reforms in Britain once more came to the domestic fore of politics. A mass march in London ended with Parliament being handed a petition by the crowd. Over 20,000 signatures were on the petition, demanding Suffrage for more people. The petition was met in Parliament by support from the resurgent Whig Party, with Lord Byron giving his clear support to the people. The Castlereagh Government stood firm however and in a speech to Parliament refused point blank to allow any reform the extension of the franchise. This was enough to tip the favour in the balance of the Liberals as several moderate Tories had realised that what had been asked for in words could be taken in blood if the state of affairs continued.
In a vote of no confidence, Lord Castlereagh was forced to resign and a general election took place on the 25th. When the votes were all in, a new Whig Government was to be reformed, this one by Earl Charles Grey. With the Whigs in power for the first time in decades, Reform became a key issue and with the beginning of the New Year, almost guaranteed.