1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 13:
“Please have a seat, Michael.” Lennart Torstensson waved at a side table against the far wall. “There is wine, but if you prefer I can have some coffee made for you.”
The Swedish general who commanded the army of the USE had a sly smile on his face. Americans had a reputation for being teetotalers among down-timers — a reputation which any number of proper hillbillies had found quite disconcerting when they learned about it.
There was some truth underneath the stories. The Americans came from a land where clean water was taken for granted. Alcohol was generally considered something a person drank in the evening, not something you consumed the whole day long. But for people in the seventeenth century, as had been true for most of human history, alcoholic beverages were a lot safer than water, unless it had been recently boiled.
So, here it was, still before noon — and Torstensson was having himself a little fun. Poking the stiff and proper up-timer, to see how high he would jump.
Mike returned the smile with a frown, as he studied the bottles on the side table.
“No whiskey?” he asked mournfully.
Torstensson chuckled. “I should know better, by now.” He gestured toward the other two men in the room, who were already seated. “You have met Dodo, I believe. The more substantial fellow over there is the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg — and now also the Prince of Calenberg.”
The very plump nobleman gave Mike a cheerful smile. “Please! Call me George. Staff meetings are dreary enough without everyone stumbling over titles.” He half-rose from his seat and extended his hand, which Mike shook.
The other officer in the room did not follow suit, but Mike knew that wasn’t due to rudeness. It was just the nature of the man. Dodo Freiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen was a professional soldier from East Frisia and had been one all his life. He’d started his career as a teenager fighting for the Dutch, and risen to the rank of captain by the time he was twenty years old. He’d been fighting for the Swedes since 1630.
Despite the fancy titles, Knyphausen was not really what Americans thought of as a nobleman. Mike didn’t know him very well, but his best friend Frank Jackson thought highly of him. “He ain’t what you’d call the life of the party, but he’s solid as a rock,” had been his summary judgment.
After Mike took his seat, he looked around. He had to struggle a bit to keep from grinning. Talk about chateau generals! This staff meeting of the commander of the USE army and the major generals in charge of the army’s three divisions was being held in an actual castle.
Well… what the Germans called a “schloss,” at any rate. The word was usually translated in up-time dictionaries as “castle,” but they didn’t resemble the medieval stone fortresses that Americans thought of when they used that term. Most of them, including this one, had been built during or since the Renaissance and they reminded Mike of pocket palaces more than anything else.
The derisive term “chateau generals” came from World War I, and it really wasn’t fair applied to these men. They might be meeting in a castle and enjoying for the moment its little luxuries. The chairs in this particular salon were very nicely upholstered, and the walls seemed to be plastered with portraits. But all of these men would soon enough be on a battlefield and placing themselves in harm’s way.
That included Mike, he reminded himself, lest his amusement get out of hand.
The four chairs in the room were not positioned evenly. The chair that Torstensson sat in faced the three chairs of his subordinates, which were arranged in a shallow arc. Torstensson’s chair seemed slightly more luxurious, too. A large, low table was positioned in the center. Americans would have called it a coffee table.
After he took his seat, Torstensson was silent for a moment. He was giving Mike a look that he couldn’t interpret. Slightly embarrassed, perhaps, although that would be quite out of character for the man.
Brunswick-Lüneburg smiled again, even more cheerfully than before. “Poor Lennart! A rustic Swede, he does not really have the aptitude for Machiavellian maneuvers.”
The duke transferred the smile onto Mike. “He wants to use you as bait for a trap. I’d urge you to refuse, except it really is quite a delightful scheme.”
Torstensson gave him an exasperated look. “Stop clowning, would you? Michael, if we eliminate the buffoonery, what George says is true enough.”
Mike spread his hands a little, inviting the Swedish general to continue. But before he could say anything, Knyphausen spoke up.
“The thing is, General Stearns, you are a neophyte and the Saxon commander Von Arnim is certainly feeling desperate by now.”
The professional soldier had a lean and very long-nosed face that naturally lent itself to lugubrious expressions. He had such an expression now. “Poor bastard, with John George for an employer.”
He seemed genuinely aggrieved at the plight faced by the Saxon general. Mike had to fight down another grin. Professional soldiers in the Thirty Years War tended to have a thoroughly guild-like mindset, when it came to their attitudes toward other officers. There were some exceptions like Heinrich Holk, who were generally despised. But for the most part generals on opposite sides of the battlefield were more likely to feel a closer kinship to their opponent than either one of them felt for their employers.
Knyphausen leaned back, apparently satisfied that his cryptic references to Mike’s inexperience and Von Arnim’s difficulties had made everything clear.
