1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 16:
In the event, they didn’t get into trouble for being tardy, because when they finally arrived at the huge army camp outside of Magdeburg, the divisions had been mobilized and were already starting to march toward the Saxon border. In the confusion that inevitably accompanied the movements of twenty-five thousand men and almost that many horses and oxen — not to mention the APCs, which only numbered a handful but threw up a lot of dust — Jeff and Jimmy could easily claim that they had been somewhere else doing some necessary if vaguely defined tasks. They were still close enough to being teenagers that lying to authority figures came easily, smoothly, effortlessly, with nary a seam of untruth to be found poking through the tissue of falsehoods.
Not many seams, anyway. But it didn’t matter, because the only person who asked them anything was a cook attached to the 2nd Division who mistook them for quartermasters and demanded to know when the flour would be delivered to the mobile kitchen he was in charge of. Jimmy was a little aggrieved, because the insignia on their uniforms — which included some decorations for fighting off pirates in the English Channel and sinking a whole damn Spanish warship during the siege of Amsterdam, for Pete’s sake! — should have made it clear to any dimwit that they were real by-God fighting men.
But Jeff took it in good humor. Unlike Jimmy, who’d spent almost his entire army career as a technical specialist, Jeff had a much wider experience with military matters. Cooks were cooks, it didn’t matter whether they were army or civilian. They didn’t give a damn about anything except their kitchens. He’d worked as a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant in Fairmont one summer, and had come away from the experience firmly convinced that all professional cooks were either drunks, lunatics, or disguised aliens. It was best to just ignore their foibles.
So, they reached Mike Stearns’ headquarters with no hassles, not even from the staff officers. Stearns and his staff were mounted already, with the HQ tent being packed up in wagons.
All Mike himself said was “Hi, boys. Where you been?” before he went back to making sure he had his horse under control.
Which, he did. Jeff thought it was a little unfair, the way people like Stearns seemed to be good at anything they turned their hand to. Jeff himself, despite what was now years of experience, still didn’t really get along with horses that well. Even his wife told him he rode a horse like a sack of potatoes.
So, he was relieved when his brigade commander told him that he was assigning Jeff to an infantry battalion.
The relief lasted about two seconds. That was the approximate lapse of time between the end of the sentence wherein Brigadier Schuster informed Jeff he was now an infantryman and the next sentence:
“I am placing you in command of the 12th Battalion.”
“What?” Jeff managed not to cast his eyes about wildly. But he was pretty sure they were as big as saucers and had a sort of feverish quality to them. “But — but –”
Schuster nodded solemnly. “Yes, I know you are only a captain and would normally serve on the staff of the battalion commander, or be in command of an infantry company. But Major Kruger was badly injured in a horse fall just two days ago and I simply don’t have anyone else to replace him.” His heavy face now looked glum instead of simply solemn. “There is always a shortage of experienced and qualified officers for this army. Because of the CoC business, you understand. So you will have to manage.”
For a moment, Jeff wondered if there was a trace of malice in the brigadier’s tone. He knew that a lot of the professional down-time officers in the USE army resented the pressures that often fell upon them due to the political attitudes of the enlisted men. A majority of the soldiers in the USE army had been recruited by the Committees of Correspondence. By no means all of those recruits were what you could fairly call “CoC men,” to be sure. But there was no denying that the radical political views of the CoCs were very influential in the lower ranks of the army. Some of the army’s officers had joined because they shared that idealism — a fair number, in fact — but most of the officers had the traditional motives of professional soldiers. Whether or not their own political views were conservative didn’t really matter. Those soldiers under CoC influence tended to have attitudes on certain matters of discipline that pretty much drove any regular officer half-nuts.
Not on the battlefield, though. Whatever else aggravated professional officers about the enlisted ranks of the USE army, their willingness and ability to fight was not one of them.
After a moment, Jeff decided that Schuster wasn’t being motivated by resentment. He really was just strapped for men.
“Uh… Sir. You know I don’t have much actual battlefield experience — infantry battles, I mean, if you want somebody to blow up a warship I’m your man — and none at all commanding more than a squad. I’m not sure…”
“You’ll do fine, Captain Higgins. The 12th is a good battalion with good companies. And the commander of your regiment is Colonel Friedrich Eichelberger, who is a superb officer.”
Schuster shook his head firmly. “The decision is made, Captain. I discussed the matter with General Stearns himself, and he concurred in my decision. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the officers of your battalion immediately. The campaign is already underway. We should reach the Saxon border within four days, possibly even three.” He cleared his throat. “Whatever might be their other failings, our soldiers march quite well.”
It took Jeff until sundown to find his battalion. Somehow or other, it had managed to get shuffled out of its officially allotted place in the marching order.
At least the battalion was ahead of place, not behind. Apparently they were eager-beavers instead of shirkers. Under most circumstances, he would have thought that a positive trait. Under these… he wasn’t sure. Bad enough some idiot brigadier had placed a twenty-three-year-old captain with an oddball military resume in charge of a whole battalion, after consulting with a top commander who apparently had the IQ of a turnip. (At a rough count, he’d silently cursed Mike Stearns at least five hundred times that afternoon.) To add to his misery, it seemed that his new battalion was full of vim and vigor and would have absurdly unrealistic expectations of their new commanding officer.
His fears proved too great and too little.
Too great, in that the 12th battalion turned out to be a veritable CoC hotbed. Every non-commissioned officer, it seemed, as well as half the grunts, were hardcore activists from Magdeburg.
Given that Jeff was married to the woman who was generally viewed as the quintessence of the CoC spirit, his appointment as the battalion’s new commander was very highly regarded by the enlisted men.
And that was the bad news too, of course. “Absurdly unrealistic expectations” was putting it mildly.