Mike looked back at Torstensson. “Could you perhaps be a bit more precise?”
Torstensson now tugged at his ear. “Well… The thing is, Michael, I would like you to behave recklessly in the coming battle. Pretend to behave recklessly, rather.”
Brunswick-Lüneburg’s smile seemed fixed in smile. “What he’d really prefer would be for you to act the poltroon at the coming battle. Flee at the first sign of a Saxon attack.”
“Much as the Saxons did themselves at Breitenfeld,” chimed in Knyphausen.
Torstensson gave them both an exasperated glance. “Actually, no. As a theoretical exercise, that would be indeed ideal. But battlefields don’t lend themselves well to abstractions. A rout, once started — whether in fakery or not — is extraordinarily hard to stop. And I don’t actually want your division to leave the field.”
Mike settled back in his seat and once again had to suppress an expression. A sigh, this time, not a grin.
“Let me guess. The reason you want to undertake such a gambit — which is bound to be risky, especially with a divisional commander as inexperienced as I am — is because you figure we’ll be outnumbered in the coming battle.”
“You do have an experienced and capable staff,” pointed out George. “Just leave it to them.”
That was not quite blithering nonsense, but close. Mike’s firsthand knowledge of military affairs was limited to a three-year stint as an enlisted man in the up-time American army twenty years back. He’d also done a lot of reading since he’d realized he was most likely going to end up as a general — what Civil War era Americans would have called a “political general” — after he left office as the USE’s prime minister. But he knew enough to know that a good staff could only substitute so far for the character of a unit’s commander.
Torstensson knew it himself, of course. A bit hastily, he added: “Mostly, it will just require steady nerves on your part. And the emperor himself told me he thought you had nerves of steel.”
That last came with a friendly expression. But Mike wasn’t about to let himself get sidetracked by a compliment. It was not really a compliment anyway, since he was pretty sure Gustav Adolf had said that to Lennart in a fit of aggravation due to Mike’s admittedly hard-nosed approach to political negotiations.
“The more interesting issue,” he mused, “is why you expect us to be outnumbered in the coming battle. By all accounts I’ve heard, John George can’t field an army any larger than thirty-five thousand men. That’s an official count, mind you. In the real world, you have to allow for desertion and illness. There’ll be plenty of men just too drunk, too. I’ve been told by — your words, gentlemen, I remind you — my experienced and capable staff, that we won’t actually face more than about twenty-five thousand men on the field of battle.”
Torstensson was looking embarrassed again. Given the nature of the man, that was not something that Mike found at all comforting. The truth was, he did have an excellent staff.
“Our own army — the USE army proper, I mean — officially numbers twenty-seven thousand men. Three divisions, each with a complement of nine thousand officers and enlisted soldiers. Of course, we suffer from desertion, illness and drunkenness too. But certainly not to the same extent as the Saxons. Many of our soldiers are volunteers enlisted by the CoCs, motivated by ideology rather than money. So I’ve been told by — your words, gentlemen, not mine — that same experienced and excellent staff, that we’ll be able to bring at least twenty thousand men onto that battlefield. Probably more like twenty-two or even twenty-three thousand.”
Knyphausen and the duke looked away. Torstensson cleared his throat. Mike pressed on relentlessly.
“Then, of course, we need to add the forces which Gustav Adolf will bring onto the field. Even allowing for the troops he’ll leave stationed against Bernhard and the French in the Rhineland provinces and in the Oberpfalz against Bavaria, as well as large garrisons left in militarily-administered areas like Pomerania, he should still be able to muster a Swedish army numbering around twenty thousand men. And that doesn’t include the sizeable forces that some of the provincial rulers might bring. I was told by my experienced and capable staff — such a charming phrase, too bad I didn’t coin it myself — that Wilhelm V of Hesse-Kassel will bring at least seven thousand additional men.”
“Closer to eight, actually,” said Torstensson. Again, he cleared his throat. “Michael…”
“The way I figure it, we’ll have around fifty thousand men facing an army not much more than half that size. And that’s not allowing for the difference in command. Myself excluded — and allowing for my experienced and capable staff — the quality of our commanding officers greatly exceeds that of the Saxons.”
“Von Arnim’s pretty good,” said Knyphausen stoutly.
The plump duke sniffed. “He’s not the Lion of the North. Nor is he Lennart, for that matter.”
Torstensson had been holding his breath for the past few seconds. Now, he let it out in a rush. “Michael, enough! As you have obviously already deduced, the emperor will not be with us on the field. He and Wilhelm are marching instead into Brandenburg. The USE army will face the Saxons alone.”